I haven't blogged in so long that Blogger logged me out.

For the first 12 months of my daughter's life, I was the one who got up with her at night (yes, I've been cursed blessed to have what seems to be the only 14 month old in the world who doesn't sleep soundly through the night). After much argument and complaining, my husband is now the person who does so, and somehow (are you wearing your thunder vest?) I have lost the ability to hear my daughter in the middle of the night. Yes, the monitor is on MY nightstand, and the volume is set to the highest, but somehow, I still wake up in the morning having to ask my husband how many times she got up during the night. 

Every so often since this late night switcheroo, I feel guilt about him getting up with her several times and then having to be the one to get up with her in the morning and do the breakfast routine before he goes to work. (In my defense, he is, after all, the early riser between the two of us. And I am the one who stays home all day with the risk of busting my eardrums from exposure to this little girl who has, in recent weeks, discovered her own signature high pitched scream)

So the past couple of days, I've groggily woken up at 6am to brave loss of hearing (or limb, on her more rabid days) and sanity and had my husband sleep in, even just for a few extra minutes.

I'm exhausted, and the skin around my eyes is still taut from the sleep that I barely watered down upon getting up this morning. How do people get up this early all the time?

When this kid goes down for her nap, you bet your sweet bottom, I'm going back to bed.

How to Get Great Holiday Pictures

I was texting with a friend of mine earlier.
She is one of those friends I go to when I am in dire need of a laugh. A fellow newer mom, she is the kind of friend I can make inappropriate jokes with, whether it is about pregnancy, motherhood, or people we once {or still} knew from high school or years prior.

Today she asked me how it was that I am able to get such "perfect" photos of Camden for holidays and such. 

I smirked a little. I can see how she {and many of my other Facebook friends} can assume this. The pictures I post or mail from holidays do give a "pretty" -- albeit unrealistic -- impression of our photo-taking process. 
But how do I explain that "perfect" is just smoke, mirrors, and a whole lot of self embarrassment? My child, as wonderful and adorable as she is {sorry, I'm her mom. I have to double up on the positive adjectives}, is far from perfect. 

Still, being a two-year veteran in the mall-Santa scene and having this as a turnout, I can see Kacey's twisted humor in asking. {Don't worry, I have her full permission to use this. It's in WRITING on my text messages, Kace! In writing!}
I get it. These two girls are seriously some of my favorite children in the world. They are funny and are ridiculously gorgeous, but I get Kacey's dilemma. She and I are one and the same in our vanity. 

So, here you go: A step-by-step on how to get your little one to cooperate for his / her holiday photo sessions. 

Step 1: Location, location, location
Google images search each mall and its corresponding Easter Bunny. For Cam's Easter photo this year, for example, I did a Google Image search of Easter Bunny pictures from all malls I considered taking her. Not only did I want to have a good environment to take my little girl for an outing, I very selfishly wanted to put my mind at ease that we wouldn't arrive at the Easter Bunny set to find a rabid looking rodent from generations past. Exhibit A:
Side note: As a result of my research, I have found that most malls {or rather, the more ideal malls in our area} seem to have gotten all their Easter Bunny costumes from the same manufacturer. This made my choice obvious: Screw what the Easter Bunny looks like; just go to a mall where I can do the most damage -- I mean, where I can do the best shopping. 

Step 2: Timing is everything.
Remember these words: After nap, before lunch.

We decided to take an almost two-hour trek to Fashion Island in Newport Beach, near our old home, to get the Easter Bunny photo done. It wasn't only an excuse to hang out near our old digs, but we made it a lunch date with some of our dear friends in the area. My friend Amy is one of Camden's godmothers, and we have made it a tradition to get Cam's and her daughter, Olivia's, holiday photos done together. 

I digress.

With the two hour drive, I knew that a nap would be key with Camden, so I made sure not to give her any of her bottle before we left the house so that she would be hungry on the road. That way, she drank a babba early in the drive, napped for the majority of it, and by the time we pulled into our parking spot at Fashion Island, she was groggily waking from a bumpy-freeway-induced slumber. 

Woozy, she was able to wake up a little bit more during our walk from the car to the middle of the mall to meet the Bunny. We were smart to have the girls take their pictures before lunch, as after lunch would have resulted in my child having remnants of chunks and smears of arrowroot cookie on her face and grease from pommes frites on her entire hands, courtesy of Brasserie Pascal.

Step 3: Don't say you weren't warned.
Warn photographer that your child WILL cry as soon as you set her down on said Bunny's lap, and that photographer should just snap pictures as quickly as possible before meltdown happens.

As sweet and bubbly as she is at home, this little girl's personality is described by three words: slow to warm. You come at her too quickly, she will melt down into a loud, crying, and sometimes drool dripping mess. She has to see you for a while, look at you, give you that mean muggin' stare, burn holes through your soul, and then maybe, just maybe, you can come near her. 

Exhibit B: My child during her first time at the Pumpkin Patch:

Having learned my lesson from the Pumpkin Patch Incident, I did the same as what I did when she went to see Santa at South Coast Plaza a few months ago, I walked into Bunny's cottage and forewarned both photographer and the bunny of what could occur.

{Just like with Santa, she didn't melt down, which was a welcome surprise, but I assume, just a lucky one.}

Step 4: Bite the bullet.
Buy the entire flash drive and copyright of all pictures so you can wittle it down to the most acceptable image you can print / post. 
It's like fishing with a rod versus a net. Buy 'em all, choose the one where your child looks the least like a slumped and hungry Winston Churchill.

Step 5: Bite the bullet once more.
Apologize profusely to your husband for overspending on holiday pictures.

It ain't cheap. It ain't clean. It ain't easy. But in the end, your vanity will prevail.

Keeping Up With Camden: 6 Months!

{to be updated after her 6 month checkup}

{to be updated after her 6 month checkup . . . although I would venture to guess that she is about 18+ pounds now} 

* We think that someone will be talking pretty early. Cam has been practicing her sounds all the time. All she wants to do is talk, talk, talk!
* Although she has been sitting up already, it's pretty cool to see her improvements in stability. I would say that almost daily, you could tell how her muscles are getting stronger, not just in sitting up, but in standing too.

* Our big girl is quite the food connoisseur too. I know it's pushing the limit, but aside from her baby food, she also LOVES ice cream and creme brûlée, which I have allowed her a few bites of every so often.

* One of my favorite things she has learned is how to raise her arms up when she wants to be picked up. Now, when I ask her "uppie?" she raises her arms and squirms around. Also, she starts to lean and raise her arms towards J or me or my mom now when she wants to go with that particular person. So sweet!

Notable Events
* Camden's first trip to Big Bear: Our dear friends, the Simpsons, {NOT the cartoons} invited us to go on an overnight trip to the frigid mountain town. There was no snow yet, but we had a wonderful time doing "our" Christmas with them, with the dads went off-roading for a few hours while we mommies napped with our little ones in the afternoon, then in the evening,  Camden and their daughter, Olivia, exchanging Christmas presents, cuddled by the fire.

* Camden's first Christmas! Like most families, our Christmas season consists of several events. This year, Camden went to her first Bench Christmas, which we celebrate with J's dad's side of the family every December 23rd. It is a tradition that has been upheld in his family for generations. One of the biggest parts of it is the opening of presents, which is done one person at a time, in age order from youngest to oldest. This year, Camden was able to open her presents first.

* Following Bench Christmas, we took Camden on her first road trip to Northern California to spend her first actual Christmas there. J's aunt, uncle, and cousins live in the East Bay area, and we spent 5 wonderful days with them, celebrating Christmas, eating, and relaxing.
 Camden left a note for Santa on Christmas Eve. She tried to stay up and wait for him by the Christmas tree, but she didn't last too long and fell asleep.

* On our last full day, J, Camden, and I headed off to San Francisco to eat and take pictures for Cam's first trip.
Little City Girl is bundled up and ready to take on SF!

Here is our little fromagier at one of our favorite stores in the Ferry Building, Cowgirl Creamery.
Although she was tired by the time we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, she still obliged and was ready for some pictures.

* The Big Move: We found out at the beginning of December that J was getting a promotion within the company, and we were asked to move temporarily to Lancaster, the city where his company's corporate office is, and is where I grew up and where J and I met. The move was quite the culture shock, as it is worlds different from our life in Orange County, but we are slowly adjusting to our new digs and our new surroundings. It was definitely very difficult to say goodbye to our neighbors and friends in Orange County, but we know we are only 2 hours away, and we will visit them and vice versa. 
We are, however, completely thankful for this move. While it was the most difficult decision to leave our life in OC, it was the best decision for us. Being in Lancaster allows us to be closer to our families and we also still have lots of friends here. We will be able to save more money, and the house we got is literally twice the size of our house in OC. Not many people are given the opportunity to be able to regroup their lives, but we were, and I am so grateful. 

Personality Revealed: Our Quirky Little Girl
* Camden, from the time she was in utero, has always responded well to music. While she still likes "Spin Around" by the Fresh Beats Band, she has gone back to her original roots of loving Van Morrison. When I was pregnant with her, I played Van Morrison for her and I have a video of her kicking to it. On her first night home from the hospital, I played her "Crazy Love" and her eyes got bigger and she looked around as if looking for where that familiar music was coming from. Now, at six months, she still loves Van Morrison. We play her "Crazy Love", "Into the Mystic", or "These Are The Days" and immediately, she calms down. and relaxes. Similarly, she now does the same when I sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to her. I sing that to her when she is relaxing on my lap before bed, or to stop her from squirming when I am cleaning her ears and nose after her baths, and almost immediately, she smiles and just lays there listening.
* Camden is also now discovering her consonants. She loves "talking" and spends hours a day yelling and talking as she plays. She loves making sounds using our fingers on her mouth.
Now that the holidays are over, and the stress of the big move is slowly dwindling, both J and I are able to take a step back and look at how much our little girl is growing up. I, for one, have dreamt of doing a first Christmas for my own child, and I was able to enjoy that with her this past month. Despite an unusually stressful holiday season, we were able to give her the kind of holiday that we dreamt of for her. Just like her, it was perfect, and we could not be more thankful.

Pay It Forward

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As a mother, I am deeply affected by the tragedy that occurred last Friday in Newtown, CT. I have found myself reading every article, watching news clips about the victims' and their families, and shedding tears for their pain and sorrow.

Much like the rest of the country {or really, the world}, I mourn these losses and am beside myself. I remember that day, Camden was in rough shape. My stubborn little girl refused to nap all day, and gave me one of her most difficult days. And still, despite the whining and tears, I had my little girl to hold. Being a mother who lost daughters only 20 short months ago, I almost feel guilty, that I have this little girl who is about to celebrate her first Christmas, and there are families in Connecticut who now cannot even fathom celebrating theirs. 

I had made plans to send a letter to Sandy Hook Elementary, perhaps send a donation, but no idea has struck me the way the video above has. 

26 acts of kindness. It is a simple concept that seems so fitting, not only in light of the Connecticut tragedy, but also because it is Christmas.

My family is very busy this Christmas. On top of the usual family gatherings to prepare for, presents to buy, Christmas cookies to bake, we are preparing to go on vacation to Northern California for a week, and we are also in the process of packing up our house and moving. However, this is something I want to make a point of doing. 

I make this promise today and it is something I would like to continue with Camden as she grows up. 26 Random Acts of Kindness. This year, I am starting it today. It was said best in the card in the video: How do you fight evil in the world? This is my own personal solution.

I urge every one you as well, in these last few days before Christmas, or even before the New Year, to conduct these random acts. They don't have to be big. They don't have to be broadcasted. Just do it. 

Benchmarks and Babies was started because I wanted to share my husband's and my experience in bringing life into this world. In these past two years, the blog has transformed into so much more -- a place to pour out frustrations and heartaches, a countdown, and a place for celebrating life, love, and family. 

We honor and remember those fallen victims and their families. What better place to start than here. What better time to start than now.

Pay it forward.
Pass it on.
26 Acts.

Keeping Up With Camden: 5 Months

27 inches 
After the last post, we went to her doctor's appointment and found out {i LOVE being right} that she was 15.25 lbs. That was in the beginning of November. My guess is that now she is about 17 lbs. This kid is a major chunk. 

* There is a little girl who, while she refuses to roll over, has been sitting up pretty much on her own. 

* Camden has also been eating baby food! {hooray!} Dr. Medina preferred that we wait until she was closer to 6 months, but honestly, we couldn't wait, and I think neither could Cam. She absolutely loves, loves, loves her baby food. The food we've chosen for her is by Ella's Kitchen, which is an organic baby food company that offers not only single item foods {i.e. First Sweet Potatoes, First Pears} but combinations of different fruits and vegetables. We feel that this will help Camden, by not only providing her with so much nutrition from different sources, but by exposing her palette to different tastes. We want a worldly eater for a little girl, and we feel that Ella's Kitchen will help us shape her into that.

* Our little social butterfly has also become such a talker and quite a little dancer. She does this squirm-dance that is so adorable and she normally does so when she is laughing and "talking" to us.

Notable Events
* Camden's first Thanksgiving! I have to admit that at first, I felt a little guilty because this is the first year in seven years that I didn't cook a Thanksgiving meal. Normally my Thanksgiving cooking involves 3 days of active prep and about 8-10 hours of cooking on the day itself. It is exhausting, but I absolutely LIVE for this holiday. This year, however, J and I decided that I needed to take a rest. After all, I am taking care of a 4 1/2 month old. So this year, we decided to go out to eat instead. J and I made early reservations at Maggiano's, and I have to say, it was the best idea ever. We've eaten at Maggiano's countless times just for regular dinner, but have never done Thanksgiving there. We loved the experience so much that we think we may even go there again next year. It was such a nice, stressless Thanksgiving for us . . . and we still had leftovers afterwards! Camden, the our nosy little bugger, loved Maggiano's. She sat with me on my lap and looked around at all the people {all the while unknowingly drawing attention to her and her gigantic turkey beanie bow that I made for her, of course!} and when she was done doing that {and sampling the whipped cream from Mommy's dessert}, she went back into her car seat and slept! It is fairly obvious who J and I were most thankful for this year.

* With the holidays fast approaching, Camden has had her fair share of shopping excursions. From a few trips with one of her godmothers, my dear friend Amy, to our friends {my former bosses}, the Gustave family, or just trips with Mommy, Daddy, or both, this little girl has seen her fair share of spending. On top of that, she had her first experience of Black Friday shopping!

* Though she is not a stranger to the camera {the phone kind and the professional kind}, Camden joined us for our first family Christmas photos, done by our dear friend Carla of Carla G. Design and Photography. Carla is the wife of one of J's very best friends from childhood {and one of our groomsmen at the wedding}, Tim. J and Tim are like brothers, and Carla, who is just starting her photography business and has done so well already, especially this holiday season. Our sweet girl did so well for the photos, braving a cold fall afternoon and not crying one bit during our session. We are so happy with the way the photos turned out!

 Our favorite: Santa's best present!
 Since we were having our pictures taken in Downtown San Juan Capistrano, where we had our engagement photos done {by the insatiable Adrienne Gunde}, we decided to recreate some of the same poses from then, but this time, of course, have our sweet Camden with us. I think they turned out fabulously!

* Camden's first visit to the LA Auto Show... Last year, when I was only 7 weeks pregnant with Camden, I won two tickets to attend the Auto Show. It was my first time ever going, and J and I were so excited to have won the tickets. This year, I joined the same giveaway {through Yokohama Tires, a huge sponsor of the event} and won 4 tickets! We asked our friends, the Lowrey family to come along with us, as they have two little girls as well, and their flexible work schedules allow for them to take a weekday off and go with us {last year, we found going on a weekend to be too hectic; we couldn't imagine doing that again this year, especially having an 18-, 8-, and 5-month old with us}. We had a wonderful time and even got to introduce them to one of our favorite restaurants in Little Tokyo. We love the interaction between Camden and the two Lowrey girls, Coley and Dylan.

* First visit with Santa: My friend Amy {one of Camden's godmothers} and I decided that we wanted to start a tradition of having our girls take their Santa pictures together every year. Her daughter, Olivia, 5, is very close to us, and we want Camden and Olivia to have this tradition to look forward to every year. So we decided to take the girls to see Santa in the Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza. I was a little concerned at first, as Cam has been going through a very clingy phase, where she does not let ANYONE, and I mean ANYONE, except for me or J hold her. I warned Santa's elves to take the picture as soon as I put her down on his lap, because it wouldn't take long for her to melt down. I was so happy to be proven wrong! Not only did Cam not cry at all with Santa, she also sat there and at least somewhat focused on us and the camera while her picture was being taken! So proud of my girl!

* Camden's first Ugly Christmas Sweater Party: Our neighbors {and friends} Andrew and Kali invited us to their annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party this year. Although children weren't allowed, they made concessions for their friends who had babies. Camden got to wear a hideous little gem that I found at a kids consignment store and embellished with more gems and tacky snowflakes. She didn't win the Ugliest Sweater award, but we are proud to say that Daddy got 2nd place!

New Places Visited
* We stayed local during most of her 4th month. She did, however, have her share of new places in town visited for the first time: Maggiano's, South Coast Plaza, Slapfish Restaurant in Huntington Beach, to name a few. I think we decided to stay in town this month because we knew that we would be traveling a lot during the holidays and wanted to not get our little girl wasted prior to.

Personality Revealed: Our Quirky Little Girl
* Tech-Savvy Baby: I guess it should be expected out of all babies and toddlers in this day and age. Camden loves anything that involves technology -- iPhones, light up toys, laptops, and even the remote control. Many times, we have had to keep one of those items in front of her to keep her happy.

* The Whine-Cry: It's the new crying . . . Cam has truly discovered her lungs. In this past month, she has taken to her new hobby: Yelling. She yells just for fun and when she wants to make noise but doesn't want to yell, she does a puppy-like whimper/whine.

* Little Lady: I don't know where she gets it, but J and I have noticed that this little girl likes to sit and have her legs crossed.  
* Someone has discovered her thumb! Before she was born, I refused to buy a pacifier for her. I didn't want her to be attached to this bink. That was until after her first night at home. The next morning, I sent J to the store to purchase a bink for her. I figured, you could take away the bink but not the thumb, and as an avid thumbsucker until the age of 10, I wanted the total opposite for my daughter. Especially now that she is teething heavily, it brings her comfort and she gnaws on her little thumb happily.
* New favorite song: I am a firm believer in NOT allowing young children to be glued to the TV. I've seen other people's children who cannot even hold a conversation with adults when there is a TV, let alone a computer, in the room, and J and I would like our little girl to have a little bit more social graces than that, so we limit her TV exposure to about 15-30 minutes a day. Why 15 minutes? Because when J goes to work in the morning, Mommy needs a few minutes to wash her face, go potty, brush her teeth, and put herself together to be a little bit presentable, and keeping Cam on her post on our bed in front of Nick Jr. for a few minutes becomes a necessity. At any rate, her exposure to Nick Jr. has introduced her to the Fresh Beat Band. Being a little girl who absolutely LOVES music, she is mesmerized by the colors and the songs on this show. One of them is a song called "Spin Around". Whatever I am doing, when "Spin Around" comes on, I go over to Cam's spot and I dance with her for the few minutes that the song is on, and she totally enjoys it. She loves the song so much that I downloaded it on iTunes and I know that when we play it for her and do a little dance with her, she lights up and giggles.

* Another giggly time: Bedtime. I admit that there are many days when bedtime is signaled by a bald and cranky baby rubbing her eyes and doing her whine-cry. There are, however, most days when our signal for sleepy time is a room full of giggles from our 5 month old. She gets herself so deliriously tired that she just giggles at anything and everything as we are putting her to bed. It feels like a cheat sometimes, but I try to take advantage of those precious few minutes as much as possible. 

As Camden's first Christmas is coming, I am filled with so much excitement, anticipation, and a little bit of disbelief that I get to celebrate it with this perfect little girl. We are so blessed to have her and thank God daily for bringing Hope into our lives through her.