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The classics are wonderful, and they’ve stood the test of time and become classics for a reason.  Any home poetry library would be incomplete without them!  But one thing I’ve discovered as I have explored more deeply in the world of children’s verses is that there is a great deal of extremely high quality modern poetry for kids – poems by living, working writers who have managed to capture the joy and magic of childhood, the wonders of nature, and the fun of exploring the world.

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Forest Has a Song, by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, is a recent find from Monkey See Monkey Do, our local children’s bookstore.  (In fact, it was one of the books I picked up at the end of Nugget’s storytelling birthday party.)  The poems in this lovely book are all related to nature.  They’re quite contemporary – many do not rhyme, which flies in the face of lots of the children’s poetry out there – and they’re gorgeous.

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The poems have a sense of rhythm without rhyme, and the simple watercolor illustrations beautifully convey the natural world that the poems evoke.

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Jumping Off Library Shelves, by Lee Bennett Hopkins, is a book of poems all dedicated to one topic (and a topic that happens to be very dear to my heart, at that) – the LIBRARY.  Again, many of the poems do not rhyme, and it makes for a wonderful first look at some different poetic structures.  But there are some more “traditional” rhyming verses to be found, too, including one that is just perfect for National Poetry Month —

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My mom flipped through this book on a recent visit.  She was enchanted and said she was going to recommend it to the school librarian at the elementary school at which she teaches – he’s a new father and she felt sure he would want to share these library-themed poems with his son and his students.  I agreed, since I think any library lover would find a great deal to enjoy in Jumping Off Library Shelves.

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The only one of our modern choices not found at Monkey See Monkey Do, When Green Becomes Tomatoes, by Julie Fogliano, found its way to us after I spotted a review in the Shelf Awareness for Readers newsletter.  (That newsletter has brought me many great bookish finds and friends, but the best ones have been my pen pal Katie and social media friend Kerry.)

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The seasonal poems are such fun to work through as the weeks march along, and I absolutely love the bold modern illustrations.  Rather than titled, the poems are dated for random days throughout the year; it would make such a fun project, for a family that is more organized than we are, to make a yearlong project out of reading each poem on its designated day.  As for us, we’ve just been flipping through and reading whatever catches our fancy, but with a special emphasis on the current season.

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Have you recently discovered any new favorite poetry for kids and kids-at-heart?

 

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We’re winding down National Poetry Month, but I still have a few poetical gems to share with my friends – and because of the season of my current state of life, they all revolve around kiddos.  As I mentioned when I shared my Diverse KidLit pick for the month, Sail Away: Poems by Langston Hughes, I have been trying to introduce my kids to more poetry recently.  As a picky poetry reader myself, I have been delighted to find that there are many options beyond Mother Goose.  Of course, there are classic children’s poems, but there are so many fantastic modern poets producing wonderful introductions to poetry for the youngest readers.  But today, we’re just going to talk classics – and I think I have a fairly comprehensive list to share with you (but if I’m leaving any out, do share!).

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No discussion of children’s poetry can begin without a nod to Mother Goose.  She’s widely considered to be the gold standard, after all.  Of course, as Peanut pointed out, Mother Goose is a little… terrifying.  I was shocked to discover how many of the poems my mom had, let’s say, edited when she read them to me.  But my favorite, Girls and Boys, is a delight:

Girls and boys, come out to play
The moon doth shine as bright as day

Leave your supper and leave your sleep
And come with your playfellows into the street
Come with a whoop or come with a call
Come with goodwill or not at all
Up the ladder and down the wall
A halfpenny roll will serve us all
You find milk and I’ll find flour
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour

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If you fancy something with a similar feel to Mother Goose, but more rabbits, you might want to delve into Beatrix Potter’s nursery rhymes.  Set in the same world as her famous tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddleduck, and all of their friends, the nursery rhymes are a little gentler than the longer stories – better for younger children who might be a little frightened by tales of badgers kidnapping baby bunnies and sadistic farmers trying to trap young animals.

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Apply Dpply, a little
brown mouse

Goes to the cupboard in
some-body’s house.

In somebody’s cupboard
There’s everything nice,
Cake, cheese, jam, biscuits,
All charming for mice!

Apply Dapply has little
sharp eyes
And Apply Dapply is so fond
of pies!

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A more recent discovery in our house – Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.  I’d heard of it from time to time and occasionally made half-hearted efforts to seek out a version I liked, but Stevenson wasn’t really on my radar.  But a few weeks ago, while Nugget and I were exploring the children’s section at our local Barnes & Noble, we came upon this lovely edition and snapped it up.  The poems are full of adventure and sweetness and we’ve been enjoying dipping into them here and there.

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How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,

Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture storybooks?

(I mean, does that not sound like a perfect Saturday?)

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Then there’s a more modern classic, but I can’t leave out one of my childhood favorites – Shel Silverstein.  Is there any reader who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, who didn’t have a copy of either A Light in the AtticWhere the Sidewalk Ends, or both?  I had Where the Sidewalk Ends and I spent hours pouring over it.  I loved Peanut Butter Sandwich… but not as much as I loved…

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Ricky was “L” but he’s home with the flu.
Lizzie, our “O,” had some homework to do.
Mitchell, “E,” prob’ly got lost on the way.
So I’m all of love that could make it today.

Sweet, right?

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Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite – A.A. Milne.  (I’m currently dipping into The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh and craving a trip to Ashdown Forest.)  I suppose it seems funny that I love both ee cummings and A.A. Milne, because cummings famously couldn’t stand Milne or his nursery poems – ha! I contain multitudes.  But Pooh has been dear to my heart since before memory, and I will always adore that sweet bear and his lovely friends.  (And yes, I did consider naming Nugget “Christopher Robin,” thank you for asking.)

The Friend

There are lots and lots of people who are always asking things,
Like Dates and Pounds-and-ounces and the names of funny Kings,
And the answer’s always Sixpence or A Hundred Inches Long.
And I know they’ll think me silly if I get the answer wrong.

So Pooh and I go whispering, and Pooh looks very bright,
And says, “Well, I say sixpence, but I don’t suppose I’m right.”
And then it doesn’t matter what the answer ought to be,
‘Cos if he’s right, I’m Right, and if he’s wrong, it isn’t Me.

What are your favorite classics of children’s poetry? 

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Annnnnnnd… exhale.  My months-long hell of constant work and sickness seems to have abated – for the moment, at least.  I still have a to-do list a mile long – both work and personal – but this week I have a free enough schedule that I might actually be able to get it all done, which should make for a refreshing change of pace.  (And I may even be able to sneak away for a break.  Along those lines, Zan, fancy a lunch?)

journey to munich greenbanks

So in a weekend in which it seemed like everyone and their mom was readathon-ing, I was just reading whenever I could, but not as part of any kind of event.  I was terribly jealous, obviously, because the Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is such an awesome time with lots of bookish internet folk; I participated once and had a blast.  But with two tiny kids (who allowed me less than 4 hours’ sleep the night before the readathon) and still being quite underwater at work (I put in a few hours in the office on Sunday) the readathon just didn’t seem in the cards for me… again.  I’m hoping that in October, I’ll be able to participate – Nugget will be a little more independent by then.  But I still read.  On Saturday I finished up Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple – my first Whipple, and certainly not my last.  I loved every moment of it – even when certain characters didn’t get the endings I’d hoped for them.  I’ll write more when I do my reading wrap-up, but Greenbanks was an absolute joy.  After I reluctantly left Louisa, Rachel, Kate and Letty, and all their families, behind, I turned my attention to Maisie Dobbs and her newest adventure in Journey to Munich.  I’m almost done with it – Maisie is always a quick read – and I’ve been feverishly turning pages, heart in my throat.  This might be Maisie’s most dangerous adventure yet – in fact, I’m sure it is.  Maisie is pulled into a dangerous game by the British Secret Service, sent deep into the heart of Nazi Germany on an ultra-sensitive mission for the Crown.  And while Maisie vows that if and when she comes out of her mission alive, she’s done with espionage – I hope that she’s proven wrong.  I like spy Maisie.

Up next on the blog, another bookish week for you!  In continuing celebration of National Poetry Month, I’ll be sharing more favorite collections of poems for kids – classics on Wednesday, and newer collections on Friday.  I hope you enjoy the posts; I’ve had a good time putting them together for you and choosing poems to feature.  So do check in!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date.  Thanks for the inspiration!

What are you reading this week?

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Spring!  It’s always a little iffy, but I think I can now safely declare that it’s here.  There are daffodils brightening up my morning commute, and the trees are beginning to bud.  At this rate, we’ll have leaves by Mother’s Day (my wish for the past three years, since I first moved to Buffalo).  And in the meantime, how better to celebrate spring than by reading books that feature, or somehow involve, gardens?

secret-gardenMy first pick, of course, has to be The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  For many of us – me included – it is the definitive spring read.  Young Mary Lennox is sent from India, the only home she has ever known, to be ward in the house of a wealthy, but reclusive, uncle.  “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” is bored and resentful – until she gets “a bit o’ earth” to nurture.  Soon Mary discovers a walled garden, neglected since the mistress of the house passed away.  With the help of local boy Dickon, Mary gradually comes out of her own shell and then turns her attention to drawing out her fretful, hypochondriac cousin Colin.  Soon the crisp spring air, warm sunshine, cheerful robins and budding garden are working miracles on both lonely children – but what will happen if Mary, Dickon and Colin are discovered in the forbidden garden?

Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote novels for adults as well as two famous “children’s” classics – A Little Princess being the other.  I’ve not yet read her adult books, although they are on my list.  If they’re anything near as delightful as The Secret Garden, they must be pure magic.  I know that many love A Little Princess, and I do too, but The Secret Garden holds a special place in my heart.  It has been one of my favorite books since I was very, very small, and it’s a perfect spring read.

the enchanted april In The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim, four strangers (or near-strangers) rent an Italian castle together, and their souls are healed by “wisteria and sunshine.”  On a rainy day in Hampstead, Lotty Wilkins spies an advertisement for an Italian castle for rent for the month of April.  Dreaming of escaping the cold weather and an even colder marriage, Lotty allows herself to fantasize about a month in paradise – but actually renting the castle seems out of reach.  That changes quickly when Lotty sees Rose Arbuthnot, a casual acquaintance, sighing over the same ad.  Lotty convinces a reluctant Rose to come along for the ride and together the two women convince Mrs. Fisher, an elderly (and rather grumpy) widow, and young socialite Lady Caroline Dester, to combine forces and funds.  At first, the project seems to be going poorly – there is some squabbling, mainly spearheaded by Mrs. Fisher, over garden access.  But the Italian countryside soon works its magic over all of the ladies.  Lotty and Rose spend hours sitting in one of the gardens that Mrs. Fisher permits them to use, and rambling through the wilderness.  Lady Caroline (“Scrap,” to her friends) dozes in the sunshine and soon comes out of her shell as well, and even cantankerous Mrs. Fisher finds herself soothed and calmed by the peaceful retreat.

The descriptions of flowers and gardens in The Enchanted April are truly luscious, but the true magic of this spellbinding book is in the relationships between the four women.  A month that begins on the strength of a tenuous, and new, friendship between Rose and Lotty soon sees bonds formed and nurtured, as wisteria is nurtured by the warm Italian sun.  I read this for the first time this spring, and it’s going to be an annual tradition.

henriettas warHenrietta is the wife of a Devonshire doctor, mother of two grown children, and feeling useless when we first meet her in Henrietta’s War, by Joyce Dennys.  World War II has broken out and she is generally disqualified from the war work that most other women in the village are doing, as her role is to “take care of the doctor” and she simply can’t be spared for anything else.  As a result, Henrietta is bored and embarrassed by her seeming uselessness, and she spends quite a lot of time pottering about in her garden and relating her activities therein to her “dear childhood’s friend” Robert, to whom she writes breezy, newsy letters to cheer up his service at the front.  Henrietta is far from useless in the village, but she actually is rather useless in the garden, which is refreshing, and her tribulations are quite funny.  Anyone who has struggled to keep plants alive (coughTHISgirlcough) will recognize Henrietta’s frustration, and nod along in relief – we’re not the only black thumbs out there!

Henrietta’s War doesn’t focus on the garden, but Henrietta herself spends a great deal of time in it, trying to get plants to grow and fending off visitors from her garden gate.  It’s a joy to read about her day-to-day life in the English countryside, and I can only imagine how cheering such letters would be for a weary serviceman like Robert.

Honorable mentions (fair warning; I haven’t read all of these):

  • Elizabeth and Her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim – I’m midway through this diary of a young mother who escapes to her garden in all seasons; her descriptions of her joy in planting and tending are delightful, but her marriage makes me sad.
  • Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden, by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven – I’ve never read any of Vita Sackville-West’s writing, but she’s on my list.  She might be the most famous English garden maven, so I look forward to reading about her love affair with Sissinghurst, the lauded English garden she built.
  • English Country Houses, by Vita Sackville-West – Another one that I would like to read sooner than later, Sackville-West’s guide to the great houses of her native England ostensibly focuses mainly on the homes’ architecture, history and cultural place.  But this is Sackville-West we’re talking about, so I’d bet that the gardens play a major role as well.

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What books are getting you in a spring frame of mind?

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Recently I’ve started introducing my children to poetry.  Poetry is generally not my cup of tea – I’m very picky about it, and if I don’t like something, it really sets my teeth on edge.  But I want Peanut and Nugget to grow up appreciating good poetry, and I want them to have the skills to understand and enjoy it – skills that I am still developing, myself.  Since I started keeping eyes out for good poetry for them, I’ve discovered that there is a lot of wonderful poetry, in some really beautiful books.  Some of the poetry I’ve found is specifically geared toward children, but not all of it – some books, like the gorgeous Sail Away, by Langston Hughes, reprint classic poems that may have originally been intended for adults, but that children can enjoy too.  And really, what better Diverse KidLit pic for National Poetry Month than an introduction to Hughes, one of the foremost poets of the Harlem Renaissance?

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Sail Away includes some of Hughes’ most famous pieces – like The Negro Speaks of Rivers, a poem I’ve loved since I first read it in school.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

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Then there are poems like April Rain Song, which I’d never read before, but how better to capture the sheer joy of a child stomping in puddles, and how perfect for spring, is this:

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your
     head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the
     sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song
     on our roof at night

And I love the rain.

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The illustrations are beautiful – colorful, eye-catching, and sure to please both kids and the adults who read these poems to them.  There are children of all different races and ages on the pages, and their sweet faces seem almost alive.  The illustrations perfectly match the lovely poetry – they really make the book.

Day
Became a bright ball of light

For us to play with.
Sunset
A yellow curtain
Night
A velvet screen.

I originally saw Sail Away on one of the tables during my kids’ preschool book sale, but I didn’t buy it because I was in a hurry to get to work.  When I came back for the book, it was gone – bummer for me, but what a delight for someone else!  I filed away the title and made a point of ordering it later, and I’m so glad that I did.  The selected poems are wonderful for children, as they capture joy and bliss in experiencing the natural world – but children are not the only ones who will enjoy this gorgeous book.  This is one for the parents as well.

If you’d like to read more Langston Hughes poems, many of his works are available on poemhunter.

Are you reading any diverse poets for National Poetry Month?

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We had the most glorious weekend!  After I survived last week, thanks to my hearing being rescheduled (for this coming week, and I have a night meeting, an Important Lunch, and two filings in addition to the hearing, so it’s going to be another packed one) I really should have worked the weekend to get ahead, but the weather was glorious and I was burnt out and I just wanted to enjoy.  So I did.  On Saturday we headed out for a hike at a new-to-us spot, Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, and did some bird-spotting.  (More to come when I get pictures uploaded – yes, I used the dSLR!)  On Sunday we did another quick hike at Times Beach Nature Preserve, then hit up Canalside; we were hoping to get Peanut a good hour in the sandbox, but it was under construction so we just wandered around, checked out the boats, and felt the sun on our faces.  I’m an obsessive weather-watcher and I’ve been eyeing the forecast and am cautiously optimistic that it really is spring now.  Time will tell.

kindred honey for a childs heart an irish country doctor

As for reading this week, I got more done than expected given the workload.  I guess it helps that it was only the workload this week – no one was sent home sick from school, and parents were healthy too.  Let’s hope that lasts.  I finished Kindred, by Octavia Butler, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  It was very compelling, but it was violent.  I suppose it had to be, since the main character was traveling back in time and the past is the past and she ended up in a particularly violent era, but wow, was it ever hard to read.  I needed something easier on the soul after closing Kindred for the last time, so I quickly plowed through Honey for a Child’s Heart – more on this when I do my monthly review roundup, but meh – and then spent the weekend on An Irish Country Doctor.  I had sort of low expectations for An Irish Country Doctor, not because I thought it would be a bad book – the series is beloved, after all – but medical stories are really REALLY not my cup of tea.  As doctor books go, though, this was enjoyable enough that I think I will continue on with the series, at least for a few books.  I do wish the main characters had been a vicar and curate instead of doctors, though – that would have been more my street.

Next up, I’m starting Get in Trouble, a collection of short stories by Kelly Link, because I’m out of renewals at the library and it’s been bumped to the top of the heap as a result.  It looks great and creative and I’m hoping that I can get past my general preference for novels over short stories and appreciate it.  After that… well, I have seventeen other books checked out of the library, so I’m sure I will find something to read.

I have a bookish couple of weeks in store for you here, starting with this week – a great pick for my diverse kidlit project to go along with National Poetry Month on Wednesday, and a spring reading list of books that feature gardens on Friday.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date.  Thanks for the inspiration!

What are you reading this week?

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A few weeks after the temporary receptionist at my kids’ school started work, he asked me what I do for a living, and when I told him I’m a lawyer, he nodded knowingly and said he’d figured it was something like that.  “I see you every day with that huge car seat, and you’re so tiny” (I’m five feet tall, I get that a lot) “and juggling both kids, and you always look so busy!”  I laughed, agreed that it was “a busy season,” and proceeded to wrestle my wiggly anklebiters into their car seats and drive home for another evening of cooking dinner, bribing Peanut to eat, officiating elaborate bedtime rituals, cleaning the kitchen, and crashing on the couch.  And thinking longingly of a day when I’m just mildly busy.

My mom has told me that, even as a kid, I was always busy.  And I remember that being the case – I’m sure I did utter the words “I’m bored” from time to time (I was a human child, after all) but I honestly don’t recall ever really being bored.  There was always something to read, something to do, someplace to explore.  These days, I’m still busy, although it’s often the crushing, anxiety-inducing variety of busy and not the bustling, contented form of days past.  But one thing I know is – I’ll never be bored.  I often find myself daydreaming about all of the things I’d do if I had spare time, and while some might find that depressing, I find it comforting.  Years from now, a day will dawn when I’m not overwhelmed and my kids are a little more independent, and while I’ll miss the sweetness and snuggles of their baby years, it helps to know I’ve got a list of things to occupy my time and attention when that day does come.  Things like…

  • Improve my photography.  On the day when I no longer have a baby in a front carrier, I’m going to be really sad, but I will take some consolation in having free hands for my dSLR again, and I’m going to really learn how to use it then.
  • Take up birdwatching.  I love birds and have for a long time, but haven’t been able to devote the time or energy to learning to identify many of them.  And there’s also the baby in front carrier problem (see above) that prevents me from using my camera at all, let alone my zoom lens.
  • Decorate my house.  I’m assuming that I’ll have one again someday, and maybe the third time will be the charm when it comes to creating a serene haven filled with personal touches, family pictures and memories of our adventures together.  I’m a homebody without a home at the moment and I hope to fix that.
  • Finally run that marathon.  Right now I can’t imagine being separated from Nugget for more than thirty seconds voluntarily, but that might change when he hits the threenager stage, and then those long training runs might be a bit more appealing.
  • Go on dates.  Steve and I are in a phase of life right now when it’s really hard to get away for dates.  We do manage to make it out from time to time, but when we do it’s a really momentous occasion.  We’re both low-key types who like hanging out at home, so it’s not like we’re wilting away over here, but it does feel good to get out and about sometimes.  At some point, we will work through the guilt around leaving the little ones and find ways to slip out more consistently and spend one on one time with each other.
  • Keep my house clean.  I am laboring under the delusion that someday I will be able to walk through the living room without tripping over Peanut’s stuffed rabbit or Nugget’s beloved green car.
  • Hike more.  And in different places.  I want to wander through canyons in Zion National Park, climb more Adirondack peaks, and trek the South West Coast Path in England.
  • Read books.  I know I do that now, but the TBR stack is growing faster than I can scan pages.  Maybe one day I’ll finally read Trollope?
  • Make stuff.  There will come a day when it won’t take me eight months to knit a hat.  And I really want to learn how to weave, but when exactly?  I’m always looking at looms online, but HA.  I miss making stuff with my hands.
  • Travel again.  I mean really travel, and without worrying about car seats and pack ‘n plays.  I love the baby stage – some people are baby people, and I’m one of them – and I can often be heard dreading the day when Peanut won’t want to snuggle in my lap, and Nugget won’t need to hold my hands as he careens around the living room.  But one major consolation will be the ability to take them globe-trotting and introduce them to our favorite places.  We’re going to poke our heads into every corner of Europe, and we’re going to visit all of the national parks, and we’re going to kayak with orcas off the San Juans, loll on the grass at Green Gables, and spot penguins in Antarctica.  Just as soon as they can carry their own backpacks.

I’ve never been bored and I never will be.  How can I be, with all of these things to do, someday?  I’m storing each and every plan away against the day when I can take it out, dust it off and do something about it.  That day isn’t here yet, so for now you can still find me muddling through my days and holding tight to my little guy as I bury my nose in his sweet smelling baby cornsilk hair at night.  So when I’m crying about my littlest baby growing up, would you kindly remind me of my to-do list?

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