Tag Archives: toys

She Says… A Sore Loser

First things first, thank you so much to all who commented, tweeted and emailed me happy thoughts for my surgery yesterday. It went very smoothly. The doctors and nurses were all wonderful. Prior to the surgery I was joking with the anesthesiologist about putting me under before I even went in the operating room so I could just get this over with. Apparently she did, because once we got in there (so I thought), I felt people touching my legs and I said, “I can still feel that” (you know, trying to be helpful) and they smiled at me and said, “That’s good! We’re done!”. So the actual procedure was easy. I felt exhausted and crampy all day yesterday, and today my whole body feels achy like I have the flu, but I’m expecting to feel much better very soon.

Onto happier topics. Like my kid being THE WORST at losing. Losing anything, really, but as we’ve recently entered the wide world of board games, we’re learning the “how to lose” lesson over and over and over again. Apparently he needs a LOT of practice with this life skill.


Let’s back up. For Owen’s 3rd birthday he got a game called Zingo. If you have a 3-4 year old and haven’t played this, you are missing out. It is SO FUN and occupies Owen for 30+ minutes. Maybe it’s the fact that Owen is a little police officer for rules, and he likes knowing what is and isn’t allowed in the game. Or maybe it’s the fact that he gets 30+ minutes of undivided attention since we’re so engaged when we play it. Or maybe it’s just that it’s new and he got it for his birthday. Whatever it is, it’s kind of magic. I can even play it while nursing Emmett.

The first time Owen and I played, I won. To be honest I didn’t even think about letting Owen win, because I know what an important skill it is to be a good loser. That said, I was not prepared for his melodramatic response.


First, he screamed at the top of his lungs. A piercing, high-pitched squeal. Then he stood up and threw his Zingo board and all of the little pieces all over the living room. Then he shouted, “I’m NEVER playing this game again. NEVERRRRR!”. His fists were clenched and tears streamed down his cheeks. He sobbed body-heaving sobs.

I did my best to stifle the laughter I felt bubbling up. This was clearly very serious to him and I was trying to honor his emotions, but, seriously? I’d never seen an outburst like this before. How did he even really know what “winning” meant? Once he had let off some steam we had a discussion about what to do when someone wins (say, “Congratulations!”) and how he might win the next one. We also made a new house rule that the winner has to clean up the game.


That was weeks ago, and since then he has gotten much better. But still, Benjamin and I cringe when one of us wins, waiting to see what Owen’s reaction will be. Sometimes it’s incredibly mature and calm (“Congratulations! Let’s play again.”) and other times it’s flat out Charlie Sheen-esque. Benjamin is much more apt to let Owen win to avoid the drama, but I am a mean mom and force him to practice, practice, practice his losing skillz.

We’re working on it.

Since Owen took to this board game like a Kardashian to fake eyelashes, we decided to pick up another one a few days ago. And this one eliminated the need for battening down the hatches when someone other than Owen won. Count Your Chickens is a cooperative game, so everyone works together and wins or loses as a team. A little hokey? Yes. Avoiding teaching how to win/lost nicely? Absolutely. But does it give us an equal amount of focused playing time without the tantrum at the end? Hell yeah. So it’s a new family fave.

Unfortunately all of this “winning” and “losing” talk has extended beyond the board games. Now at the dinner table Owen will ask me, “Mommy, why are you eating so quickly? I want to win!”, despite my insistence that the point of dinner is not to “win”. Sigh. Perhaps that’s a lesson for another day. On the upside, we have a new tactic for getting him upstairs for teeth brushing in the evening. All Benjamin has to do is dash out of the room and say, “I’m going to beat you up the stairs! I’m gonna win!”.

Win or lose, I’m excited to have moved into the next phase of toys and playtime with Owen, that of rules and games.

She Says… Cheap Date

I bet I can get a resounding “Amen” from other parents when I say, “All hail the Target Dollar Bins”.

Seriously. I used to walk by that little section and think, “Ugh, stupid crap that no one needs. Yes it’s only a dollar, but why waste your money?”. That is, I said that before I had a toddler. These days I always take a spin through there whether Owen is with me or not. And I can not even count how many treasures I have found. $1 can buy you a LOT when you are 2.

Here’s the thing. The stuff IS cheap. It’s usually made in China and made with ingredients I wouldn’t normally choose and it’s always crap you don’t really NEED and it’s not going to last very long. But here’s what I’ve learned. Sometimes that dollar spent can get you far, far more than the most expensive wooden, educational thingamabob made with recycled materials and plant-based ink.

It’s FUN. It’s SILLY. It’s the kind of thing my mother NEVER would have let me buy as a kid, and now I kind of get a thrill from tossing it in my cart.

We had a bit of a rough weekend. The stomach bug last Thursday left a cranky, whiny kid without much of an appetite in its wake. The bug itself (temp, etc.) was pretty mild and very short-lived, but the aftermath seemed to linger. Owen was healthy, but not himself. I’m not even sure if it was illness-related, but something was bothering him for the last few days and he was NOT acting like his sweet little self. In any case, today, on our 5th straight day of being at home when we’re used to being out and about all the time, I had to whip out one of my Target Dollar Bin goodies. (Yes, I buy them and save them for a rainy day.)

And, to my surprise, we got over an hour of entertainment from that $1 toy.

Remind me of this next time I scoff at the cheap crap.

sponge2 sponge4

It was these little things called “Grow Capsules”. They are like little pill-shaped capsules that you put in a cup of warm water. The capsule part melts away and these little animal-shaped sponges slowly emerge.

The anticipation of what animal it was going to be was astonishing. Owen was enthralled. FOR AN HOUR.


12 times, we repeated the “experiment” and it never lost its luster. I wish I had bought 100 more.


Now we have these 12 little animal-shaped sponges that Owen has been counting and sorting by color and lining up and stacking and squishing and putting in water and drying off. He adores them. He makes them walk around together and give each other kisses. I’m amazed.

I’m thinking we might try to sponge paint/stamp with them at another time (when he’s done loving them like his own next-of-kin).

Now THAT’S a lot of entertainment from $1.

Have you ventured into the cheapo Target section or a dollar store for $1 entertainment? What treasures have you found? Our favorites are window gels for various holidays/seasons (ALWAYS at least a few hours of peeling/sticking them, moving them around, and then eventually ripping them and throwing them in the trash a few weeks later), a tube with an alligator head that makes a weird noise when you turn it upside down, and a 4-page Sesame Street board book about the seasons that for some inexplicable reason has held Owen’s attention for over a year. Treasures, I tell you.


She Says… Gifts, Gifts and More Gifts

It seems like everyone I know is having a baby, and everyone Owen knows is turning 3. The number of baby shower gifts and toddler birthday presents we have had to buy in the last few months (and the next few) is mind-boggling. Every time I get an invitation, I think, “Oh yay! A fun party! But WHAT do I get for a present…”.

In general, baby gifts are easy because I usually go for a medium-sized gift from the parents-to-be’s registry (because, really, it’s annoying when everyone gets you a receiving blanket and you still don’t have things like sheets that you really NEED), and then supplement with something little that I loved when Owen was tiny. Or, if I can carve out the time, a homemade item (I’m teaching myself to sew… very much a beginner) like burp cloths made from cute fabric or a baby quilt. Ok, I’ll be honest… I only gave a baby quilt once, and it took me the entire 9 months that I knew one of my dear friends was pregnant to make it. So that was kind of an exception. But still, homemade things are a favorite when I can swing it. But lately? Not so much.

My top 3 little “somethings” to add to my registry gift:


This “Baby Banana” teether/toothbrush makes me giggle. And Owen ADORED his.


These black and white flashcards are mesmerizing for babies.


This CD is my favorite. Owen and I listened to it every single night for his bedtime routine since he was 12 weeks old. I never switched it up because it was too perfect. I know it’s getting a little passe to give a CD, but whatevs.

And, if the friend is someone who I know well and I think would appreciate a book to read, I will often lend/give one of my two all-time favorite new baby books: Happiest Baby on the Block and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I found them both to be immensely helpful. But in general I think parenting books are something the parents-to-be should choose for themselves.

For some reason, I find toddler birthday gifts to be much harder to pick out. It’s hard to know what the kid already has at home (easier if you can spy on their toys at a playdate), or what kinds of activities they enjoy. I should be good at this… I see my kid playing every day. But this one always kind of stumps me.

Recent favorites have been:


Automoblox. These little cars that you take apart like a puzzle. Owen loves making “mixed up cars” and “limousines” by putting them back together in funny ways.


I Spy books. Owen could play I Spy forever… either with the book or just looking out the window. He’s remarkably good at remembering where things are. Way better than I am. And it’s been a good tool to practice taking turns at home for us.


Any Melissa & Doug wooden puzzles, really. But this one is a particular favorite at our house. Owen can do all four of the puzzles all by himself (though he prefers to have someone sitting with him so he can talk about it the whole time).

So here’s where I ask for help. What are your favorite go-to new baby and kid birthday gifts? I need some fresh ideas.

She Says… And the prize goes to…

After the Christmas rush and the gift guides and the Christmas lists, I like to make a mental note of what really got that huge smile on Christmas morning, and, even better, what has continued to provide entertainment since the box was opened.

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Hands down, the #1 winner for “entertaining Owen the most since Christmas” (aka “the toy that has given me the most quiet time”) goes to the marble run. I kid you not, every single night since Christmas (give or take a few), Benjamin and Owen have dragged that monstrosity into our kitchen and played with it on the floor while I made dinner.

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And every night when I call out, “Dinner time!”, Owen whines, “I’m not finished playin’, Mommy!”.

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They’ve built it and re-built it several times, and for some reason rolling marbles down the tracks is completely mesmerizing.

So, a hot tip for those of you who have an active preschooler to wrangle while you make dinner!

She Says… Holiday Gift Guide for 2-3 Year Olds (Part II)

So if you missed the first 5 of the Top 10 Things Owen Doesn’t Even Know He Wants for Christmas, check out yesterday’s post. If you read that and you’re ready for more, here are the last 5.

I must say, I’ve been LOVING seeing these posts on other blogs I read. It’s great to see what others are getting — they give me such great ideas! Also helpful for upcoming birthday parties for the 2-3 year old set.

6.  Pig popper. How cute is this toy?! I saw it in a magazine and immediately went to order it online for my nieces. Of course you can’t have just ONE popper, so I got them a pig and a cow. I can tell you with 100% certainty that my little rambunctious boy will adore having a ball launching toy he’s allowed to use inside. 6popper

7. Magic Mic (NOT to be confused with Magic Mike. That might be more of a Christmas present for Mommy.). Our little performer will get a kick out of this toy, as he already loves to put on a show for our friends and family (and anyone who will watch). It’s not fancy, but I predict it will provide hours of entertainment. Also? Perfect stocking stuffer size to fill up his ridiculously oversized stocking. 9microphone

8. Fisher Price Lil’ People School Bus. Not sure if this one has been purchased yet, but Owen has played with it at every friend’s house and doctor’s office. He’s now squarely in the “pretend play” stage, so he’s big into making up stories about the little people. Can’t beat how classic this one is.8bus

9. Melissa & Doug Sandwich Making Set. Our play kitchen (that Owen got last Christmas) has gotten lots of mileage so far. I think some new fake food is just what the doctor ordered to keep the momentum going. I am a huge Melissa & Doug fan, and their wooden food sets are by far the best I’ve seen. Now I just need to convince Owen that his set has gluten free bread so he can eat it!7food

10. Ah, the pièce de résistance. The big ‘un. A Mini Kick Scooter. This is what I pictured being Owen’s “unwrapped” gift under the tree (you know, the one with the big bow on it that you were THE MOST excited about getting). A few months ago I watched Owen hop on one of these scooters and, without any direction, start scooting down the sidewalk. His little body knew exactly what to do. I know he will love this. However, he’s getting so many other presents that I just don’t think we need it right now. And, frankly, giving a kid an outdoor scooter in the dead of winter in New England just seems cruel. I’m thinking this will be a MUCH better 3rd birthday gift next July. Still, I’m including it here because if Owen knew he could ask Santa for one, I’m sure he would.


So there you have it. 10 awesome gifts for 2-3 year olds. I hope Santa (or whoever brings your presents) is good to you and yours this year!

She Says… He’s Making a List (Or Holiday Gift Guide for 2-3 Year Olds: Part I)

Well, Santa is, at least. Not Owen.

Thankfully I have convinced Owen (and he believes me, for now…) that you get to ask Santa for ONE special present, so we haven’t yet gotten to the stage of him making a long list that I feel like I, umm, Santa needs to buy. In fact, we have such a large extended family who all LOVE to give gifts that I’m doing my best to take the gift explosion down a notch and keep it as small as possible. It’s quite clear to me that Owen NEEDS very little in his life, and he has plenty of toys. I don’t want to steal the joy of coming down the stairs to piles of presents under the tree (as I have such sweet memories of this myself), but with all of the generous people in Owen’s life, we, err, Santa gets off the hook really easily.

Still, I started adding things to my his Amazon list a few months ago in preparation for the “What does Owen want for Christmas” questions. And I am getting almost as excited as he will when I see what has been purchased! Several readers and friends have asked me what is on “Owen’s list” this year so they can get some ideas for the 2 year olds on their list. Ask and you shall receive.

Owen’s Top 10 Christmas Gifts (ahem, curated entirely by me… he has no idea he wants these things!). I added them all to the This Place is Now a Home Amazon store and included links below.

1. The one and only thing he has said that he will ask Santa for is “a trash truck”. I just scored this Matchbox Mega Shift Garbage Truck while I was out running errands and I KNOW he is going to love it!

2. Lego Duplo “My First Fire Station” set. Owen already loves his duplos (big legos) and he’s incredibly good at attaching them together. He always wants us to make boats and cars. I’m hoping this set will help him expand his requests.

3. Play Doh Toolin’ Around Playset. We’ve been doing some SERIOUS playdoh around here recently, but we’re lame and use things like cookie cutters and forks. He will totally love all of these new tools.

4. Marble Run. Have you guys seen these? I hadn’t, but apparently they are a classic kid toy. This one has modular pieces so you can build different tracks and roll the marble down. I can tell this will be a hit.

5. Neo Train set. Several family members asked to buy Owen a wooden train set this year. Though I love those sets and they are such a wonderful toy, they are also quite expensive, take up a lot of space, and encourage lots more buying (more trains! trees! buildings! a train depot! more trains! more trains!). We recently played with this cheaper, more compact alternative at a friend’s house and I knew that was the answer for us. The tracks are super flexible and the trains/cars turn on with a switch and zoom around the tracks.

Phew, that took long than I expected, so the next 5 things on the list will be tomorrow’s post.

In the meantime, tell me, what gifts are on your list this year?

She Says… NASCAR

If the tennis playing thing doesn’t work out, there’s always car racing.


A few months ago Owen and I were taking a walk when a kid a little bit older than him zoomed by us on the sidewalk in this crazy thing called a PlasmaCar (again, NOT being paid for this — wish I was!). It looked like a little scooter, but is propelled by turning the steering wheel back and forth. Owen immediately scrambled out of his stroller and ran after the kid, hoping to have a turn. Luckily the little dude was happy to share his toy and he let Owen take it for a spin. After only seeing the other kid ride it for a few seconds, Owen knew exactly what to do. It’s the iPhone of scooters, apparently.

When we saw it in our local toy store and I watched Owen grin as he turned it in circles and figured out how to steer it, I knew he would love one of his own. And for his 2nd birthday, he got his wish! It has actually been an awesome tool for teaching Owen how to steer a bike/scooter/car. Previously when I pushed him on his tricycle, he didn’t really understand the concept of steering it left or right. I would get annoyed as I had to push the bike back onto the sidewalk constantly. But after about 1 minute on the PlasmaCar, he had totally figured it out. Now he zooms around our house like a pro.

How cute is his face in the video? He rolls around our house in circles while I’m making dinner, shouting “WHERE’S OWEN GOIN’?”.


She Says… I’m With the DJ

We have a budding DJ in the house.

Owen is obsessed with what he calls “kid music”.* He can distinguish “kid music” from “wadio” in less than 2 seconds, and when the latter is on, he yells out “KID MOOVIC, PLEASE MOMMY!”. He asks nicely because he’s already learned the hard way that that’s the only way he’s going to get what he wants. And when he asks nicely, I try to oblige. When practical.

He knows the name of almost every song on the Music Together CD’s that come as part of the Mommy & Me music classes we do together. Every session of the class comes with 2 copies of the same CD, one for home and one for the car, so you’re never far away from your favorite “kid moovic”. Thankfully Music Together songs are FAR, FAR better than the nasal, shouting kids songs I remember from my youth. But they are still not my favorite thing to listen to. Especially when he wants to hear the same song over and over and over again.

Repetition is learning. So I try to allow it.

But damn. It gets annoying.

So the new “game” Owen likes to play is to ask to listen to his Music Together CD (in the car, in the living room, wherever). Except as soon as I start a song, he says, “‘Nother one song, please!”. He’ll name each song, and then ask for the next one.

Sometimes I oblige, and other times I tell him we have to listen through all of the songs. But he gets such joy out of changing the songs, and it’s really not a battle I need to fight (most days… some days it really might put me in the loony bin, so on those days I put my foot down). So instead of being his personal music-changer, I taught him which buttons on the remote to press to play the next song. He will happily sit on the couch or dance around the living room advancing the songs and calling out the names. It’s a little tricky when he gets to the end of the CD and can’t get it started again, but it gives me about 10 minutes of solid playtime where I can actually get up and leave the room.

I thought to myself: He needs a little cd player that only has a “next”, “previous”, “on” and “off” button with all of his songs on it. That would be awesome.

Enter: the Fisher Price Kid Tough Music Player. It’s exactly that. (No, no one is paying me to talk about this. I wish they were! I’m actually so excited about this toy that I’m writing about it all on my own. I get a few cents through Amazon if you order one from that link, but that’s it).

It’s expensive. But it got good reviews on Amazon and it seems really tough/well-built. And hey, if it will keep Owen occupied in the back seat of the car (you know, distracted and NOT PUKING) and keep the repetitive Music Together songs off of my radio for hours on end? I’ll take it. We’re driving about 4 hours (each way) for vacation next week and I’m not sure my brain can handle “The Hello Song” the whole way there and back. So we’re going to give this a shot.

Do your kids have their own music players? At what age did they start using them? Do they use headphones? Are you a slave to the kid’s music do your kids like “your” music?

*Kid music. One of those things I was sure I would NEVER succumb to, before I had a tot myself (ahem, see this post). My kids, I thought smugly to myself, would LOVE the radio. I would teach them to appreciate REAL music from the day they were born. No “Wheels on the Bus” in my car! Yeah. Right. I have since… adjusted my expectations. Or, you know, eaten my words.

She Says… Like Father, Like Son

Yard work has just gotten a lot easier at our house. We used to try to squeeze it in during Owen’s naptime because it was too hard to entertain/corral him while he was awake. But what we realized recently is that involving him works even better!

He will follow Benjamin around with his tiny lawnmower all day, if that’s how long it took. In fact, the child (bless his little heart) is obsessed with lawnmowers. He loves to put his ear to his ear when he hears one (anywhere, even miles away) and exclaims, “Yissen! A lawnmower! See it?”.

Last Christmas I happened to see a little bubble-blowing lawnmower on sale and decided to snatch it up as a backyard toy. I had NO IDEA it would become Owen’s favorite thing to do, bar none.



Sometimes Owen will wake up from a nap with a huge smile on his face and start babbling, “Daddy BIG lawnmower, Owen TINY lawnmower! Daddy Owen mow lawn ‘GETHER.”



It’s brilliant, actually. The lawn gets mowed, Owen is happy, the dog gets exercise staying out of the way (he’s terrified of the lawnmower) and I get to make dinner on the grill. That’s a summer tradition I can get behind.

I wonder how long this will last?

Look at the little Daddy wanna-be in action (excuse the standard definition video — it was a spur-of-the-moment iPhone catch and I don’t have Wifi right now to upload in HD):

She Says… Up in the Air

Once again, Owen has proved that I worry unnecessarily. And sometimes I don’t give him enough credit. The kid is awesome.

Flying with Owen this weekend was a breeze!

At this point he’s still taking 2 naps. I think we’re on the verge of that schedule changing, as I’ve seen the timing change a bit recently, but for the most part Owen does a long, solid morning nap (usually about 2 hours) and a shorter, less-time-sensitive afternoon nap (usually about 1 hour). So our plan has been to respect the morning nap at all costs, and opt to have the afternoon nap in the car/stroller if needed. At daycare he often refuses the afternoon nap altogether and is totally fine at bedtime, so I’ve learned to not freak out if the afternoon nap on-the-go doesn’t happen as I thought it would. He rolls with it.

So I planned our flights for early afternoon so he could get a nice, long morning nap and then do his afternoon nap on the plane, if that worked out, or skip it and be ready for bed right at 6:15pm. Luckily the flights were very short — a little over an hour each way. Despite an hour or so delay on the outbound flight, the timing worked out great. Both days we woke up and had a normal morning, Owen had a nice, long morning nap, and then we headed for the airport when he woke up, rested and happy. Another bonus of that plan is that I can pack all of our bags and the car while he’s sleeping so we can just get him up and stroll out the door without trying to juggle a baby on the hip and throw suitcases in the trunk at the same time.

The biggest thing I was worried about was not meltdowns from lack of sleep or temper tantrums, though, it was Owen’s incessant need to be running around and climbing on things all the time. And, you know, those little things called seatbelts that are required during takeoff and landing. That part was handled by bringing several key items.

1. FOOD. Thank you, my lovely readers, for your suggestions on my previous posts about what to bring. Almost everyone said “snacks” and having an endless supply of munchies certainly nipped impending whining in the bud. Since we were traveling in the early afternoon, I stretched Owen a little so he could eat lunch on the plane. This not only kept his little mouth quiet and happy, it also meant that he ate a better meal than if I’d tried to feed him while we were running around the airport. I took a little insulated lunchbox with a cold pack through security (it was allowed, I just had to pull it out with my bag of liquids/gels so they could check it out), as well as a ton of little ziplocs with crackers and Pirate’s Booty and freeze-dried fruit. Owen learned a new word (words?) chowing down on the plane, too: green beans. He says “een! bee!” proudly now.

2. AN EMPTY WATER BOTTLE WITH PLASTIC STRAWS IN IT. I know this sounds kind of like a strange thing to play with, but Owen is obsessed with putting lids on things and taking them off. He’s also completely engaged with filling up containers and emptying them out. So I brought a bike water bottle filled with plastic straws. He spent longer than you would believe taking the top off and putting it back on, and emptying the straws and putting them back in one by one. Nothing like a little motor development to keep him occupied!

3. THIS NEW TOY. We love Melissa & Doug. This puzzle has 9 little doors that open and close on hinges (opening and closing doors is another one of Owen’s favorite things right now…) to reveal a magnet inside. The magnets are things like a dog, a cow, a teddy bear, etc., so Owen loved holding them up one at a time so I could tell him what they were, and sometimes he would repeat the word. Magnets are key when you are on an airplane and have a kid prone to throwing the whole board upside down to see what is on the back (umm… nothing). It was the PERFECT plane toy because it was so self-contained, yet had so many little parts for Owen to explore (and attempt to ingest). It says “ages 3+”, too, so I bet this will be one that will grow with him.

4. SHAPE SORTER (ours is like this one, but plastic). Benjamin rolled his eyes when I said I wanted to bring this on the plane because it is loud! and plastic! and bulky! But honestly, I have seen Owen concentrate on this toy far more than any other, and I knew it had to come with us. I get a big, fat “I told you so” about this one, because it bought us at least 20 silent minutes on each flight while O concentrated on it while buckled into his seat during takeoff and landing.

5. WATER. That’s right, the free little water bottles they give out once you are in the air. Owen was so excited to get his own little bottle. On our departing flight I made the mistake of letting him try to drink out of it himself (with help), which ended up in a very wet shirt… for both of us. On the way back I chugged his water as soon as they handed out the bottles and let him put the top on and off for the rest of the flight, which made for 1 very happy baby.

And finally, the most important one of all…

6. HIS OWN SEAT. Thankfully our two flights were not full, so we were able to switch our seats around to have an empty window seat for Owen. That was KEY. He was able to bounce around in his seat, climb up and down, roll around in my lap, stick his arms between the seats to grasp at the people sitting behind us (of course shouting “Hi! Hi! Hi!” the whole time) and stare out the window as he pleased. It was glorious. He even liked being buckled in during takeoff and landing and would never have tolerated that long in my lap.

So there you have it. The keys to air travel with a toddler (at least… my toddler). I had an absolute blast hanging with my high school friends and seeing my family. My sister and her two girls (4.5 and 1.5) made an impromptu visit on Sunday as well, so we had an awesome “cousins day” and the kids played on the playground, jumped on the bed together and stole each others’ toys. Oh how I wish we lived closer so we could do it more often!