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Chloe’s 5th (Painting & Art) Birthday Party!

Chloe's painting art birthday party
Chloe’s 5th birthday party was a success! We hosted 16 kids plus their parents, and even now I find it remarkable that everyone seemed to fit in our home without seeming crazy crowded. Chloe loved having all her friends over and the 5 “art stations” seemed to entertain and engage the kids, despite a span of ages. They could choose what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it (and I was secretly glad to not have to organize any group games). And when party goers were done with craft projects they were free to roam outside to the sand table and play structure, or into Chloe’s room for dress-up, or Leo’s room for trucks and train table. It was great!

I didn’t take as many photos as usual, but here are a few shots snapped with my phone to show a little of our setup:

painting and art party table

Our main dining table was Station #1, painting. Each place had a set of (washable) watercolors (from this Crayola 24ct setcomes with 3 individual sets of 6 colors), a paintbrush, a bowl of water and a piece of watercolor paper set up for the kids to make their masterpieces.

Art party station play-doh

Station #2 was a Play-Doh table. I purchased a 24ct pack of rainbow Play-Doh and set out our rolling/cutting play tools. The colors were vibrant and lots of fun to mix and mash.

art party collage table

Station #3 was a collage table. I set out our collection of decorative edged scissors, stickers, colored glue sticks and a variety of paper for the kids to craft up a storm.

art party cookie decorating table

Station #4 was a decorate-your-own-cookie project. I originally saw this idea on Green Owl Art and decided it was perfect for little hands. I cut out cardboard circles as well as foam “icing” and purchased the same collection of stickers from Michaels. Easy to do and with really cute results.

Melissa And Doug wooden stringing beads and bead bouquet
Station #5 held wooden beads to make beaded bracelets. It included a set of Melissa and Doug Deluxe Wooden Stringing Beads set and the Melissa and Doug Bead Bouquet set. I think the kids really liked being able to include their names on their bracelets and the Bead Bouquet set had a nice variety of shaped and painted beads. I cut each necklace-length cord into 3 equal pieces (singeing the severed ends with a lighter so they wouldn’t unravel), so that every attendee could make at least one bracelet. Since the kits didn’t come with enough closure beads I supplemented them with lanyard snaps.

art rainbow party table snack decoration crepe paper streamers

Besides the snack table backdrop, the only other “decorating” we had time for that morning (besides balloons) was to line the pass-through from the living room to the kitchen with rainbow-colored crepe paper streamers as we have in the past. Young kids love to run through them and watch them flutter back into place. Plus they really give a visual bang for the buck, which is always nice. The snack table itself held a little less than usual since two of our young guests have severe food allergies. Good thing their moms are such avid ingredient readers, as I overlooked a detail even though I was trying to be careful.

Overall, this party was the perfect blend of what Chloe wanted to do to and the amount of effort I wanted to put into the planning and details. I sometimes wonder if I don’t do enough (or if I do too much), but this one felt just about right. There is no doubt that Chloe loved every minute. Afterwards, I received several sweet and heart warming comments and emails from moms who really thought it was a terrific time. Pretty much the best any mom could ask for. 🙂

P.S. To make it easy on myself I linked to the products above on Amazon, but purchased almost everything locally. For example the Play-Doh came from Target and the best price on the Melissa and Doug beads came from Home Goods.

Elmer's colored glue sticks best price

I also found a few things at Dollar Tree, which is always worth checking before a party. I purchased the left set of Elmer’s Colored Glue Sticks
at Dollar Tree for $1, but then saw them a few days later at Michaels retailing for $5.99. Sometimes it pays to shop around!


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First Day of School 2013-1014

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 11.14.14 AM

Both kids started their respective preschool classes at the end of last week (on separate days). For Chloe, it was pretty much old hat, since she had gone to the same preschool last year. She was excited to see some of her old classmates and easily made new friends on her first day.

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Leo was the unknown, but I was pretty much knew he would do fine. This was his first 9-month preschool class, held in the same building and with the same teacher as Chloe. I think it all felt really familiar to him (as it should, since he came with us every time I dropped off Chloe last year). This time, though, he got to be the one to participate. Moms are required to stay during the first two classes, and I was glad to have had the opportunity to see first hand the kind of experiences he would have. And I was very happy with what I saw.

The only thing that concerns me is how I will do, taking the kids to school on a daily basis (although they attend alternate days). It’s a 12-15min drive one way, which makes for almost an hour of commuting if I choose to come back home between drop-off and pick-up. I know it will be worth it, though. One big benefit will be having more one-on-one time with Chloe. I hardly ever have that, and now I’ll get it two mornings a week. I anticipate some fun excursions (and definitely easier grocery shopping)!


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Photo Friday: “Natural Light”

f/2.8  1/4000  iso 100

I shot this photo on Easter Sunday. You can tell that she is wearing the same dress from the egg hunt, but she didn’t want to change into anything else. Normally I don’t like to have a subject right in the middle of a photo, but I think it kinda works here. Photo Friday link up here.


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Easter Egg Hunt 2013

Nothing like the joy of a good Easter Egg Hunt! We’ve attended the same one every year since Chloe could walk. Its free, hosted by a local church, and starts off with a few crafts for the kids to do while they wait. This year was Leo’s first. You should have seen his eyes light up when he noticed the fields sparkling with colorful eggs!

Next year Chloe will be too old to hunt the same field as Leo, so I am glad I was able to get some photos of them together. By the end, Chloe had her basket filled literally to overflowing. So much fun, but unfortunately, over so quickly! More of our hunt photos can be seen here, and a special thanks to the kids’ aunt and uncle for providing them with such adorable, personalized baskets!

What about you? Do you have fond memories of egg hunts? Treat-filled Easter baskets? Pancakes shaped like bunnies?

 

 


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Out with the Kids: Into the Woods

I can’t believe it’s almost the weekend again! I got so much accomplished last weekend, including spray painting some kid furniture, organizing my craft drawers and purging a ton of stuff. For whatever reason I was highly motivated, and hope that some of that motivation will carry over into this weekend as well. We also had a day of fun family adventure, too! David decided we’d take the kids fishing, and despite the cold Pacific Northwest weather, that is what we did!

It isn’t always easy taking kids this young somewhere this remote. In fact, sometimes it is really hard. You can’t let them out of your sight for a minute. But it’s always worth it. The kids see and find all kinds of things, and I want them to have these experiences in nature, with no house for miles and miles. Of course, I would never take them out this far by myself, but with two parents (or people) its fine. It does take a bit of planning though.

For us, planning usually falls into three categories:

1. Food & Snacks.
2. Entertainment
3. Clothing & Gear

Food & Snacks are a given, especially on long trips. It is so much cheaper to bring food, and often the next town is too far away to bother. Also, snacks can work wonders on long car rides, so they really double as entertainment.

While we try to have the kids just look out the windows and talk about what we see (including songs, i spy, etc), sometimes its easier after a while to just hand Chloe her ipad and headphones. At twenty-months, Leo is a pretty good traveler. Sometimes he’ll nap or be content to snack on something. When that doesn’t work we’ll hand him back various toys (cars, little animals, small board books) and as a last resort sometimes we’ll hand him an iphone. Unfortunately, he isn’t into shows like Chloe is, but he has a few apps that interest him right now like Peekaboo Wild, Where’s Gumbo, Wheels on the Bus and Itsy Bitsy Spider (the two latter by Duck Duck Moose). When we get where we’re going there always seems to be plenty to do – in this case, collecting rocks, seeing waterfalls, and discussing how a beaver gnaws down trees with his teeth to make his home.

Lastly there is Clothing & Gear. If there is mud, the kids will fall in it. If there is water, the kids will splash in it. That is life. I know this and always bring a full change of clothes and shoes. One thing I always make sure the kids have is quality long-underwear, usually purchased on deep discount from REI outlet. Chloe’s old ones get handed down to Leo (which is why his current bottoms are pink, but now I am buying them in neutral colors). Diapers and wipes are also necessities. Gear depends on where we go, but I always bring our becco baby carrier and sometimes we’ll bring our Kelty backpack carrier as well. For this trip, David also brought our pop-up shelter, which works as a “base” and makes a nice covered place to share a meal or hang out.

Like I mentioned earlier, it isn’t always easy. But easy isn’t always as meaningful, either, is it? So the kids get dirty and wet and I let them, knowing we’re prepared to clean them up once we get back to the car. We also try and listen and let the kids tell us when they’ve had enough. If they are too cold or uncomfortable, then no fun will be had and that isn’t the point.

And then we arrive back home to our cozy house and warm beds and all is right with the world…

 


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Not on your face!

This is an outtake shot of Leo while I was helping Chloe make her valentine cards on the other end of the table. I had set him up with some Alex Dots and Dashes paint markers to play with, which he’s used fine in the past. However, I guess he was feeling experimental, and decided to either taste the tip or just see what it felt like on his face. This reminded me of a photo I took of Chloe a little over a year ago. Her photo was taken December 5, 2011, a couple weeks after she turned three. I remember uploading the photo from my phone onto Facebook and writing “I guess it was inevitable…” 🙂

For the record, although it was labeled ‘washable,’ the ink left a blue stain on Leo’s face for the rest of the day. The washable Crayola marker that Chloe used came right off. Good to know!


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Family Portrait by Chloe, age 4

This is a drawing that Chloe made yesterday. I totally, totally love it. For the longest time she was mostly a scribbler. We never guided her drawing, but sometimes she would as us to draw something for her. Now suddenly she is starting to make all kinds of recognizable drawings. They are really fun to see, and sometimes come with imaginative scenarios or stories that blow me away.

The other photo shows her explaining the people in the picture: Daddy is in the middle. He is carrying her and Leo, one on each arm. He’s strong! Mama is in the back next to me, and Barkley (our dog) is the puffball in the corner under Leo.

The toy is a Fisher Price Kid Tough Travel Doodle Pro with Light. It’s been a great! I bought it for Leo to play with during our holiday flights to Colorado and Cancun, and also because he was always fighting over Chloe’s Toulouse-LapTrec from B. Toys (both definitely on my list of best toy purchases ever). The Travel Doodle has a little stowaway light the kids like to switch off and on, and turns off by itself (genius! why doesn’t anyone make a kids flashlight that does this?). For Chloe I pack her travel Aquadoodle which is much thinner and lighter, but mostly now she just draws on her ipad. We also have the large floor Aquadoodle that both kids can play with at the same time. All have been a big hit, and worth every penny.

PS. I just found out when getting the link to the Toulouse-LapTrec that all versions before 2011 have been recalled, which includes Chloe’s. Looks like they might send a new one. Hers is the chocolate brown version, but now it looks like they only come in olive green and red.

 


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Better

Things are gradually getting back to normal around here. The kids are feeling better, and so far, David and I have stayed healthy despite the wealth of germs that I am sure were floating around our house. My hands are raw and chapped from over-washing. I have wiped all doorknobs, sinks, tables and counter tops, plus all areas of floor where the kids threw up with antibacterial spray or disinfecting wipes. David mopped the floor in Chloe’s room. I washed all the bed sheets, sick clothes and towels in an extra long hot cycle with an extra rinse. Our house has never seen a week like this and I hope it never does again.

I am not exactly a germaphobe, but I do take precautions, especially with the kids. We’ve all had our seasonal flu shots (except David), and I carry two kinds of hand wipes in the diaper bag and in the car. We also teach the kids to wash their hands, especially before meals and after playing outside. Okay, maybe I am a germaphobe, but I can tell you caring for two very sick kids is exhausting and stressful. This year seems to be particularly bad, all around the country. I am a firm believer in the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

One of the few highlights of my week was laying down the new rug in Leo’s room (after all vomiting had ceased, of course). It arrived while I was away. Our house has mostly wood floors, so the kids love having this cozy new place to sit and play. The image above shows a photo of it, and of Chloe concentrating on building an extra tall Mega Blok tower, which she was very proud of. Yep, things are finally getting back to normal. Phew!

 

 


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First Snow of Winter

Nothing like the first snow of winter! It rarely snows here in Portland, so when it does it feels extra special. Even though we were running late this morning with Chloe due at gymnastics, I couldn’t say no when she asked to go outside to play. This was also Leo’s first real experience with snow. Last December he was only 6 months old! Now he is running around and checking out the substance called “snow” like a budding scientist. And I’m glad they got the chance, because when we were done with gymnastics all the snow had gone as quickly as it had come.


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Dear Chloe, Age 4

Dear Chloe,

You are now four years old! We celebrated your birthday yesterday at a local gymnastics academy. You had a wonderful time with your friends – running around, jumping on the trampoline and into the foam pit, and all around the inflatable bounce house and slide. You chose the chocolate cake with the rainbow on it and you also requested a pinata. You’ve been asking for a fairy pinata for months, but since we couldn’t find one you finally chose a butterfly instead. 🙂

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Now that you are four, I’ve decided we’ll join in on the popular new tradition of 20 questions. I hope that we’ll repeat this every year. Tonight, right before bedtime, I interviewed you. Here is what you said:

1. What is your favorite color? Blue and purple. First, I like blue.
2. What is your favorite toy? My Lalaloopsy doll
3. What is your favorite fruit? Grapes
4. What is your favorite tv show? My Big, Big Friend
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Pasta
6. What is your favorite thing to wear? My orange (sun) dress with the orange bloomers
7. What is your favorite game? Playing with you. Candyland and dress-up
8. What is your favorite snack? The chocolate cereal (Kellogg’s Krave)
9. What is your favorite animal?
A Butterfly
10. What is your favorite song? The lullaby we listen to in the car where the baby floats in the air (Rockabye baby in the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock, when the bough breaks the cradle will fly, and up will drift baby into the sky…)
11. What is your favorite book? The Octonauts and the (Great) Ghost Reef
12. Who is your best friend? You. And I love Anjali. And Rosabelle and Hazel.
13. What is your favorite cereal? Marshmallow cereal (Mallow Oats by Mom’s Best Cereals). Chex.
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? Play in the sandbox and run
15. What is your favorite drink? Juice and milk
16. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas and Halloween and when I give out heart cards (Valentine’s Day).
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Backpack baby and (light-up) Ladybug
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Cereal (granola and/or corn flakes) with (vanilla) yogurt and milk
19. What is your favorite dinner? Meatballs and spaghetti
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? A mommy. I mean, a daddy. 🙂
I love you my little girl,
Forever and always,
Mama

Chloe’s 4-year specs – Height: 3′ 1.5″ (0.953m) (9.11%)  Weight: 29lbs (13.154kg) (5.56%)  BMI: 14.50 kg/m2


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First Day of Preschool – Take 2

Chloe attended her first day at her new preschool this week. After much agonizing and self-doubt I withdrew her from her first preschool, even though I didn’t have a replacement in mind. My instincts and observations told me it wasn’t the right place, and as soon as I made the phone call, I felt relieved.

Before this experience, I didn’t understand why parents made such a big deal about preschool. All those stories about signing up for wait-lists in utero, or cut-throat admissions seemed ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for preschool. My own preschool experience (what I remember of it) was stellar. I guess I thought all preschools were similar… but they definitely are not.

In short, it took hours of online searching and several phone calls to find out that by this time most preschools were either: A) Full with a wait-list, B) Not what I wanted, C) Too far away or D) Too expensive. Then a friend mentioned there might be a spot at her school (which I had originally catorgorized as likely both A, C and D), but it ended up working out after all. Whew!

And here is a surprise realization I had during my research into preschool – my academic expectations for Chloe are very high. As a matter of fact, I can’t believe how little kids are expected to know when they enter Kindergarten. Just as part of our everyday, Chloe gets opportunities to count and add, practice writing and drawing, observe colors and shapes, and read (together). It seems like their sponge-like brains could easily pick up certain basics, but I’m finding out that preschool is more about developing social skills, communication and exploration through play.

Anyway, Chloe enjoyed her first day very much. She acclimated quickly and I didn’t feel any of the anxiety I felt previously. I still plan on giving her academic opportunities at home, but now I’m finally confident she’s in a healthy environment we can both look forward to.

PS – I you have any doubts about the importance of preschool, here is an article about why preschool matters and a podcast on NPR The Case for Preschool.

“Those who go to preschool will go on to university, will have a graduate education, and their income level will radically improve.” –Wall Street Journal

“In the long run, the gift of money is that it gives a child constant access to a world of stimulation and enrichment, thus allowing her to fulfill her genetic potential.” –Wired

Children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not. –Parents

 


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First day of preschool 2012

Chloe attended her first day of preschool this morning. Even though we had just gone in for the meet-and-greet on Friday, I was impressed to see even more improvements (labeled coat hooks and cubbies designated for the artwork for each child). I also liked that the teacher greeted each child by name. It must have gone well, because Chloe didn’t want to leave. Good thing I had a snack in the car to lure her out. 🙂


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At the Fair

This afternoon, after the kids woke from their naps, we headed to the county fair. It was the perfect weather – sunny and just slightly warm. My parents never took me to fairs as a kid, but I do remember a carnival that came to town every once in a great while. I remember how thrilling it was to see the rides, hear the music and excitement all around. And the food! I love fair food – funnel cakes, cotton candy, caramel apples… I love it all.

Things have not changed much since I was a kid. I saw they still had the classics like a ferris wheel, a carousel, Tilt-a-whirl and the Scrambler, among the newer thrills. And now that I have kids of my own, I feel like I have an added excuse to go on rides and have a good time. It was sweet how often Chloe wanted to hold my hand, and I was pleasantly surprised at how brave she was. In just a couple years Leo will be old enough to join her. I imagine it only gets better.


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Reusing Packing Peanuts

Not very long ago, David ordered something that came in the mail with a TON of packing peanuts. Instead of throwing them away, we put them in a garbage bag, and let them take up space in the office. Honestly, we were never going to use them. We hardly ever ship things (unless we buy a gift online, and then we ship it straight from the company). This morning I decided to just let the kids play with them. You can just imagine!

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Dear Chloe, 3 years old

Dear Chloe,

You turned 3 years old on Thanksgiving day this year. No longer are you considered a toddler, but a preschooler, with all the interests, blossoming language skills, curiosity, fledgling independence, willfulness, and complexities that description entails. It has been a big year of changes for you. One major one has been the construction of our home addition, eventually giving you a wonderful space to play and dance, and the other being the summer arrival of your baby brother. I am happy to say that you are a very helpful big sister, which brings me great happiness and hope that you two will be lifelong friends some day.

As you are growing and learning, so are we, your mommy and daddy. We want to be the best parents we can be. You are both charming and clever, your actions often bringing smiles to our hearts on a daily basis. But some days are a struggle. Of course you’d like to get your way all the time. But sometimes we, your parents, have to make decisions for you that you don’t like. One example that comes to mind is your eating habits. You just don’t like to eat many healthy foods. You would eat cookies and cupcakes all day if we’d let you. As it is, we allow you an almost daily chocolate milk, which in some ways I’m thankful for since I can hide some vanilla yogurt (calories!) in with the Carnation instant breakfast mix (vitamins!).

The natural parent-child struggles aside, I want you to know what a happy childhood you’re having. It amazes me to think that you will likely remember none of this, and even we may forget some of what life is like right now. But it is good life, without a doubt. We are lucky to all be healthy, to have a comfortable home and especially each other. We are lucky that your daddy has a good job and that I can stay with you and your brother, that we can go places and do things. While we may not be able to afford everything you want (or we’d like to give you), you certainly have plenty of toys, games, art supplies, clothes and classes that you love, like dance and swimming. As your parents, we are trying to teach you to appreciate what you have, to understand how lucky we are, but those are probably lessons you’ll understand better as you get older.

Chloe, we love you so much. Your arrival three years ago made us a family. I hope this next year continues to bring you fun, happiness, new skills and joyous learning. You will always be our sweet little girl and a blessing to our lives, as we hope to continually be a blessing to yours.

Love forever,
Mama

 


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Rubber Duck Party! **Part 2**

As I mentioned in the previous post, we decided to throw Chloe’s third birthday a couple weeks early. Her birthday actually falls on Thanksgiving this year, plus she already has 4 birthday parties to attend in the span of a few weeks. I figured it would just be easier to do it early, and at this age, she’s happy to just have fun.

 

We started the party by letting all the kids decorate their yellow goodie bags with markers and yellow feathers in the front room. It allowed time for guest to arrive and gave the kids something to do right away. There was a rubber duck coloring page as well. Following that they played five games:

  • “Match the ducks” – this was like “Memory” – twelve matching ducks (two for each child) had matching stickers underneath each pair. They floated in a bin of waters while the kids took turns each finding a matched pair, which they then added to their goodie bag.
  • “Feed the ducks” – this was a bean bag toss into large melamine bowls. Each child got a prize when they made it.
  • “Pass the duck” – basically, “hot potato” except we used a large duck to pass around. This was the only game that was a little awkward with this age group, so we sorta faked it.

 

  • “Find the ducks” – we secretly filled the floor in the spare room with balloons and “hid” larger rubber ducks (again one for each child) to find. We closed the door so nobody knew that the room was filled with balloons until we opened it for a BIG surprise.
  • “Birthday Bingo”  – After the kids had time to splash around and enjoy the balloon room for a while, we called them back to the dining room table for one last game of “Birthday Bingo” after which we then sang happy birthday to the birthday girl and had yummy vanilla bean cupcakes with white buttercream frosting (closest looking to soap suds).

 

Each cupcake was in a rubber ducky themed cupcake wrapper topped with a party duck sitting in its own matching mini-cupcake wrapper. Chloe thought they were awesome!


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Pumpkins & Mushrooms

Why does it seem like these fall weeks are flying by? This weekend David and I took the kids out mushroom hunting. David carried Chloe in the Kelty and I carried Leo in the Moby, since the areas we explore are densely wooded, steep and overgrown. Afterward, I was exhausted and sore in a way I couldn’t believe. Our haul was lighter than usual, mostly because it is slow going with two kids, but honestly, I think there are more people out mushroom hunting this year than I have ever seen before. David went back the next day by himself, and found plenty more, so we’ll still be set for the year no matter what.

I didn’t bring my camera mushroom hunting, but I did bring it to The Pumpkin Patch last weekend. I love this ritual of fall. We told Chloe she could pick any pumpkin that she wanted (and I was willing to stand by this, no matter what she happened to choose), but in the end she didn’t want one from the patch, but instead asked for a “baby” miniature pumpkin she had seen back at the farm store. I should have known.

And, just as he did the last time we were there, David spotted a little green frog, even tinier than the one before. He managed to catch him twice, so I could get this photo.


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Haircut!

I finally gave Chloe her first “real” haircut. “Real” meaning all the way around and not just a bang trim. It was a little bittersweet. At almost 3 years-old she’s hardly grown enough hair to cut, but it was getting a bit too ragged around the edges (see photo from previous post). She’d also get knots and tangles in the back from going to bed with her hair still damp. Afterward I gave her a princess tiara. Naturally she responded “Can I have a haircut again? Now?” I wish I would have gotten a better photo, but she’s on to me, and when she saw the camera come out the little stinker started running away. I’m happy that at least she sat still for the cut!

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