Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review: Fallen Angel by Lisa Swinton and a GIVEAWAY!

I first met Lisa almost 3 years ago at the LDStorymakers writer's conference. I was fortunate enough to be put at the same table as her for boot camp. I was five months pregnant with the twins at the time, and TOTALLY miserable. My brain was gone. So gone, in fact, that when I ran into Lisa at Storymakers the following year, she had to remind me where I knew her from. *facepalm* I was like, "I know we've met...where did we meet?" And she said, "Boot camp!" and I immediately remembered Fallen Angel. The story came rushing back to me. At boot camp she had shared with us the first few chapters and the story captivated me right away. I have eagerly cheered her on and waited to see the full story published so I could read the entire thing. I am so excited to share Fallen Angel with you today! Bonus: there's a giveaway at the bottom of the page.
Back Cover Blurb
genre: contemporary romance
Antonio does not believe in love at first sight until he sees her fall into a street in Milan and get hit by a motorcycle. Compelled to know if she can return his affection, he becomes Renatta’s hospital volunteer only to learn that the accident erased her memory. Together they must discover her past, present and future. In the way of happily ever after stand her opera career, tyrannical mother, and fiancĂ©.  Antonio must win Renatta’s heart before she bends to the will of her mother and marries Marcello.  Failure means a lifetime of loneliness, for love at first sight never happens twice.   

My Review
Do you love all things Italian? I certainly do! And this book gave me a more than generous dose of it. Fallen Angel is set against the rich backdrop of Italy. From the Italian words to the Italian names to the Italian cooking, the setting added a unique flavor to this romance that I loved. (Side note: I'm now fantasizing about a trip to Italy. A girl can dream, right?) I get the feeling that the author has either completed a lot of research on Italy, or spent time there, because she certainly immersed me in the setting.

Renatta's amnesia made for interesting, if not especially original, conflict in the story. Her memory lost created a unique dynamic in her relationships with other characters, especially her family. I liked seeing what changed--and what remained the same--in those relationships, given that she had no memory of the past.

The story has a typical love triangle, but what felt atypical was that neither love interest was a clear "no." Antonio and Marcello were both adorable, and even though I was pretty sure who Renatta would end up with--it is a romance, after all--I felt like she could go either way and still be pretty happy.

I think one of the strengths of this story were the secondary characters. I loved Chiara! I would be really interested to read more about all of Renatta's siblings, actually. Speaking of family...Renatta's mother is a horrible human being. I loved to hate her throughout the story. She was almost unbelievably cruel at times. Are people really that heartless? She made me so angry! Even though I had a hard time believing the mother's character, I was really pleased with how Renatta's family issues were resolved in the story. I won't give the ending away, but let's just say I have a feeling the author has been heavily influenced by Jane Austen's works.

I did think the dialogue was stilted in places. The characters spoke like Italians speaking English, in that stilted way people who haven't grown up with the language often speak. On the one hand it helped keep me immersed in the setting, but on the other hand it grew very distracting. I had trouble with the multiple viewpoints in a single scene as well, but overall this was a solid effort by a first-time author and definitely worth a read. I'm eager to watch her writing progress over time (and I'm sure it will), and can't wait to read her next release. I'm so happy to have another clean romance author I can recommend to fellow readers!

Buy Links
Amazon * Goodreads

Author Bio
Lisa Swinton caught the romance bug early by way of fairy tales and hasn’t been able to cure it since. Instead, she feeds her addiction with romance novels and films. In between being a doctor’s wife and mother of two, she occasionally puts her B.A. in Musical Theater to good use via community theater, church choir and teaching the art of singing. In her elusive spare time she enjoys researching her family tree and baking (especially with chocolate). She loves to travel, Jane Austen, and all things Italian. In her next life, she plans to be a professional organizer

Social Media Links
blog * Facebook * Amazon author page

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Spotlight: Rules of Engagement by Amber Gilchrist and a GIVEAWAY!


Back Cover Blurb
genre: contemporary romance
For Annemarie Whitted, her youngest sister’s engagement starts as a happy event, and ends as a slap in the face when she comes to the harsh realization that she’s a failure at relationships, a person in stasis.  Annemarie is motivated and organized, a woman on a mission, and she’s getting married now. 

Her Rules of Engagement ensure she’ll make the right choice, and her committee will find her potential eternal companions.  She assigns the job to her closest sister, Lisa, and Lisa’s husband, Tanner.  Of course, Tanner comes with baggage— his brother, Ben, Annemarie’s lifelong nemesis.

The war between the two of them gives a brand new meaning to Annemarie’s Rules of Engagement, and his presence isn’t helping her at all. Especially when he disapproves of her methods and questions every step she makes. Especially when their forced proximity makes each of them really see each other for the first time. Especially when she discovers that her heart has secret corners she never knew, and that the Rules might have been her biggest mistake of all.

Buy Links
Amazon * B&N

About the Author
Amber Gilchrist lives in New Mexico with her husband and three children. She writes YA for upper teens, as well as LDS Romantic Comedies. She calls her lifetime of jumping from one job to another 'experience' for her books and not an inability to settle down. Amber loves mysteries and a good, happy romance. She also loves to laugh. Sometimes she likes all of them together.


A fan of quirky movies and indie books, Amber likes to be with her family, is socially inept, and fears strangers and small yippy dogs. She alternates between writing and being a mom and wife. She tries to do both at the same time but her kids don't appreciate being served lunch and told, "This is the hot dog of your discontent." So mostly she writes when everyone else is in bed.

Amber loves to hear from readers and can be reached at ambergilchristbooks@gmail.com. If you would like to be added to her newsletter please email your address to be notified about future releases and events.

Social Media Links
Amazon * Facebook * website * Goodreads

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Deep, Dark Writing Confession: First Drafts are Hard

I have a confession. One that I don't know if I've ever heard a writer confess to.

I really struggle with writing first drafts.

There. I said it. I feel like 99.9999% of writers are saying "I love writing first drafts!" and groaning over editing, but I feel just the opposite. First drafts are my nemesis.

"Then why are you a writer, Lindzee?" you asked. Because I love telling stories.

I like the pre-writing stage. I love finding character photos and locations on pinterest and creating the setting and characters. I like outlining, although I struggle with feeling very uncreative during that stage. I never think my ideas are very good, but that's another post.

I also love the revision stage. I LOVE constructive criticism, because I know how to take others advice and use it to make my story better. I love hearing people say "I loved this, but if you changed this it would be so much cooler." I love watching this really icky first draft become this really awesome, polished revision. Sure, it's not all roses during editing. I do get to the if-I-have-to-read-this-scene-anymore-I'm-going-to-cry stage. And I don't like the tedious task of looking for overused words. But the nitty-gritty of tearing a story apart and putting it back together in a more logical way? That I enjoy.

First drafts, though? Writing them usually feels like pulling teeth.

I write best with a detailed outline. Without one, I get paralyzed mid-way through a book and it takes me months to get over that hump. But even with one, I really struggle to write a first draft. A lot of that is my own hangups and self-doubt. I feel like each word is more crappy than the rest. I feel like I suck as a writer and should just stop. I feel like this is the most cliche, overly wordy, boring thing I've ever written. I feel like no one will ever want to read this book. I go to outlandish lengths to procrastinate writing those new words.

Did I mention I'm a perfectionist? It's emotionally draining for me to just sit down and type out those words when I know they aren't my best. The best comes later, in editing. That is where the magic happens.

I do get that I-love-this-story-so-much feeling while writing, but it doesn't come easily. I do love writing when I can convince myself to stop worrying about quality and just enjoy the process. But it isn't easy for me to do that. I have to force myself to sit and just type. Usually it takes a good 30 minutes before I love the story enough to forget the mistakes I'll fix later. When I have a really detailed outline, like I did for WoBD, I can achieve the "I love writing" feeling much quicker, because I feel like I've already thought things out thoroughly. But 85% of the time, a first draft is the hardest part of the writing process for me.

I'm stuck at the mid-point in Miss Match. I didn't have a clear outline, and I feel like the story is awful and going nowhere and the characters are boring and I should just give up on this story. I won't. I can't. I know what it's like to push through that and have a story I'm proud of on the other end. But for me, first drafts are really really hard.

Am I the only writer out there who loves editing, but really has a hard time writing first drafts?
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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Introducing my Pseudonym, Lydia Winters

Lately, pen names have been on the mind. I always thought they were sort of strange--with the internet, is a pen name really necessary to separate genres?--but as of late I've come to realize that for me, at least, it is.

My first passion and love as a reader--and writer--was LDS fiction. This love goes all the way back to the second or third grade. But as I have more clearly defined my career goals over the last few years, I have come to realize that while I still love LDS fiction, most of the stories I want to tell are really for the national market. And I'm really excited about that. However, that being said, there are still stories that I really want to write with overtly LDS themes.

I've thought about this a lot lately. I write all of my LDS fiction assuming the reader is LDS (a common trend in the market), or at least very familiar with the church. I don't explain the LDS vocabulary, I don't explain LDS customs, and I don't explain LDS doctrine. Because of this, I think my LDS novels would be very confusing reads for those not familiar with the church (which is the majority of the national market).

I've felt Heavenly Father guiding me as a writer the last few months, and I really feel creating a pen name for my LDS novels is the best way to handle this dilemma. I'm not trying to keep LDS readers from my national fiction, or non-LDS readers from my LDS novels. I just want to make sure that when someone picks up one of my books, they know what kind of a book they are getting. Basically, I don't want those not familiar with the church confused.

In that vein, my LDS fiction is definitely clean, and so is my national fiction. Some stories--like Wishing on Baby Dust--just aren't the same if I take the church out of them, thus the differentiation.

I'm not going to keep the two pen names separate on social media; I just don't have that kind of time and energy. Besides, I really want people to know both names are me, but just differentiate markets. I have created a blog for Lydia Winters, but it will just redirect you here since I'll only be posting on this one. I will still only maintain (or attempt to maintain) my current twitter account and Facebook page. Basically, not much is changing. :)

Lydia Winters is the pseudonym I've picked for my LDS fiction. Both names have importance and meaning to me, and I absolutely love the name. However, I love my "real" name too, and I'm so happy I can now use both!

I'd love to hear others thoughts on the matter. Do you love or hate pen names? If you use one, what made you decide to?

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Spotlight: The Bard's Gift by Meredith Mansfield and a GIVEAWAY!

Back Cover Blurb
genre: YA historical fantasy
Sixteen-year-old Astrid keeps mostly to herself, finding companionship in the stories her grandmother used to tell. She's too shy even to talk in front of Torolf, the young man she secretly dreams of. Then the Norse god of eloquence appears in Astrid's dreams and forces her to drink the Mead of Poetry. Suddenly, she's compelled to tell her stories. In public. Even in front of Torolf. 

Astrid is meant to use these stories to guide her people from starvation in Greenland to a better future in Markland. A place legends claim is the abode of dragons. But not all of her fierce and independent people are willing to follow a mere girl, even the chieftain's daughter--especially when she counsels peace. Some have other plans for the new land and want to use Astrid and her gift as a tool. 

Torolf never dreamed that quiet Astrid could choose him. Now he's stranded in Iceland as she sails in the opposite direction. To attain the promise of a future with Astrid, he'll have to attempt the impossible--sailing alone across the North Atlantic. 

Together, they might defy the plans the gods have made for them and change the fate of more than just their own people. 


Excerpt
From the author: This excerpt is all about how Astrid comes by her gift. Braggi is the Norse god of eloquence and poetry. The mead of poetry is a real element in Norse mythology. There's a whole story about how it was made and how Odin stole it for the gods.


Astrid made her way down the long center aisle of the longhouse to her place on the wide bench. She pulled her straw pallet, blankets, and the white bear pelt out from the storage space beneath the bench, and wrapped herself up to sleep.
Warm and full, Astrid drifted quickly into sleep and into a dream. In her dream she stood on a headland, the wind off the ocean blowing her hair back from her face. But this wind was cool, not icy. She turned landward to see a broad grassy land. Hilly, but much less steep than anything she'd seen in Greenland. There were even a few clusters of trees. It certainly wasn't any place she knew, although she could see the long hummocks of several longhouses down below. A strange bird with a long naked tail and colorful wings circled high above.
A young man walked up the slope toward her, carrying a drinking horn. Torolf? Her heart did a little flip in her chest.
Astrid started to look down out of sheer habit, but realized to her delight that her dream self wasn't blushing. The thought of talking to Torolf didn't scare her, either. If only she could feel this way when she wasn't dreaming.
Her eyes narrowed as she watched the young man approach. Yes, he looked like Torolf, but also not. His face wasn't end-of-winter pale and gaunt. His cheeks were full and ruddy and his eyes sparkled in a way she'd never seen Torolf's do. Not that she'd met Torolf's eyes that often. There was something else about him, though. It took her a moment to recognize it. The way he held his body, his gait as he strode forward, were not at all like Torolf. Neither was the smile he gave her as he stopped just a few feet away.
"You're not Torolf," she said.
The man smiled. "No. Though this form seems pleasing to you."
"Who are you?"
"I am called Braggi."
The name was familiar, but Astrid couldn't quite place where she'd heard it before.
He pressed the cup into Astrid's hands. "Drink."
The sweet smell of fermented mead rose to her nostrils. Astrid shook her head. "I don't drink mead."
"This is a very special brew. Drink it, Astrid."
Astrid wrinkled her nose. She didn't like mead, or, more properly, she didn't like how mead made her feel. "No, thank you."
Braggi's eyes almost seemed to glow. "I insist."
She tried to push the cup back toward Braggi, but found that her arms wouldn't move in that direction. Every attempt to push the cup away from her only resulted in bringing it closer to her lips. Braggi's eyes seemed to bore into her.
Her arm trembled, but the liquid didn't spill. Astrid tried to turn her head away, but that didn't work either. Instead, her face lowered to the cup until her lips touched the rim. Her heart hammered in her chest. There was no way she was going to escape drinking this, whatever it was.
"Don't fight it so hard, Astrid," Braggi said. "You've wanted this. It will give you the ability to speak--yes, even to Torolf. It's also for the good of your people. You must trust me on this."
Trust was about the last thing Astrid felt. Everything she tried to do ended up as something else, as the very thing she was fighting against. She could feel sweat popping out on her upper lip. She clenched her jaw, but none of her muscles seemed to be obeying her. Instead of locking her mouth shut, the effort caused her lips to part.
The sweet smell of the mead filled her nose. She could feel the liquid against her teeth. Braggi put a hand to the bottom of the cup and tipped it upward, so the liquid filled her mouth. She would not swallow. She wouldn't. She tried to spit the mead back out and once again her body did the opposite of what she intended. She swallowed and felt the liquid burn as it slid down her throat.
All at once, the spell or whatever it had been was broken. Astrid's legs folded beneath her and she crumpled to the ground. She threw the cup away from her, but Braggi caught it, holding it reverently.
"Careful, Astrid. There'll be no more of this brew until the end of the world. It wouldn't do to spill it." He raised the cup above his head and another hand reached down from somewhere else to take it from him.
Whatever the drink was, it was different than anything she'd tasted before. Unlike mead, this seemed to make her mind clearer, not muddled. Her body, now that it was hers again, seemed to pulse with life. "What was that?"
Braggi smiled and offered her a hand to help her stand up. "That, Astrid, was the mead of poetry. And now you will become the bard of your people. Their guide to a new and better life."
"Me? I'm no bard." The thought of trying to sing or speak or tell a story in front of anyone made her feel slightly queasy, even in her dream.
"You are now. When the time is right, you will know the stories your people need to hear."
She was still shaking, but she pulled her chin up in an attempt at defiance. "And what if I don't want to tell these stories?"
Braggi shook his head. "Oh, Astrid. There's more of your father in you than I allowed for. You may fight us, but you can't expect to win. In time, you'll realize that what we do here is for your good and the good of your people. Then, maybe, you'll accept the gift we offer with better grace."
Although the sky was clear and there was no hint of recent rain, a rainbow appeared behind Braggi. He turned and stepped onto it as if it were a bridge to another world.

Buy Links
Amazon * Smashwords * Goodreads

Social Media Links
Facebook author page

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Post: Where to Begin by Kate Scott

I am so pleased to have Kate Scott here, author of Counting to D, with a guest post on beginnings. Keep reading...she's got some good advice for aspiring writers! Kate's first novel, Counting to D, was just released this month. It is an awesome story about a teen girl struggling with dyslexia that I think really needed to be told (you can read my review of it here). Buy links at the bottom of the post! And without further ado, Ms. Scott! Thank you so much for visiting my little corner of the blogosphere. :)

Where to Begin
by Kate Scott
Beginnings are important. Every writer knows that. If you can’t hook a reader on the first page, they won’t read the second page. Beginnings are important in life, too, not just in fiction. So today, instead of talking about the beginning of my story, I’m going to talk about the beginning of my writing.

I’ve always had an active imagination, and I enjoyed making up stories as a child. But I didn’t cognitively think about writing as a serious pursuit until after I got my first real job. For my day job, I’m a civil engineer. I enjoy engineering, and I have had the opportunity to work on some very interesting projects. But as a newbie, my job was basically to sit in a cubical and do algebra for eight hours a day. It got a bit monotonous. So I decided to let myself become more well-rounded and write novels during my evenings and weekends.

Starting out as a writer, I didn’t know anything. I got a couple of books about writing, the classics everyone raves about: On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Stephen and Anne are great fiction writers, but not even they can make a book about how to write interesting to me. Books about sentence mechanics and story structure will never interest me. So I came up with a new strategy to learn how to write fiction: I read fiction.

I listened to a lot of fiction, too. One of the great things about sitting in a cubical doing algebra all day was that I could listen to audiobooks while I was at work. During that first year on my path to author-dom, I wrote a very crappy first draft of a novel nobody will ever want to read, but I listened to more than 150 books people do want to read.

I paid attention to what I liked in all of my favorite books. I thought about character development and story arc, and I admitted to myself that my own writing wasn’t good enough yet. I attended local writing workshops, started a blog, and connected with other aspiring writers who lived farther afield. I swapped manuscripts with other writers and discovered I enjoyed picking apart their stories’ problems.

So then, I went back and picked apart my own story. One of the curses of being an artist is that most artists have very good taste. I’m a very critical reader, and I don’t recommend books lightly. I have good taste, and I knew my early writing wasn’t very good. A few of my first readers praised it. I’m sure they were trying to be nice and attempting to encourage me to keep going. Though my writing was still rough, I had some natural talent. But instead of appreciating that feedback, I assumed all those supportive readers had very bad taste. My early writing was simply not good.

Counting to D is the first book I’ve ever liked after I finished writing it. It isn’t the first book I wrote, and it isn’t the last book I wrote. I penned a few crappy novels before Sam moved into my psyche, and I’ve trashed a few attempted novels that I wrote after completing Counting to D—because I knew they didn’t measure up.

So far, Counting to D has gotten a mix of good and very good reviews. I know everyone has different preferences, and I can’t expect everyone who reads it to love it. But nobody has hated it yet. I don’t think the positive response has much to do with the quality of my writing. I’ve written a lot of very bad fiction. I think it has to do with the quality of my ego, or lack thereof. I have read a lot of books in my life, and I’ve listened to even more. I know good writing when I see it, and I know bad writing when I see it. I even know when that bad writing is my own.


Every writer has a different process. Some people revere Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style like it’s holy scripture. Other people study creative writing in college and/or graduate school. Me, I’m just an engineer with an active imagination who really likes stories. As for my advice to other aspiring writers—read, or listen, or absorb books in whatever form they present themselves to you. You can do all the other stuff, too, but if you can’t recognize and enjoy a great book written by somebody else, how are you going to know when you’ve written one yourself?

Back Cover Blurb
The kids at Sam’s school never knew if they should make fun of her for being too smart or too dumb. That’s what it means to be dyslexic, smart, and illiterate. Sam is sick of it. So when her mom gets a job in a faraway city, Sam decides not to tell anyone about her little illiteracy problem. Without her paradox of a reputation, she falls in with a new group of highly competitive friends who call themselves the Brain Trust. When she meets Nate, her charming valedictorian lab partner, she declares her new reality perfect. But in order to keep it that way, she has to keep her learning disability a secret. The books are stacked against her and so are the lies. Sam’s got to get the grades, get the guy, and get it straight—without being able to read.

Buy Links

Social Media Links
website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesdays in Twinland: Potty Training?

When you find out you're having twins, a lot of things go through your head, all of them in twos. Motst of those things are adorable, fun, positive things. Double the firsts. Double the fun. Double the smiles and laughs and loves. Double the cute factor. Double the blessings.

But lots of those things are less "this is going to be awesome!" and more "oh my heck I'm overwhelmed." Double the feedings. Double the crying. Double the diapers. Double the expense. Half the sleep.

But none of those things scared me half as bad as the thought of double the potty training. And then, when I realized I would be potty training two BOYS... Well, I think the only word to describe that is "yikes."

From the beginning, I decided I wouldn't force the issue. In my mind, three has been the magical number when we'd start working on potty training. Sure, diapers are kind of gross, but honestly I don't mind changing them that much. I'm only changing like 6-8 a day now, which is heaven compared to the 20+ I changed back when they were newborns. Not all of those are poopy. It isn't that bad. Besides, everyone tells you "wait until they're ready, and it'll be easier for both of you."

I think Thing 1 is getting ready, and Thing 2 isn't far behind him. I looked at the calendar today and realized, "Holy crap, they will be 2 1/2 in just a few weeks." This is the year they will turn three. THREE. I always figured by this point I'd have another baby and be a mature adult and feel like a "real mom" and whatever. But here it is, and I still feel sixteen.

The last few weeks, I've noticed the twins' diapers are drier for significantly longer periods of time. I haven't needed to change them as frequently. Before they would always wake up from their naps with soaking diapers, but now they are often almost completely dry.

Then a few days ago, Thing 1 started taking his diaper off at night. After the third time he did this in one evening, we resorted to duck taping it on. We've had to keep doing this before naps and bedtime so as to avoid wall paintings in the color brown.

This morning while we were playing, Thing 1 took off his pajamas and started taking off his diaper. I stopped him and said, "Do you need to go potty?" He got this ashamed look on his face and vehemently shook his head, then ran away. A few minutes later I noticed that familiar smell. "Did you go poopy?" I ask him. He looked away in embarrassment and insisted, "No!" Of course, he was lying.

So I started researching potty training twins online, and most of the signs are there. I think we are really close to ready to try it. But not until after we go to Disneyland this month, at least. Because I can't imagine a bigger nightmare than going to a theme park while we're still trying to potty train.

It makes me ridiculously sad to think of leaving diapers behind. Stupid, I know. Who wouldn't love to stop changing stinkies and pocket the $100 a month we'd save? But diapers are like the last part of babyhood I can cling to--something that I can point at and say, "See, they're still babies! Not little boys. Not yet."

When you struggle with infertility, I think each milestone hurts just a little, even though they're all positive life events. It was always my goal that once I started changing diapers, I wouldn't stop until I was done changing them for good. "No backsliding," I always tell my husband. "We're in the throws of babies right now, and I want to stay there until we're done having kids." I don't want to leave diapers behind or have children in school or whatever the event is, then go back to a newborn. But it doesn't look like it'll work out that way for us. It hurts even more since I had a miscarriage on Thanksgiving. We were so close, and yet we're so far.

I can feel it: the end of an era. The twins are talking so much these days, and I love the little conversations we have. They understand so much. I love that they can follow simple instructions. I love that they mimic adult things, like calling each other "honey," and saying, "Nice," in this ultra sarcastic way just like my mom does when you do something she thinks is stupid. I love that they're starting to enjoy reading books together and learning their colors and forming opinions on what they want to eat for breakfast and wear for the day and do for fun. People always talk about the terrible twos, but for me two has been a blast (one was the nightmare year). I love that we can finally start enjoying all the things we used to talk about, like Disneyland.

But I miss the baby stage. I miss the newborn smell and first smiles and learning coordination. I miss it so much my heart hurts and leaving behind diapers is really sad for me. But it's exciting too. I love being a mommy to my two precious sons, and I am so excited to watch them live and grow.

Honestly, though, I'm just really really REALLY nervous to attempt potty training. Maybe we'll wait for warmer weather so we can just spend all day outside. Accidents are much less of a pain to deal with out there...
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