Magnificent Milestones – Why My Toddler’s Firsts Mean So Much

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on behalf of Carter’s; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

When my son Emmett was born in January of 2016, I had absolutely no idea just how profoundly the milestones he achieved as a toddler would affect me. Throughout his sister Essley’s first year (she was my first babe and is now four), I obsessively researched baby milestones, and she hit all of them at what is considered to be on track or early. I assumed Emmett would be the same way. And then, at seven months old, he was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms, the most catastrophic form of childhood epilepsy. Most children with IS go on to have severe developmental delays. And while Emmett is one of the rare few who “beat” IS – he responded quickly to medication, is one year and seven months seizure free, and has been repeatedly assessed as developmentally on track – every little thing new he does, milestone or otherwise, brings us such joy and a deep sense of gratitude. Many of you have little ones in your lives as well, and regardless of whether you’ve had unique challenges like we have or a very typical experience with your babes’ development, I know you can relate to the emotions that “firsts” trigger in us as parents. In many ways, we grow right along with our children. So today I thought I’d share some of Emmett’s recent magnificent milestones (what his big sister Essley calls it when he does something new), and a little more on why they make me so, so happy.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Now that the baby “firsts” (first tooth, first solid food, first time crawling, first steps, etc.) have all been met and Emmett is in full toddler mode, the biggest developmental milestone for us is speech. While Emmett has been assessed as on track (and even ahead) developmentally in most areas, his speech, while not technically delayed, has always come in a couple of month behind his age. He is actually in speech therapy now twice a month, so we work a lot with him on repetition, short sentences, etc. He has really taken off over the last two weeks with stringing words into sentences, which has been a huge goal. (I have tears in my eyes even typing it out!) I especially love when he pretends to read books, and makes his little two word sentences along with long sentences of made up word full of the most daring inflections. I could sit there and listen to him for hours. Watching Emmett progress with his speech brings me a great sense of pride, as he’s worked so hard. It kind of feels like a miracle.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Emmett has also recently started counting everything (he can make it to 12, but sometimes prefers to leave out 7 and 9). His new favorite activity is playing his own special version of hide and seek, where he counts even when he is the one hiding (which is always in the same spot of our living room, right by the piano). He also loves to count each puzzle piece as he places it into a puzzle. It makes my heart so full of joy you guys. Truly. When I think back to being in the hospital with Emmett after we got the news of his epilepsy diagnosis and reading about how he would likely never even say one number, much less know how to count, I feel overcome with gratitude. It’s incredible.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Another milestone that has brought me such happiness is seeing Emmett move on from the parallel play stage to really socializing with other kids. He loves playing with his big sister more than anything, and seeing them become best friends allows me to see our family in a new (and amazing way) as well. When we’re at the park or one of Essley’s activities and he sees another toddler, he immediately runs up to them and initiates play. Once again I think back to our early days of his diagnosis and the uncertainty of his future in terms of social interaction, and I feel so thankful when I see him connect with others.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Emmett has also taken on a new love for performing, especially dancing, which is pretty freaking fantastic to watch. His sister has been taking dance since she was 18 months old and often practices at home, and now Emmett has to participate too, every time. He recently learned to jump with both feet and is quite proud of himself, so he incorporates that into his sweet dance moves. I hope the unique qualities he brings to his dancing continue into his life as he grows. It brings me such joy to see him developing a personality and his own little quirks that make him him.

Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much
Why A Toddler's Milestone Mean So Much

Emmett is also starting to follow in his big sister’s footsteps in terms of a desire to pick out his own clothes each day. (He even – albeit awkwardly – attempt to dress himself!) His taste in fashion isn’t quite as eclectic as Essley’s, but he knows what he likes. And if there is a dinosaur on it, that’s what he wants to wear. His current favorites are this blue jersey slub tee and this pocket tee from Carter’s – both featuring dinosaurs of course. I love pairing them both with these super cute and comfy pull-on poplin pants and denim dock shorts, and can’t wait for it to get warm enough for him to wear these flip-flops on the daily! We’re big Carter’s fans in this house. (Essley is wearing her favorite nightgown in the piano picture above, also from Carter’s, and you can see them in their matching PJ sets from this past holiday season below.) Carter’s has been with us from the start, honestly – some of the first baby gifts I received when I got pregnant with Essley back in 2013 were Carter’s baby clothes – and has been a part of our milestone journeys with both babes. I have so many pictures on my phone’s camera roll with the kids wearing Carter’s clothes. And their new video, With You From the Start, gave me all the feels – because it’s so true.

Watching Emmett progress through his own magnificent milestones has been – and continues to be -such an intensely wonderful experience for me. Each new thing he does as he grows genuinely makes me grow too, as a parent and as a human being. He and his sister are truly my hearts. I am so grateful for them, and every single experience that comes with them.

If you are a parent, and aunt/uncle, a grandparents, or have special kids in your life, I would love to hear more about your little ones’ magnificent milestones and what they’ve meant to you!


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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United Airlines has not had a good month, or year, for canine public relations

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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What happens when you breed a Poodle with a Shih Tsu?

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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Canis mosbachensis and the origins of the modern Canis species

African golden wolf

What we do know about the origins of Canis species is much more hotly-contested than what we know about the evolution of our own species. The earliest fossils of the genus are roughly 6 million years old, and the oldest species in the “wolf lineage” is Canis lepophagus, which lived in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico 5 million years ago.  This species is often posited as the direct ancestor of the coyote, and it may have been a direct ancestor of all the entire wolf-like canid lineage.

Of course, recent discoveries that have come from full genome comparisons make things a little complicated. With the discovery that coyotes diverged from gray wolves as recently as 50,000 years ago, the linear evolution from Canis lepophagus to Canis latrans is probably invalid.  Further another full genome study that used a single Israeli golden jackal (Canis aureus) as the outgrouping sample to determine when dogs and gray wolves split, revealed that this particular jackal diverged from gray wolves less than 400,000 years ago.

Both of these dates are far more recent that the millions of years that are assumed to separate these wolf-like canids from each other. Of course, more work must be done. We need more studies on coyote genomes, but these researchers have come across what could be the most important discovery in our understanding of the evolution of Canis species. Depending upon the study, coyotes and gray wolves were thought to have diverged between 700,000 to 1 million years ago, and this assumption is used to calculate when other Canis have diverged.

Now, this assumption always did bother me, because if Canis lepophagus leads directly to Canis latrans, where do wolves fit in?  Because in order for that model to work, gray wolves have to evolve from a very small coyote-like ancestor with very few transitions in between. It always just seemed to me like it was unworkable.

Further, there is a whole host of literature on the evolution of gray wolves in Eurasia, and in most European literature, there is a general acceptance of how gray wolves evolved from a smaller wolf called Canis mosbachensis.

Wolfgang Soergel, a German paleontologist at the University of Tübingen, discovered Canis mosbachensis at a site near Jockgrim in 1925. The animal is sometimes called the “Mosbach wolf,” which means it was found in the Mosbach Sands, where many fossils from the Middle Pleistocene have been found.

Mark Derr was particularly interested in this species in his How the Dog Became the Dog.  He points out that the earliest dated fossils of this species are 1.5 million years old and come from the ‘Ubeidiya excavations in Israel.  The most recent Canis mosbachensis remains in Europe are about 400,000 years old, after which time they were replaced by Canis lupus.  Derr speculated about the relationship mosbachensis might have had with early hominin species, which were also well-known from that site, and suggested that they might had some kind of relationship.

Further, there is a growing tendency among paleontologists to group Canis mosbachensis with another wolf that was its contemporary. This wolf, called Canis variabilis, was discovered at the Zhoukoudian Cave System in China in 1934. Its discoverer was Pei Wenzhong, who became respected paleontologist, archaeologist, and anthropologist in the People’s Republic of China. It was a small wolf with a proportionally smaller brain, and it has long been a subject of great speculation.

And this speculation tends to get lots of attention, for this cave system is much more famous for the discovery of a type of Homo erectus called “Peking Man.”  It is particularly popular among the people who insist that dogs are not wolves, which is about as scientifically untenable as the “birds are not dinosaurs” (BAND) clique of scholarship.

Mark Derr and as well as more established scholarship have begun to group variabilis and mosbachensis together. Variablis has also been found in Yakutia, and it may have been that varibablis nothing more than an East Asian variant of mosbachensis.

These wolves were not large animals. They varied from the size of an Eastern coyote to the size of an Indian wolf. They were not the top dogs of the Eurasian predator guild.

Indeed, they played second fiddle to a larger pack-hunting canid called Xenocyon lycaonoides, a large species that is sometimes considered ancestral to the African wild dog and the dhole, but the recent discovery of Lycaon sekoweiwhich was a much more likely ancestor of the African wild dog, suggests that it was more likely a sister species to that lineage.

Although canids resembling Canis lupus have been found in Alaska and Siberia that date to 800,000 years ago, anatomically modern wolves are not confirmed in the Eurasian faunal guild until 300,000-500,000 years before present.

I’m throwing a lot of dates at you right now, because if the modern Canis lupus species is as recent as the current scholarship suggests, then we can sort of begin to piece together how the entire genus evolved.

And we’re helped by the fact that we have an ancient DNA study on a Yakutian “Canis variablis” specimen. This specimen would have been among the latest of its species, for it has been dated to 360,000 years before present. Parts of its ancient mitochondrial DNA has been compared to other sequences from ancient wolves, and it has indeed confirmed that this animal is related to the lineage that leads to wolves and domestic dogs.  The paper detailing its findings suggests that there is a direct linkage between this specimen and modern dog lineages, but one must be careful in interpreting too much from limited mitochondrial DNA studies.

360,000 years ago is not that far from the proposed divergence between gray wolves and the Israel golden jackal in genome comparison study I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

This really could suggest something a bit controversial and bold. It make take some time for all this to be tested, but it is a hypothesis worth considering.

I suggest that all this evidence shows that Canis mosbachensis is the ancestor of all interfertile Canis, with the possible exception of the Ethiopian wolf.

If the Ethiopian wolf is not descended from that species, then it is a sister taxon. It is not really clear how divergent Ethiopian wolves are from the rest of interfertile Canis, but their divergence estimates currently suggest that it diverged from the rest of the wolf-like clade 1.6 million years ago, which is just before Canis mosbachensis appears in the fossil record.

If that more recent date holds for the split for the Eurasian golden jackal, then it is almost certain that this hypothesis is correct.  The Eurasian golden jackal may be nothing more than a sister species to a great species complex that includes the coyote, gray wolf, dingo, and domestic dog that both derived from divergent populations of Canis mosbachensis. 

The exact position of the Himalayan wolf and the African golden wolf are still not clear. We do know, though, that both are more closely related to the coyote and gray wolf than the Eurasian golden jackal is, and if its split from the gray wolf is a recent as less than 400,000 years ago, then it is very likely that all of these animals are more closely related to the main Holarctic population of gray wolves than we have assumed.

The recent divergence of all these Canis species is why there is so much interfertility among them.

And if these animals are as recently divergent as is inferred, their exact species status is going to be questioned.

And really should be, at least from a simple cladistics perspective.

More work does need to be done, but I don’t think my hypothesis is too radical.

It just seems that this is a possibility that could explored.



Natural History

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10 Must-Haves for Road Trips with Young Kids

10 Must-Haves for Road Trips with Young Kids

I have been compensated by Johnson’s® Baby for this post; however, I am sharing my own thoughts. All opinions are my own.  

Travel has been an important part of my life for a very long time, so I made the decision when I got pregnant a few years ago to absolutely make it a part of my children’s lives as well. At the time, like many of the idealistic visions I had of continuing to do the same things in life I did pre-kids, I was convinced including our little ones in our travels would be easy. Ha. Hahaha. I was also sure that road trips would especially be a breeze. The reality is that traveling with young kids is freaking hard, man, and, for the most part, road trips are more complicated than the trips we take via plane (even internationally).

Despite the fact that the potential for disaster is strong with road trips, we take a whole lot of them – and because Robbie is on the road with the band about half the year, many of these road trips are just the kids and me. We go visit my sister in Indianapolis (a 3-4 hour drive from Chicago) every couple of months, we drive to visit Robbie several times a year when the band plays the midwest, and we take a few trips up to our favorite lake in Wisconsin during the summer months. So I quickly had to learn ways to make these road trips tolerable – and eventually, even enjoyable – with 2 small kids. It turns out that quite a bit of it has to do with the items I bring with us on these trips. And today I thought I’d share my road trip must-haves with you, in hopes it helps those of you who plan on traveling by car with your own little ones this year.

1. Quick, non-messy snacks. Our go-to road trip snacks are apples, fish crackers, and string cheese. They don’t make sticky messes and are easy to throw in a bag. (I would be lying, however, if I said we didn’t find hundreds of stray fish crackers in Emmett’s car seat on the regular.)

2. Extra clothes for the ride. Kids on road trips are really good at finding ways to ruin whatever they’re wearing along the way. We always have outfit changes in the car, and we almost always need them.

3. Books. Good old-fashioned books are key, not only for the actual time on the road, but also for the kids to keep entertained at the destination itself. We like board books because they’re harder to destroy and easier to clean.

4. Filled reusable water bottles. My kids get thirsty often on road trips (I do too!), and the water is nice for quick car clean ups as we ll.

5. Multi use bath and body products. We never leave for road trips without 3 products: AVEENO® Baby Soothing Relief Moisturizing Cream, JOHNSON’S® HEAD-TO-TOE® Baby Wash, and JOHNSON’S® Baby Bubble Bath. I get all 3 of them from our local Walmart (in the baby product aisle inside of the kids’ section), and they are the first things I throw in my travel bag because they can be used for so many things, both in the car and at our destination. I use JOHNSON’S® HEAD-TO-TOE® Baby Wash to wash their little hands and clean up car spills along the way, and then later for shampoo and body wash for their baths (and for the adult showers!) once we’ve arrived. The entire family uses AVEENO® Baby Soothing Relief Moisturizing Cream after our frequent bathroom stops and hand washes while on the road, and we continue to use it multiple times a day at our destination as well. And JOHNSON’S® Baby Bubble Bath is their favorite product to use at home, so it brings them a sense of comfort and makes baths fun away from home. It’s really nice to be able to only have to rely on these few tried and true JOHNSON’S® and AVEENO® baby products to so conveniently get us through these trips.

6. A medication bag. For peace of mind, I always carry a small bag containing a thermometer, allergy medicine, Children’s Tylenol, bandages, etc. in my bag for road trips. Sometimes we really do need them, and it’s nice not to have to haul the kids to the store in the middle of a road trip to buy them.

7. Special toys from home. Essley’s pink owl and Emmett’s dinosaur toy rarely leave their sides at home, and they join us for road trips too. Having pieces of comfort from home during the long car ride and stays at unfamiliar places makes the travel experience as a whole better for everyone. Trust me on this.

8. Blankets. Blankets are glorious things, you guys. I swear, it can be 95 degrees outside and my daughter wants a blanket in the car. And beyond the practical purposes, as with their special toys, blankets they love from home can provide them comfort when they’re staying in other places.

9. Washable markers and drawing pads. My 2 year old would sit and draw all day if it was an option for him, so I bring washable markers and paper everywhere we go, even close to home. They are life savers for road trips, and keep the kids occupied for more time than you’d think.

10. Hand sanitizer. I am not a germaphobe by any means, but my kids have gotten sick during travels (so, so not fun) enough times that I now do whatever I can to avoid it. We don’t even get in the car for a road trip until I am armed with hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes.

And there you have it – my 10 must-have items for taking road trips with little ones. I’d love to hear your own personal must-haves, so please let me know what I’ve missed in the comments!

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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End of Oaks

dead white oak

Dead white oak.

They stand as edifices on the ridge-lines.  They seem as permanent as the stony ground on which they grow, but they are not eternal. Sooner or later, boring of insects and the general rot of wood bring them into death. Then, the winds of summer storms and winter gales bring them to the ground, and their matter returns to the soil from whence they came.

The oak tree played a major role in the identity of two of my ancestral people. The German people see the oak as a national symbol, and the English had a similar position for them. It was from the oak trees that the Royal Navy’s ships were made.

The forests I know best in West Virginia are called “Appalachian Mesophytic Forests.”

“Mesophytic” means not particularly wet or dry.  The oak and the hickory are the dominant trees, which has led to their other name, “oak-hickory forest.”

But the oak predominates.  In a typical West Virginia forest, around 60 percent of the trees will be oak, and unlike Western Europe, where just a few species of oak exist, our forests will be filled a great diversity of the trees. The most common species are divided into “red oak species” and “white oak” species. but there are many other types of oak that fall under neither distinction.

One of the weird delusions one must fight against in these forests is assuming they are old, that they are the same forest primeval that existed when Europeans first arrive. However, most of these forests are regenerated from old farm pastures that were left fallow after the agrarian economy fell apart in the latter decades of the twentieth century.

Those old forests certainly had many oaks, but they also shared their growing space with massive American chestnut trees.  The deer supposedly preferred the chestnuts to acorns, and even now, one can buy chestnut feeds to bait deer.

But those deer munching prepackaged chestnuts will never have the privilege of foraging beneath those old chestnut trees. In the early 1900s, a chestnut blight came sweeping through the Northeast and the Appalachians. The indigenous American chestnuts died off. And now only the deer’s ancestral proclivity manifests itself when the bait is put out.

I knew people who were alive when the last of the chestnuts died. I knew a few old farmers who missed the trees so much that they planted the Chinese chestnut as a replacement tree.  My grandpa Westfall had a massive Chinese chestnut as the “shade tree” for his deck, and I can still see him sitting on his the deck, peeling away chestnuts with his knife that he had just collected from his favorite tree.

A big storm came one summer, and the howling winds twisted that tree down to the ground. I thought it would be there forever, but the wind had other ideas.

It was a lesson in the simple reality that trees are not permanent. They are living, and they die.

This year, a firestorm went off in West Virginia.  The governor wanted to open up some of the state parks to logging. The reason for this move was never fully mentioned, but the truth is the Chinese market wants good quality oak lumber, especially from red oaks. The Chinese are buying the logs straight out and processing them over there, and the state wanted to make a few dollars selling big oak logs.

The plan has since been abandoned.

Now, it is certainly true that oak trees do grow back, but what is not mentioned much of the discussion about oak forests in West Virginia is that oaks are also under threat.

Just as the chestnut blight brought down our native chestnut tree, the oaks are under pressure now and have been for decades. Yes, the forests are still dominated by oak trees, and acorn mast still drives the ecosystem.

But now, it is quite difficult for oaks to reproduce. Squirrels still take acorns and bury them away from their parent tree, which makes for better growing conditions for the seedlings.

But when the seedlings arise from the leaf litter, the chomping maws of white-tails rip them from their shallow little roots.

Deer have always eaten little oak seedlings. The two species have evolved together, and during the autumn, the deer rely heavily upon acorns to build up their fat reserves.

However, we now live in a time in which deer densities are high. Sportsmen expect deer to be a high densities, and during the 80s and 90s, the numbers were even higher than they are now.

The state DNR, realizing that high deer numbers were ultimately bad for forests, for agricultural interests, and for auto insurers, decided to allow hunters to take more does from the population.  The deer numbers went down a bit.

This deer number reduction coincided with a coyote population increase, and it was assumed that the coyotes were the reason why the deer numbers dropped.  Some conspiracy theorists believed that the DNR or the insurance companies turned out coyotes to reduce the deer population. The story goes that some trapper bagged a coyote in his fox trap, and on its ear was a tattoo that said “Property of State Farm.”

Of course, the coyotes do take fawns, and some coyotes do pack up and hunt them. But there is very little evidence that coyotes have an effect on deer populations, at least in this part of the country.

Coyotes aren’t like wolves in that they don’t need to kill lots of deer to survive. They can live very nicely on rabbits and mice. Those smaller species have the added advantage that they don’t fight back with sharp hooves when the predator must make a kill.

So we have sportsmen demanding higher deer numbers and lower coyote numbers, and we have oak trees that are having harder and harder time regenerating, simply because there are too many deer eating their seedlings.

And now, fewer and fewer hunters are taking to the woods to hunt deer. State parks, of course, are off-limits to deer hunters.

So if these big oaks are taken for the Chinese market, it really could mean the end of oak trees in the state parks.

And statewide, they could become a rarity entirely.

Of course, the deer themselves will starve without acorns feeding them every September, October, and November, and maybe that crash will allow some regeneration to occur.

But it might be too late.

The truth of the matter is deer hunting is about forestry, and if more and more people see deer hunting as a cruel “sport,” then we’re going to see drastic changes to our forest ecosystem.

Our only hope is that black bears become more carnivorous and eat as many fawns as they can find, and the coyotes learn to swarm the hills like Kipling’s red dogs.

Or maybe more human hunters will take to the forests and fields in search of high quality meat.

But none of these events is likely to happen.

And in a few decades, we may very well see the end of the oak-hickory forest as we know it.

I guess it is time we thought long and hard again about selling out our natural resources to out of state concerns.  The curse of West Virginia is that we never really have, and those who dared raise the issue were either driven from office or kept as far from centers of power as possible.

Maybe times are changing.

Let’s hope they change fast enough for our forests and wildlife.





Natural History

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For your research, Steph: "Having a pit bull…

For your research, Steph:

"Having a pit bull … and three kids is not acceptable because we're not going to deal with the consequences of losing a life," Newsom said.

He appointed a task force led by Carl Friedman, the city's director of Animal Care and Control, and members of the mayor's office, the police department, fire department, health department and city attorney's office, and gave the group 10 days to produce a report.

Friedman said the task force will likely consider breed-specific permits and mandatory spaying and neutering of aggressive dogs." And that they did.

We don't need to be convinced that mandatory spay/neuter is an outdated, ineffective idea and welcome you to follow the success of the the honey-not-vinegar approach that our group has been enjoying in the East Bay.

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And we’re back…

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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We’re an ASPCA Business Ambassador!

We are very proud to announce that our PawZaar store is now an ASPCA Business Ambassador! PawZaar is proud to support the ASPCA® and its mission to save lives. As you know, PawZaar helps support the…

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Win our newest Aromatherapy Car Vent Diffuser!

Mention a car ride and your dog’s tail starts wagging. The car is the place for the two of you to set out on an adventure, make lifelong memories and enjoy each other’s company. And you…

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