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In celebration of Jack’s second birthday we had a small party at the splash pad near our house on Saturday. We kept the guest list much shorter this year and made things easy on ourselves by ordering pizza.

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We considered having it at our house, but Jack loves visiting the splash pad so much that it was an obvious choice. Getting everything to the splash pad and back home again posed a logistical challenge but it forced us to keep things low key and was still less stressful than hosting it at home.

033 Fuse (570x380) I filled some inexpensive beverage containers from Target with homemade lemonade and ice water–more on the beverage stand tomorrow. The iced tea was a last minute decision and the pitcher was only half full because I needed a spill-proof way to transport it and that amount filled the largest lidded jar that I had. I should have filled the pitcher with ice, the jar with water, and used the second beverage dispenser for tea. Live and learn. The tablecloth is just a twin sized flat sheet draped over a folding table. 005 (570x381) Although pizza was the main event, I also brought some fresh fruit and spinach dip. I didn’t have a shatterproof bowl large enough for the watermelon so I hollowed out the watermelon itself. I just took a small slice off the bottom to help it sit flat, then cut off the top third and cubed up the insides. Once I had most of the fruit removed I scraped out the rest to make a nice bowl. The tablecloth is a large canvas dropcloth that I already had. It’s been washed so many times that it’s amazingly soft. Everything on the table got squished over to the right once the pizza arrived. It’s also worth noting that we set up a folding canopy over the two tables–the cake was melting towards the end even in the shade! 007 (570x381) My sister is an amazing baker and did a great job with the cake. She knows I don’t like themed parties but couldn’t resist the temptation to incorporate one of Jack’s favorite things–Sesame Street. He LOVED seeing Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird on his cake. The characters around the perimeter are actually plastic rings. For older kids they could double as party favors but we set them aside after we saw Jack put one entirely into his mouth. 019 (570x375) We’d practiced blowing out candles a few times recently so Jack knew what to do! He thinks it’s fun. 059 (382x570) The cake was strawberry with Swiss meringue buttercream icing–yum! Folks brought towels and folding chairs and sat down to eat wherever they felt comfortable. It was very relaxed. 079 (570x380) I didn’t manage to get a picture of it until after the party, but I spent about $20 on enough buckets, balls, etc. for all the kids to enjoy, plus any others that happened to be playing at the splash pad that day. Normally it really bugs me when people bring toys to the playground or splash pad because my kid wants to play with them and it gets awkward, so I made sure to tell other parents that their kids were free to play with them and even bring them home. I intentionally bought a bunch because I figured they could double as favors and we still brought more home than we know what to do with. 011 (570x380) All together we spent right around $200, including $25 on a gift–Jack’s really into trucks right now so we got him this with some small things we knew he’d love, like bubbles and an Elmo cup, in the back. To save money I designed the invites myself and then emailed/texted them out instead of having them printed and mailed, bought napkins and cups at the dollar store, used things I already had whenever possible, and kept the guest list short–just kids we play with regularly and immediate family. I also found lots of things inexpensively in the Target dollar spot and summer sections and most of them are things I can use again for future parties. We probably could have saved quite a bit by serving homemade sandwiches instead of pizza, so that’s something to consider for next time. 114 (2) (380x570) You can read about Jack’s first birthday party here. I’ve got to say that after this experience I’m pretty much sold on hosting parties away from home. An hour before the party we were just chilling on the couch, everything packed up and ready to go as soon as it was time. The only thing I didn’t plan well enough was the cleanup. I’d brought two small trash bins but they weren’t nearly big enough–next time I’ll bring a couple of large garbage bags to get everything home, including stuff like towels and tablecloths that aren’t getting thrown away but aren’t worth folding neatly for transport, either. I also forgot ice, even though I’d meant to buy a bag of it on our way over, but my sister’s teenage stepson saved the day by begging some from the golf pro shop adjacent to the splash pad. We are really lucky to have a place like this so close to home, but even if you don’t maybe you can repurpose some of the ideas used here–like sticking to simple colors instead of a theme so that you can be more flexible and reuse items in the future, or resisting the urge to invite everyone you know. It was so much more relaxed having a smaller crowd. We had such a good time that I wish we could do it again sooner than next year!

Jack turned two years old this weekend. Can you believe it?

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We celebrated with a small party on Saturday and saved Sunday for just the three of us. We gave him a gift and had brunch at a place that has a live band. Jack loved it. They even put a giant sombrero on his head and sang to him. Yesterday afternoon I tried to snap some photos of him to document the milestone. He was way more interested in playing than posing but I still got a few good ones.

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He regularly gets compliments on his eyes. They’re definitely Nick’s.

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This kid is obsessed with apples–he could eat several a day. He also really enjoys milk, cheese, and anything sweet.

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His favorite things are books, swimming, Elmo, and Let It Go, as well as playing outside, animals, music of all kinds, and cuddling. He impresses me every day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing him to other children, especially in this age of social media. I want to document the things he’s doing for my own reminiscence, but I don’t want to brag. So often when I see a friend post on Facebook about the cutest thing her toddler just said I catch myself wondering whether her child is more advanced than mine. It’s ridiculous–they’re two! So, with the caveat that each child develops at his or her own pace, here are a few things Jack has started doing that I’d like to remember: singing his ABC’s (mostly just the same few letters over and over again to the tune of the song); counting, though often out of order; naming the colors yellow and blue; naming familiar people and pets; running, which is kind of a big deal seeing as he didn’t walk until 19 months; testing limits and boundaries; naming body parts; and this isn’t new, but he gives lots of huge and cuddles. He’s a very sweet boy and we just love him to pieces.

Nick and I tied the knot five years ago tomorrow. Where does the time go?

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I was only a few weeks out of grad school and, to be honest, a little scared. What if I was making the wrong decision? There are no roadmaps in life and it’s scary for someone like me to just follow my gut. I’d had my heart broken before–what if it happened again? It was hard for me to make such a big leap without a healthy dose of terror.

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But what I’d underestimated was just how steady this man is. He will keep showing up, and he won’t make a big fuss about it.

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We are truly partners in life and in parenting. I can trust him to always be there, and I know that though times have changed many fathers are not as involved as he is. Jack thinks he hung the moon.

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Like most, our marriage has not been without its challenges, but every year it gets better and stronger. We’re both still growing together–learning to be honest and kind and considerate while still maintaining our own identities. Happiness is hard work.

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From an anniversary post two years ago:

I think I got really lucky when I met Nick. After a series of poor dating decisions throughout high school and college he came along the summer after my junior year and made a fabulously bad first impression. It was so awful that it even merited a spirited post on the personal blog I maintained at the time. I won’t go into the details, since he’s perennially embarrassed when I tell the story, but let’s just say he came off more as drunk frat boy than sweet and sensitive future husband. He must have known better than me, though, because he spent the next several weeks chasing me down and asking for dates before I finally conceded. Turns out he was the perfect fit for me, and almost exactly three years later we were married. I’ve never once regretted it.

This is probably the last installment I’ll do in this series, seeing as Jack turns two this month and will then be considered a regulation-sized toddler, but this second year has been one of transition and until recently he still seemed more like a baby than a toddler to me. I pride myself on being a smart shopper–I research and read reviews and agonize over what the best choice is before almost every purchase. The world of baby gear can be overwhelming, but I’ve found a few things that are really pretty great. If you’ve got younger ones be sure to read my recommendations for the first six months and 6-12 months. This list is much shorter than the previous two because toddlers (thankfully) don’t need nearly as much special equipment, though they do amass toys and books at an alarming rate.

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Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Boppin’ Activity Bugs**

It took me what seemed like forever to find a pop-up toy that didn’t have lights and sounds. Simple, battery-free toys are getting harder and harder to find these days, but this one is great. It’s inexpensive, baby-powered, and one of Jack’s favorite toys.

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KidKraft Vintage Kitchen**

I got some serious side-eye from a lady in the grocery store when I told her that my son was getting a play kitchen for Christmas. The idea that boys should play with boys’ toys and girls should play with girls’ toys is a bit outdated, in my opinion, and I really wanted Jack to have a play kitchen. For big toys like this looks are important to me and this one is so beautiful it actually inspired me to make some improvements to my real kitchen. Jack plays with it every day, even six months after Christmas. His favorite thing to do lately is to put something in the “microwave,” stand back for a few seconds, and then take it out.

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Sugar Booger Kiddie Play Back Pack**

I got this backpack about a year ago when Jack briefly attended a Mother’s Day Out program, but it wasn’t until recently that I really came to appreciate its function. Now that he can walk really well I’ve outsourced the diaper bag responsibilities to him. I keep a diaper, some wipes, a few small toys, and maybe if I’m super organized a change of clothes in there and he wears it on his back when we go out. I’m not sure I would recommend this particular backpack because the straps are just a little wide for his shoulders, but it’s adorable and Athe idea of a baby backpack is solid.

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Rody Inflatable Hopping Horse**

I read somewhere that these are popular with physical therapists because they help build muscle tone, and while at almost two Jack still struggles to balance on Rody’s back more muscular kids may have more luck. Even though he doesn’t “ride” him much, Jack loves Rody. He treats him like a pet, giving him hugs and kisses and sometimes even dragging him around the house.

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If you’re going to get a ride-on toy, you might as well get one that can hold over 200 pounds, am I right? Nick and I have definitely competed in timed trials riding this thing around the house after Jack is in bed. He’s had it since Christmas and is only just now figuring out how to use the steering wheel to propel it, but can get around just fine by pushing with his feet. Warning, though, it’s suggested for ages 3 and up. I carefully disregard those warnings if there aren’t any small parts I can see, but I didn’t assemble this one myself and should have taken a better look. You see that yellow circle in the center of the steering wheel? It’s about the size of a milk gallon cap and covers a metal bolt. Jack removed it once and nearly choked. Luckily Nick was nearby and was able to sweep it out with his finger, but it was scary. We kept the Plasmacar but the offending piece of plastic went into the trash.

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Prince Lionheart weePOD Basix**

And last but not least, as we near Jack’s second birthday potty training has become a thing. This potty seat is easy to use and clean, inexpensive, and helps Jack feel secure and comfortable. If you prefer a stand-alone mini potty, I recommend the BabyBjorn Potty Chair** (we have one in our upstairs bath).

Overall as Jack gets older I find that he only needs the most basic stuff–balls, books, dolls, stacking toys, etc., as well as an endless supply of clothes. It seems like every shirt gets stained after just a few wears.

**Amazon affiliate link. If you make a purchase after following that link I will receive a small portion of the proceeds at no additional cost to you.