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  • Wetlands. They are highly undervalued but very awesome ecosystems. It was in college that I pinpointed the fact that I really loved wetlands and decided to focus on them as part of my marine biology degree. Looking more deeply, it was salt marshes that I had an affinity for, something I grew up loving as part of family vacations to the Texas and Florida coasts. Of course from there I learned about freshwater wetlands, and with our living in Florida for 8 years we became wetland maniacs. Wetlands are happening places!

    With our camping trip a few weekends ago, we took to the trails the morning we were to pack up and head home. Most of the trails were closed for mud/unknown reasons. A lot of the trails were in and around a floodplain adjacent to the Brazos river. While there wasn’t any water in the floodplain at the current time, it was evident that water regularly flowed through the area. At the very bottom of the floodplain the watermarks on the trees were far above our heads, 10-12′ off the ground. That’s some serious flooding! Imagine paddling through the area instead of hiking…!

    Our explorations into the bottomland were thwarted a few times because of closed trails. It was frustrating because nothing was posted at the trailhead or park office stating which trails might be closed. We would walk down a trail for a ways and find it randomly closed. In the end, we still enjoyed the cool but sunny morning. Somehow we got on the topic of geocaching and randomly decided to see if we could find one with an app on Chris’ phone. We haven’t geocached seriously in 7-8 years. The ‘sport’ has definitely changed since then and we found the geocaching app behind a paywall for many aspects of the service. We were able to see that there were caches in the area and use the GPS on the phone to get close enough but I had to log into our account on the computer and figure out via the map which cache we ended up doing in order to log it. The best part of the caching experience was knowing our caching sense was still pretty good. An ammo can in the woods 8 years ago is still an ammo can in the woods today!

    And now for some photos!

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    Hackberry bark…Celtis laevigata

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    Normally we find trifoliate orange when we’re out exploring but we actually found an edible citrus growing next to the trail! What? Is this Florida? No fruit, though.

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    One giant cottonwood!

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    Two weekends ago when we went to Stephen F. Austin State Park just west of Houston, I got on Google Maps to see what other parks would be around the area. Close by was the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, a place I had always wanted to visit but we’d never made it down that direction. Many of the trails were closed at the state park due to mud so when we packed up Sunday morning we headed over to the refuge to have lunch and see what we would see. There were several trails and a five mile scenic drive we could take.

    The refuge office was closed for Sunday but we we had lunch at the picnic tables near the park office. For being a fairly out of the way and not exactly a well known refuge, there were several other groups out there while we were there. The thought did not escape me that if circumstances were different there could be a bunch of idiots holed up here instead of in Oregon trying to reclaim ‘their’ land from the government (the people).

    Alas, the scenic road was closed halfway through so we only saw a portion of that, but we did get out and hike the Sycamore Trail, keeping our eyes open for prairie chickens in the meantime. Our hike provided no chickens. The only wildlife on that hike were some small birds and leaf cutter ants. After our hike we tried to drive the scenic drive but turned around when we saw the closed sign. Another truck who had turned in front of us snuck through after we turned around. Chris had been eyeing them, getting the vibe they knew something we didn’t…that they were regular visitors. Because we didn’t know the refuge enough to know why the road was really closed we didn’t sneak through like they did.

    So, no prairie chickens but we did see several northern harriers. I did my best to get some shots of them out the car window with the long lens. For the most part they are decent. I need to get that lens out more often!

    There’s an early morning event in April, I think, where they take tours out to see the prairie chickens leks, so that might be our best chance of seeing a chicken anytime soon.

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    (Look hard, the harrier is there!)

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    Being a non-birder, I’m not sure what this little dude(ette) is….birders???

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    Overall, it was a great place to visit. If we lived on that side of Houston I’m sure we’d drop in a lot more often just to see what birds are migrating through.

    Another fast week!

    1. Childless Man Gets a C-Section: a podcast via The Longest Shortest Time. While the title suggests it is all about a man understanding a c-section, really the episode is about c-sections in general. I may have cried while listening.
    2. Monica Lewinsky: The Price of Shame: I was in college when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was going on and while I had an ear slightly turned to it all, I didn’t pay that much attention. However, I did really find her talk eloquent and very appropriate for today’s internet society. I’ve definitely found that internet shaming has seeped into real life with people finding it easier to lose empathy and common decency because of this complacency on the internet.
    3. Champagne on the Rocks: A podcast from Outside/In, a NH Public Radio broadcast. This one is about Scott Jurek’s now infamous Champagne Gate finish of the Appalachian Trail last summer in Baxter State Park. Great listen! There are some other great episodes on that podcast that are very nature focused.
    4. Strong ass antibiotics. Remember I was sick with something strep-like last week? I got a shot that was supposed to be the be-all-and-end-all…well, it wasn’t. While I felt somewhat better over the weekend, the sharp sore throat that was feeling slightly better began to get worse again. Back to the urgent care I went…this time a different one. A Z-pack prescription later, I was feeling better overnight. Yay for antibiotics!
    5. Nice weather on the horizon for the next 10ish days??? Sounds good to me!

    In my effort to read all the books this year, I made some progress with reading this month. Here’s the lowdown:

    Completed

    • The Care and Management of Lies by Jaqueline Winspear. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction and as I was trolling through the Overdrive app for our library this one piqued my interest. I rated it 3/5 stars because of some character development issues and some weird language/writing at the beginning. The book is set in WWI England and we see the beginning of the war from three different vantage points. Because of this I believe it easily could have been split into two books. Also, there was a very compelling suffragette component to one of the storylines and frankly I found myself wanting to know more about that line and suffragettes. It made me want to read more about women getting the right to vote, what was done to them (HORRIBLE THINGS!), and to be a more well-rounded feminist. Mental note: read more feminist books this year!
    • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book. This book deserves 6 stars instead of 5. It is that good! It’s part memoir, part meditative/contemplative, part whip-your-ass-into-creative-shape…I will refer to this book for years to come. Read it straight through and then randomly pick it up and pull out whatever passages speak to you. I want to be Elizabeth Gilbert’s BFF.
    • A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon. This is a novella of the Outlander novels set between/around books 7 and 8. I hesitate to say a whole lot about it so I don’t spoil things for others who haven’t made it through the whole series, but if you’ve at least read Dragonfly in Amber, the second book, there are several characters in that book that appear in this book. I know, I know, I’m confusing y’all! Just know there’s a sweet treat and more mystery when you finish the Big Books. LOVED this one!
    • The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon. This is another novella from the Outlander series and it takes place concurrently with the last released book, book 8. Definitely don’t read this one until you’ve finished the entire series as it is currently. It is about what happened to Roger’s parents. While I did like this one it wasn’t a ‘love’ as the other novella. Honestly, I wanted more. It was too short. Oh, and another mention of a Dragonfly in Amber character in this book. Yes, very intriguing!

    Currently Reading

    • The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. Remember I said I liked historical fiction? Yep, this is historical fiction and it’s Tudor fiction at that! I love me some Tudor fiction! I know I’ve gone through all or most of the Philippa Gregory books for this period and the earlier War of the Roses period. I also love to watch any kind of Tudor time period movies or tv…so of course this gets me! It is a lot slower reading, though, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be renewing this one when it comes up. Based on the author’s list of books she’s written, I’m pretty sure I can satisfy my historical English monarchy fiction reading for awhile.

    What are you reading?

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    After we returned to the campsite and Forest played around for awhile, I decided to take him for a walk while Chris tried to get a campfire going. The wood was wet from the rain and it was proving to be a slow going feat. Chasing a toddler around was fun for awhile but was definitely on the exhausting end, so a walk was definitely in order. I hadn’t meant to dive off onto a trail, intending to just walk the large loop in the campground, but we eventually found ourselves at the Brazos River. The trail was a little muddy and puddled here and there, but that didn’t stop the trail from being fairly busy with other hikers. After Forest and I stopped at the river we returned back to the campsite to get Chris. This time the three of us went off down another trail for a little while until we turned around and headed for the trail I took to get to the river.

    The first photo above is a vine that I identified as some kind of unknown cucurbit. We inspected it closer on the way back and I’ll tell you a bit more about it shortly.

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    While this area is showing up in the post oak savannah habitat zone, it really resembles the Columbia bottomlands ecosystem that is more to the south of I-10. The habitat is definitely more of a bottomland than post oak savannah, at least inside the park.

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    The light that evening paired with the wet from the rain made for great photos. Lots of small scenes that stood out to me as we walked along.

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    So, I think this might be Perilla frutescens but I’m not quite sure. It reminds me of that, but the leaves are on the smaller side and as the plant wasn’t in flower so I can’t compare. Anyone have any idea? If it is, the plant is definitely invasive as it was a groundcover in many areas of the park.

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    The storms from earlier in the afternoon were to the east towards Houston and beyond when we arrived at the river. It made nice backdrop with the sunset glow on the trees on the far shore of the river.

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    After using Forest’s walker for a highchair during the last camping trip, we knew that it was time to find something else. Chris found a cheaper, collapsible highchair that we could easily take with us camping.

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    The gourd we found earlier in the hike we later, mostly confidently, identified as buffalo gourd. You might remember we saw it at Berry Springs Preserve in Austin last September. The only thing that kind of throws it off a little was that this particular specimen was climbing the tree snag whereas it seems most plants creep along the ground. I just haven’t found another gourd that would make sense for it to be. I guess when I cut it open I’ll compare it to other photos online and see if it is any different.

    More explorations from the state park coming soon!

    We haven’t been camping since early October at Martin Dies Jr State Park. The three other reservations we’ve had since then were all thrwarted due to weather. In all reality this one should have probably been cancelled, too. We spent about three hours in nearby Katy dodging thunderstorms that appeared earlier than predicted once we arrived, and temperatures overnight were pretty cold—the three of us tried our best to snuggle in the tent overnight but we all slept rather poorly.

    I’ll have more write-ups and photos soon, but for today I’m just sharing some of the fun photos of Forest around the campsite when we arrived back from our excursion into town.

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    Oof! We went camping last weekend and mid-week I was thinking, man, I never remember it always takes me a week to adjust to my usual schedule and feel back in the swing of things after a bit of time away. And then, of course, late Tuesday I started feeling iffy with a sore throat that turned into feeling like someone had roughed up my throat with a Brillo pad on Wednesday. Wednesday evening I was not feeling like doing anything and debated if this was going to be the flu, strep throat, or tonsillitis. When I woke up yesterday I knew better than to go into work and decided I was leaning towards strep throat so I went to the urgent care clinic after taking Forest to daycare. I was there when they opened and was seen quickly. I gave my symptoms and got a swab of my throat for a strep test. The strep test came back negative but the doctor looked in my throat and was thoroughly half amused and grossed out I think. He asked if I’d looked at my throat in the mirror, to which I answered that I hadn’t. Apparently it was full of pus pockets! Yum! He said it could still be strep but might be another bacterial infection and gave me the option of a fast acting shot antibiotic or the usual pill form. I chose the shot and dang that hurt! I didn’t want to get anyone sick since I was still considered to be contagious so here I am at home again. This time I’ll be trying to get some work done throughout the day while cuddling up with a blanket.

    Despite all of that, I think I can manage 5 things to share today!

    1. My friend Eliana sent me a wonderful box packed full of neat things she brought back from her recent trip to her homeland of Colombia. It’s always fun to get random boxes from her. I only wish I traveled places that I could send things to her, too!
    2. Cuddling up with Leo over the last few days. He’s gotten the shaft a lot since Forest has been around so it is nice to spend some quality cat time with him.
    3. Devouring two Diana Gabaldon Outlander novellas in the last week or so. A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows and The Space Between were fantastic and just left me wanting more gaps filled. Actually, if I hadn’t read these books I would have been just fine with how the current series has ended up until the last book, but these novellas have me questioning some things. Gah, so good!
    4. What Should I Read Next podcast from Modern Mrs. Darcy, aka: Anne Bogel. I’m liking it so far but hope that the repetitive book recommendations and favorites don’t continue. Nothing worse than everyone’s favorite books being ones released in the last year (or an Austen book!). I hope she diversifies her guests!
    5. Forest has been wanting to eat out of bowls lately. He’s actually eating a little more by doing that. I hadn’t figured out that they were doing this at daycare until recently. It’s fun seeing him growing up a little bit each month!

    The beavers have been trying to demolish a few of our trees down by the pond. Chris put up some mesh to prevent that but left one tree that was already doing poorly so that the beavers could chow down on it. Then, he ordered a new wildlife cam and this is the result! I sped the videos up 4x but you can still hear some of the sounds of the beaver munching away on the tree. Enjoy!

    I’m starting to slip back into sporadic posting again and would love to make a twice a week habit of writing so I don’t get lazy about writing. So, hey, a new weekly themed post, my spin on the popular Five Things Friday!

    1. I was not a fan of Shakespeare’s poetry in highschool, I was much more into his plays, but if I had Alan Rickman reciting it to me it might have been much more interesting. Goodbye, Colonel Brandon.
    2. Science is a hostage in the Oregon standoff. I’ve been watching all of the science and wildlife folks on social media in regards to the asinine takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by, let’s face it, assholes, and it has been incredibly frustrating to see the treatment of protected resources being given such a casual ‘meh’ by the mainstream media. In my head I’m just thinking of all of the time and energy that’s going to be spent cleaning up their messes and rebuilding the fences they’ve torn down, not to mention lost hours of any field work and time that was already on the agenda.
    3. I had a hard birth from Coffee and Crumbs. I’ve written about my own birth plan grief but so much of this post resonated with me. I definitely don’t think about it daily anymore, maybe not necessarily weekly either, but it still stings sometimes. “I know. We had a plan. It fell apart, disintegrated on sterile floors. Our babies needed help. Our hearts broke. Months, years, several happy births later, and we still can’t seem to avoid tears when we talk about it.”
    4. Working out! I hit all five days last week but only made it three days this week. My goal for this year in the gym is to be able to do an unassisted pull-up. I mean, there are other goals of course, but this one is a hard one and I’d love to get the upper body strength to do it. I love hitting the gym at lunch and even though I don’t know the other people working out at the same time (there’s not many) it is nice to see familiar faces every time I go in there. Today I was watching the female trainer do some squats and she was lifting heavy, a weight I might have done back in softball in highschool, so I was a little envious of her abilities. Yay for workouts!
    5. Reading! I didn’t get around to doing a word of the year post for 2016. Last year I had mindful, and while I am going to keep that as a sub-word this year—mindfulness is a life long work, I think—my main word for this year is Read. I want to read-all-the-books! There are several books I need to get through that I’m currently in the middle of and need to finish, others on my radar, and then some on my own bookshelf/library that I need to actual approach. Got anything I should put on my to-read list??
    6. So, there you have it. Part good links, part gratitude/thoughts.

      Have an awesome weekend!

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    My brother with Forest over New Year’s weekend. They were being silly and I thought it was funny I caught my brother sticking his tongue out!

    Life with a 16 month old, versus this time last year, with a four month old, is as you guessed, very different. As insane dealing with a toddler can be, it is becoming more fun by the day! Of course I miss many of those wonderful baby stage days but on many aspects I really don’t miss that stage at all! When Forest turned a year old I didn’t anticipate doing many updates after, but I feel the need to write a few things down here and there so that I can remember these moments in the future.

    Breastfeeding
    First, I’m so glad I did not wean Forest at one year. I know there’s a huge social stigma to nursing babies after they are a year or so old, but the longer I nurse Forest the less I care about that stigma. There’s several things I’d like to cover on this topic of nursing a young toddler so I’ll just start with pumping.

    After Forest turned one the Austin Mother’s Milk Bank (where I have been donating milk to) said I could still donate milk that I pumped through the end of September. After that, they wouldn’t accept pumped milk since the nutrition content of breastmilk changes over time and it is unknown how beneficial breastmilk after that time period would be to babies in NICU or in need of breastmilk shortly after birth. There’s just not a lot of studies out there to really show that kind of data. That said, at the end of September we had tons and tons of milk in the freezer, so I did not feel guilty about slowly dropping my pumping sessions over the course of about two months. I got rid of an afternoon session first and then dropped my morning session before work, and so now I only pump mid-morning at work and then about thirty minutes after lunch. This provides enough fresh milk for Forest to drink while at daycare the following day. He’s really only drinking 6-8 ounces of milk and a lot of the times he doesn’t finish his second cup. I know he prefer it straight from the tap, so that’s probably a bigger reason he doesn’t finish it! Regarding my supply for pumping, I probably pump anywhere from 3-4 ounces in a session, maybe 5 on that morning session if Forest didn’t nurse much that morning. That seems to be plenty though, and other than eating oatmeal a few times as week, I’m not doing a lot to try to boost my supply. It seems to be in a good place at the moment.

    So, for all of that pumped milk we had stored…well, we weren’t going through it fast enough so I donated another 300 ounces back in December. Between the private donation I did in June and the rest I’ve donated to the milk bank over the last six months, I’ve donated around 1,000 ounces of breastmilk. That’s about 7.8 gallons of milk! I still have frozen milk in the freezer from August through December and will likely donate more soon, probably my final donation. I am uberly, supremely, fantastically grateful for this wonderful milk supply I’ve had!

    As for nursing Forest himself, he’s definitely stretching his sessions out and is now turning into a kid who wants to come up and have a shot of milk, run around the room, ask for another shot of milk, run around the room…and repeat until I just say no and tell him to go play. I’ve also been battling some biting issues because he thinks it is HIL-AR-IOUS! I usually give him one more chance after the first bite but if he looks to be playing I end the session and we stop nursing. Momma ain’t got time for that! The best part of having a toddler that nurses is that he’s a toddler and isn’t reliant on milk for survival so we can be out and about longer without him needing to eat every other stop. Now I just hand him a sippy cup or a snack if he really needs some food and try to nurse when it is more convenient for me.

    However, he can get demanding and he definitely knows when he wants to nurse and has no problems throwing himself sideways in my arms when he wants to nurse. Toddlers have a mind of their own!

    Bedtime
    I felt we had a great routine after I stopped nursing him to sleep in early September. We’d nurse for about 10 minutes and I would put him in his crib where he would roll around and get settled for 15-30 minutes (I couldn’t/still can’t leave the room!) and then sneak out when he dozed to sleep. Most of the time I scroll through my phone but now I’m starting to read books on my Kindle app, as I can download books from our library.

    However, when Forest got sick in December this really upset our routine and he started nursing to sleep again. He became very beligerent with me when I wanted to return back to our old methods after he got better. Paired with being out of town for several days, the bedtime routine was very messed up. It’s taken over a week for us to get back on any kind of track and the other night I ended up letting him fuss for awhile because it was already over an hour of bedtime shenangians. I’m not sure what to do if this continues on; I may have Chris become the bedtime guy after awhile, we’ll have to see.

    I’m still dreaming of the ever elusive sleeping through the night bit. Again, I think that’ll come with night weaning but we’re not there yet.

    Playing and Learning
    This is where things are happening the most, I think. With him being a late walker, at 14.75 months, he wasn’t into things nearly as much early on. Sure, we had finally locked all of the cabinets and had to do all of that, and ocassionally there would be books taken off the cookbook shelf in the dining room, but with walking he can go anywhere, anytime, and he’ll certainly do that! We’re shutting the baby gate to the laundry room and I’ll close the door to the spare room, and it took us long enough but we finally moved Leo’s food and water bowl after one too many “Forest, stay out of that!”. That’s helped a lot with letting him wander around a little downstairs, but we do have to keep an eye on him going into the bathroom because he’ll try to get into the bathtub (he loves baths, still!) or play with the hose attachment for washing out his potty or diapers. He loves trying to play in the trash can and will sometimes just walk by it and hit his hand on the lid, just because.

    I had put a lot of the baby-baby toys away awhile ago but there are some others that I need to fade out as well. I put away his play mat after Christmas and that was bittersweet. The music it played reminded me so much of last year—me putting a non-mobile baby on it so I could do laundry or write a blog (have some sanity!)…it was sad to see it go. He’s learning to pull toys around, too. Before Christmas he had been playing with a turtle that rolls that was mine when I was a kid. My mom had used it for my niece and nephew and passed it along. The original string was long gone and mom had retrofitted it with a ribbon. Forest had, and still does, been trying to put the string—any string from anything—around his neck, like he’s putting clothes on. Needless to say, it was kind of dangerous! We took the string off the turtle and made sure to keep anything resembling a string or cord away because of what he was doing. At his birthday he’d also received a wooden caterpillar—the Hungry, Hungry, Caterpillar—that also was for pulling, and for Christmas Chris’ mom got Forest a wooden train that pulled. So, Chris worked with him a little on pulling it and now that he’s figured it out we’ve been supervising him with those toys with string. He just kind of drags the caterpillar around, but the train is heavy enough that it will roll instead of be dragged.

    We have stairs at the house but there are gates at the bottom and top and we always carry him up and down the stairs. At Christmas we were at Chris’ mom’s house and there wasn’t a gate at the bottom of the stairs so we were constantly watching him. Well, he found the bottom stairs and thought it was awesome to start climbing, and with one of us crawling up behind him, we let him learn to climb stairs. The other day the bottom gate at our house didn’t get shut all the way and I had gone in the kitchen. Sure enough it got quiet and I looked over and the kid was halfway up the stairs! I ran over and we finished going up together, but geez! You teach them something and they run with it!

    On the same level as the stairs, he got a table and two chairs for Christmas. I’d set it up near one of our upstairs windows in the second living area that is really now a playroom. I was folding laundry in our bedroom last weekend and looked over and saw that he’d moved the chair closer to his race car tower (another Christmas present) but also conveniently closer to the window, and then he proceeded to step up onto the chair and stand so he could look outside! Ahhhh! Where does he learn these things? More eagle-eye watching by us, that’s for sure.

    Forest is very into books, which I am very happy about. As a voracious reader and really, the only reader in the house, I hope that he becomes a voracious reader, too. I keep books everywhere for him and while he won’t sit still for us to read to him more than a page or two at a time, he will sit down by himself and flip through the books quietly. He will also carry them around. Most of the time I just point out items on the pages instead of try to read what’s on them. I also keep several books in the car along with his toys and he will typically flip through the books for awhile when we’re out and about.

    He’s not really talking but he pretty much understands just about everything we say. He’s said some words here and there but the one he says most these days is night-night, which is really nigh’-nigh’ with this adorable wave! He signs ‘more’ all of the time and I’ve been working with him on ‘all done’ for like ever but his ‘all done’ is to shove things off the high-chair tray! BUT, tonight I was getting him ready for bed and changing his diaper when he tooted. I asked him if he needed to go potty and made the sign for poop, something I’ve been working on along with ‘toilet’, and he actually tried to sign the ‘poop’ sign back! So, we went off to the potty where of course, he didn’t do anything, but at least I tried and followed it up after the sign.

    Another thing he has started doing is helping us with something that involves him, like buckling his seat belt in the car seat or putting his shoes on. He has been helping me get one of the chest latches so that I can buckle it, which has been a fun discovery to see him being involved in that. And the last two mornings he’s reached over and tried to help put his shoes on. He doesn’t care to wear shoes or socks but he’s been understanding that he has to put them on when we leave in the mornings, so it was kind of fun to see him try to undo the velcro on one shoe while I am getting the shoe on the other foot. He’s also starting to help undress himself when we take his shirts off.

    Food
    Forest is a pretty good eater these days. He goes through spurts when he seems he only wants to eat cheese, crackers, and bananas, though. When he was sick his appetite when down to nothing and he was just living on milk and applesauce there for a few days. Then he was all about the green beans, couldn’t get enough green beans…green beans all day and night! Now, he squishes the green beans on his tray. And then he gets excited about black beans and we’ll go through that for awhile. He hasn’t wanted to eat much fruit lately but he was really into mango and peaches there for a bit. It comes and goes with what he wants to eat, but he’s chowing down well! We’re definitely limiting his junk food intake and don’t really give him all that much, if any, sugary stuff and he only drinks water aside from breastmilk. We just started letting him try some chips when we have them because he’s always staring at us when we’re eating them. The chips get broken into tiny pieces because they aren’t as soft as crackers, but his molars are coming in so chewing is a little easier now. I would definitely like to get some different kinds of green vegetables into him but that hasn’t been a hit unless he sucks down one of the pouches.

    Well, I think that’s about it! He’s 16.5 months at the moment and I just can’t believe it. I’m trying to soak up all of the bits of it I can because I know it’ll all be gone and onto another phase before I know it!

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