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family fun photography travel

Road Trip Diary: The St Louis Galleria in Missouri

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When we last left off on my recap of our Epic Family Road Trip, we were visiting Metropolis Illinois, home of Super Man. That morning we had visited the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Some would consider that a pretty full day of travel but we had one more stop to make that night before we gave in and stopped for the night.

The thing is – it was actually BB’s 5th birthday that day and despite having seen a lot of cool touristy stuff that day, I didn’t want to let the day go by without doing something extra special for her. I had it in my head that we should go to Build-a-Bear to let her pick out a birthday present. But the closest one to us was ever so slightly out of the way in St Louis Missouri.

Hubby agreed that the detour was worth it and we headed to the St Louis Galleria which is coincidentally the home of the original Build-a-Bear Workshop. BB was absolutely in her glory. We’d never purchased anything there before and both kids were SUPER excited. Incidentally, neither child purchased a bear.

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BB fell in love with Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony and when MM saw Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there was no going back for him either. They loved the whole process of stuffing their new loved ones and picking out names, etc. Both kids got a little bag to carry their stuffed friends in and then we took the kids out for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

The drive into St Louis was a little crazy as we hit the town at rush hour and it was crazy packed, but we got a peek at the St Louis Arch and I snapped a picture as we drove by. The ride back into Illinois was much quieter when we left that night and eventually pulled over and found a hotel to stay the night. The next morning we had a fairly short and uneventful ride home.

And that’s the final recap of our road trip! We had such an amazing trip with a lot of memories that I know we’ll treasure forever.

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Visiting Metropolis: Home of Superman

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I owe a major thank you to the friend who said, “Oh if you are driving through Southern Illinois, make sure you stop in Metropolis.

You mean like Superman, Metropolis? Like that’s a real place?

She assured me it was quite real and gave me the skinny that I’m going to give you now. Metropolis Illinois is a small town in southern Illinois that loves its Superman Legacy. They even have a 15-foot bronze statue of him in the middle of Superman Square. Seriously. They also have a Supermuseum and gift shop.

According to roadsideamerica.com,

“The Chamber of commerce used to givefree packets of Kryptonite to children — until lawyers from DC Comics read about it on this website and made the town stop (Metropolis failed to submit the “Kryptonite” for approval by DC, and the chunks presented a choking hazard for children anyway).”

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5 Things To Know

  1. Metropolis is not the big, bustling city that you might expect given its name and Superman’s story. It’s a pretty small town and for the first fifteen minutes driving through town I was unconvinced we were in the right place. Keep going until you see the massive man in tights. I promise he’s there.
  2. Once you get to the center of Metropolis, all the Super Sights are in walking distance. Find a parking spot and you are ready to enjoy the sights.
  3. The Super Museum is also the Super Gift Shop. When you go inside, there is a ton of memorabilia, comics, old toys and Super Stuff. The museum is further inside and costs $5 for everyone over the age of 5.
  4. When you step inside Superman’s phone booth, sadly you don’t magically turn into a superhero, but you do look adorable so take pictures.
  5. The 37th Annual Superman Celebration will take place June 11th – 14th, 2015. Super fans travel from all over the globe to visit the Official Home of Superman. Complete with an Artist’s Alley, Man of Steel exhibitions and contests, amusement park, live music and $1000 Superhero Costume Contest, the Superman Celebration provides fun for the entire family.

We were only in Metropolis for a couple of hours but it was a really fun stop on a long day of driving and the kids were absolutely in their glory! It was, in a word, Super!

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Road Trip Diary: Lost River Cave, Bowling Green KY

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Did you think I was done recapping our summer road trip? Believe it or not, there are still more stories to tell! We got busy last month with the start of a new school year and that whole me getting a job thing, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you guys about one of the coolest places we went this summer: The Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Initially we’d planned to see Mammoth Cave while we were in Bowling Green but it turns out that the tickets to the Mammoth Cave tours sell out FAST! I did a little research and came across this gem of an alternative. The Lost River cave was conveniently located, reasonably priced and even better: not sold out yet!

I was fascinated with the history of the Lost River Cave which boasts the tale of the blue hole, disappearing Civil War soldiers, Jesse James’ hiding place and the cave’s night club past life. I got a lot of story ideas out of this trip, not to mention a ton of exercise!

After a 20 minute leisurely hike along the property, we came to the entrance of the cave where we took a boat tour through the cave – parts of the cave ceiling are so low that you have to really duck as you go by which sounds intimidating but the guide does a good job of preparing you for it and the boat is moving pretty slow to give you time.

The tour guide was funny and informative and had a lot of great stories to tell. The cave was beautiful (and nice and cool – awesome on a hot July day). Afterwards we hiked some more to the butterfly habitat which was beautiful and probably one of BB’s favorite parts of the morning – and just one of many family friendly activities they have to offer in addition to the cave tour. We couldn’t resist pressing some pennies up near their gift shop where they also had treasure mining activities and an Outdoor Classroom to learn more about nature.

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So whether you are a hiking enthusiast, science geek, butterfly lover, spelunker, tree hugger, eager tourist or just looking for something fun to do with the family on your next visit to Bowling Green, I highly recommend the Lost River Cave.

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A week in Ruskin Florida

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By the time we got the North Carolina we were pretty burnt out on being on the road. Lots of traffic, rain and road construction left us cranky and we decided to drive straight through to Florida. It was a long day with a lot of laughing at things that probably weren’t funny and instant inside jokes. Like the stretch of road where all you could see for miles and miles were billboards for either FIREWORKS! or HURT? NEED HELP? advertisements for cheap lawyers. We couldn’t help but wonder if each company kept the other in business or if that was just a coincidence.

Eventually we got to Florida though and made our way to the Tampa area, specifically Ruskin, where my father lives. We had a beautiful week enjoying the views, exploring new places and getting to spend lots of quality time with my dad. It was a hot, sunny week and though we had plenty of rain while we were there, there was plenty of sun, too. We took rides in his row boat, swam in pools, went to the boardwalk, ate seafood, and enjoyed countless gorgeous views of the water.

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In between being beach bums we also went to Lego Land – which was a mixed bag for us. I greatly appreciated how much smaller it was than Hershey Park and the kids had a lot of fun, but Dan was pretty unimpressed with layout of the park and we were all irritated that a lot of the big rides seemed hidden by walls so that you couldn’t  see what you were waiting in line for until you got to the front. Also, it rained. A lot. Overall though, it was totally worth it especially because MM was in his glory. He’d been waiting for Lego Land for years!

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Favorite things at Lego Land included: making and racing Lego Cars, meeting the stars of the Lego Movie, riding the double decker Lego carousel, walking through the Cypress Gardens, the Earthquake Tester, and the Model Cities exhibit.

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We also took the kids to the South Florida Museum which had a lot of really interesting exhibits – everything from a history of coffee to a giant shark’s jaw, a Planetarium, Aquarium and Snooty the Manatee that was celebrating it’s birthday

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And did I mention the gorgeous Florida views?

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KOA Camping: Mini Reviews from our Summer Roadtrip

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We camped 5 times this summer while  driving up and down the East Coast on our Epic Family Roadtrip. The first night was at a state park in Ohio but the other four trips we stayed at KOAs. This was my first time staying at a KOA and I was a pretty instant convert. What’s the difference?

The first thing I noticed about the KOAs compared to a lot of other campgrounds is simply the ease of booking. With over 485 locations throughout North America, it seemed like there was always a KOA within spitting distance of the routes we were driving and their website was incredibly easy to book with. Most of the KOAs have great maps of their campground so you can figure out where you want to stay and what you’ll be able to do there. I didn’t have to guess how far away the campground was, which site would be better to stay in or whether or not I’d have to pay for parking. Everything was easy. For a long road trip, this was a godsend!

Here’s a roundup of the four campgrounds we stayed at:

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Our first KOA experience was at the Capitol KOA outside of Washington D.C. in Maryland. I think this was the perfect KOA to start with because they had everything going for them. The staff was super friendly and helpful, our tent site was within spitting distance of the playground which the kids adored, they had a lot of cool amenities like a jumping pillow, a giant chess board, outdoor billiards, ping pong and badminton. That night they showed a movie on the side of the office / store – it was so family friendly and was a nice break after a day of walking through Washington D.C.

Going to DC? Be sure to check out the shuttles to D.C. offered by the campground.

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The next night we drove through to North Carolina where we stayed at the Enfield / Rocky Mount KOA. After driving through ferocious traffic, we were pretty exhausted and honestly didn’t make much use of their amenities. BB did play with their giant checker board (admittedly not as cool as the giant chess board). We were admittedly disappointed in the firewood they had available which was unfortunately too wet to get a good fire going but with the constant rain that plagued our vacation this was difficult to avoid.

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After spending a lovely week in Florida visiting my dad, we drove north to the Forsyth Georgia KOA (did you see that beautiful picture at the top of this post? That’s from the Forsyth KOA). When we got to Forsyth my husband took advantage of a deal they had going to upgrade to a KOA Kabin for only $10 more per night! It was just a simple cabin with a full bed and a bunk bed and a small desk but it also boasted Air Conditioning!!!! This was music to our ears on a hot July night and a fantastic treat after making not terrific time driving yet again. Rather than setting up camp after a long drive, we unloaded the car and got right to the best part of camping: the camp fire! We also loved their playground which had a nice mix of classic playground equipment and fun new structures to play on as well.

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So the next morning we drove to the Bowling Green KOA and I’ll admit it, I totally splurged on another cabin. It wasn’t the same great deal but it was the same amount of totally worth it. Honestly, we barely glanced at the amenities at this KOA because we were busy exploring caves (more on that later, I promise) but their website boasts mini golf, a pet playground, paddle boats, arcade games, horseshoes, volleyball, a swimming pool and more. In addition to being near Mammoth Cave and The Lost River Cave, it’s also near Dinosaur World (which we didn’t see this time) and the National Corvette Museum (which I went to when I was a little girl). So they’ve got a lot going on!

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What kind of camper are you? State park? KOA? Backyard?

Tent / RV / Cabin / I’ll  be at my hotel, thanks!

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D.C. in 4 Hours: Walking the National Mall

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We only had about four hours to spend exploring Washington D.C. and we were traveling by foot the entire time. According to my pedometer, we put in over 10,000 steps in D.C. mostly just walking the National Mall. We fully intend to come back to D.C. and stay for a weekend at least so that we can do it right because there is so much we didn’t get to see. That said, we had a great time.

Map it: If you are planning a trip to D.C. I recommend looking over a map of the area, especially the National Mall, and figure out what you and your family want to see most. We walked the mall and saw the Washington Monument, The World War II Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and everything in between.

We also briefly visited the Smithsonian Castle and even more briefly walked through The Natural History Museum (sadly just as a way to cut across the street and be in air conditioning for a few minutes). If we’d had more time, I would have spent the whole day exploring all the different Smithsonian Museums which are all FREE!

Pro tip: If you don’t have all day, I recommend hitting the Smithsonian Castle which has lots of mini exhibits from all the other museums, giving you a taste of all the museums in a fraction of the time.

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1 – sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial 2 – Standing in front of the Washington Monument 3 – Reading names on the Vietnam War Memorial 4 – Admiring the Washington Monument from afar 5 – The infamous Lincoln Memorial statue!

The kids were such troopers that day, keeping up with us as we eagerly walked the mall to see all the different memorials. Dan and MM were really impressed with the Washington Monument – Dan was marveling at how the bricks on the monument are actually a slightly different color almost halfway up as they ran out of money building it and had to regroup. My favorite thing was definitely the Lincoln Memorial which I’d looked forward to finally seeing after the first day of our trip. I think BB most liked the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, not that she understood the importance of it. She honestly just liked the pretty reflections.

The in between moments:

Aside from all the big exciting things we saw, here were some of our smaller moments and memories of Washington DC.

1. We parked outside of the city and took a train into D.C. The hardest part of this process was trying to find the ideal train station to park at. Most of the cities around D.C. are quite urban and the first one we went to was both difficult to navigate and kindaaa sketchy. Another reason to just get a hotel in D.C. proper next time?

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2. By the time we walked the length of the National Mall and got to the Lincoln Memorial, BB was absolutely exhausted and not happy about the crowds either. She needed a time out before we continued walking and I was worried that we’d pressed our luck walking the whole way. Luckily she perked up and we all made it back to the train station in one piece! Bring water bottles and stay hydrated or consider getting tickets for one of those tour buses.

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3. There was a random piece of fencing in the reflecting pool and ducks were hanging out around it. While I marveled at how absolutely normal the city was with all the same amounts of construction, disarray and litter that you’d find in any major city, BB simply thought it was a bridge that she should walk on so she could go say hi to the ducks. She was very disappointed when I refused!

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4. After leaving the Vietnam Memorial, we kept walking to see the White House. We were coming from behind but had been hopeful for a good view. This was about as good as the view got. If we’d had any semblance of energy at all, we might have tried to walk around and see the front but we were low on energy and time and had to settle for this view and keep walking for the train station.

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5. Most of our pictures on this trip obviously were of the kids but MM did offer to take this picture of Dan and I so that we could be in a picture, too. I think it came out really good!

It was a long day with a lot of walking and a few moments of disappointment – mostly when we realized how little we’d actually have time to see, but we enjoyed our afternoon in D.C. and can’t wait to go back and see everything else!

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tbt: 3 Things you have to do in Amish Country, Pennsylvania

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While we were in Pennsylvania indulging in all things chocolate and roller coasters, we had to stop by Kitchen Kettle Village in Lancaster AKA Amish Country. Dan’s parents have been doing this Hershey Trip for years and Amish Country is always a required stop.

While you are there, there are three very important things you have to do:

1. Have lunch (or dinner) at the Plain and Fancy or the Bird-in-Hand. Assuming you can handle a communal meal filled with more delicious foods than you can possibly eat.

2. Go to Kitchen Kettle Village and stock up on jams and preserves and whoopie pies and any other foodstuffs or knick knacks that make your heart sing. There are plenty. You should have enough jelly to last you a year when you leave or you aren’t doing it right.

3. Take nostalgic pictures of your kids at Kitchen Kettle Village so that after several years you can make collages that make your ovaries swoon.

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Road Trip Diaries: Hershey, PA

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After driving through Ohio and New York and spending a week in Massachusetts, most people would consider that an awesome family vacation. We would call that JUST THE BEGINNING. Having seen most of our friends and family and eaten at all of the places that make it feel like home, we packed up and left for Hershey, Pennsylvania at the bright and absurdly early time of 4AM.

Things we learned:

  • Caravaning for long distances is hard work. Families travel at different speeds and require different bathroom breaks, etc. Texting between passenger seats is a useful way to keep in touch when you lose each other and a fun addition to a long drive.
  • My daughter is not a morning person (the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree). Between waking up too early and possibly not hydrating enough, I was a bit nauseous and she was downright miserable. This was literally (and luckily) our only bout of carsickness on the trip. So, early morning travel is probably not going to be a big thing in our family.
  • Hootie and the Blowfish / Counting Crows – I can’t tell them apart and my husband tells me that I’m insane and that they sound vastly different. Anyone else agree with me that the difference is actually quite subtle?

Eventually we got to Pennsylvania and found ourselves at the Hershey Hotel’s Woodside Cottages AKA the swankiest, most luxurious hotel I’ve ever stayed in. My amazing in laws booked a cottage for all of us so that we could have our own hotel rooms but all be together and have the added bonus of privacy and pampering. These cottages are amazing and probably every trip to Hershey from here on out is going to be slightly disappointing in comparison.

So how was Hershey?

Both amazing and less than amazing depending on the minute. On the one hand, the kids got to go on a lot of rides, my husband had a nostalgic-filled week sharing the fun of Hershey with his parents, siblings and the three of us. We got to see everything, including spending a day in a rented cabana where we could enjoy the water park and / or relax depending on our preferences. We played ski-ball which always makes me happy. I took a bunch of pictures of the kids posed with things or riding rides. I walked a LOT which meant lots of extra exercise to counteract all the calories consumed in the Land of Chocolate.

Less than stellar things which occasionally made me grumpy:

  • It rained like constantly. Actually, if I had to describe our vacation in one word, RAIN would probably be the best descriptor. Apparently July is Thunderstorm season basically everywhere and one storm or another seemed to chase us the entire month.
  • Trying to match the pace of all those long legged in laws was exhausting. I probably should have slowed down and gone at my own pace but I was so eager to not miss anything and probably also trying too hard to be easy going and likable that I often sacrificed my own happiness or energy level in the name of fitting in. Basically I acted like a ridiculous teenager a few times and I’m not proud of it.
  • Did I mention the rain? Like when our cabanas were evacuated TWICE because of freakishly large thunderstorms or the time we were driving to Panera Bread and the rain was falling so hard that the visibility was like -5 feet.
  • Super skeevy laundromats.
  • Our GPS being super weird and taking us on the strangest routes to get places.

Stellar things that more than made up for the grumpiness:

  • In between being overly anxious about being fun and care free, I actually had some fun and carefree moments. Like going out for drinks with in laws, laughing uproariously with my mother-in-law about how weirdly similar Dan and his brother and father are, especially when they somehow manage to perfectly match each other’s pace while they’re walking and start to resemble tin soldiers marching in a line.
  • Turn down service at the hotel – soft fluffy robes and chocolates on our pillows every night.
  • All the rides at Hershey with the kids – seeing my brave littles take on rides that were intimidating and watching the grandparents and aunts and uncles spending precious time with them. Feeling like a kid again.
  • Being able to take the shuttle into the park which meant not dealing with parking basically at all.

Things Learned:

  1. Despite my best efforts, I’m not a go with the flow girl. I try my best, but I’m not good at it.
  2. I care too much what other people think of me and doubt myself too often.
  3. BB is much braver than MM when it comes to potentially scary rides. She is a risk taker at heart and he’s a cautious kid, much like his mother.
  4. Reeses Martinis are delicious.
  5. There should always be soft, fluffy robes.
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1 – MM was in the Hershey Bar height range for rides | 2. Checking their height at Hershey Park’s Zoo | 3. Riding the carousel with papa | 4. MM on the Frog Hopper | 5. Posing with Hershey KISS!! | 6. BB LOVED the Frog Hopper | 7. Riding on the little kid version of that crazy swing ride | 8. BB and MM truck driving – MM was such a sweet and patient big brother that day | 9. BB was at the Hershey Kiss Height Level which tickled her absolutely pink.

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Road Trip Diary: A Week in Massachusetts

epicroadtrip

As we embarked on our third day on the road and got closer and closer to Massachusetts, we were struck by how the landscape gradually started to remind us of home. A lot of that day’s driving involved comparing the differences between Massachusetts and Wisconsin – not just the personality differences between the people or the economic differences between living in one place or the other – but the actual, physical differences between the two.

For instance – Wisconsin is a relatively flat, new, planned place. You can see for miles and everything is carefully divided on a grid for the most part. This is awesome when driving because if you are lost – just knowing what direction you are trying to go will get you pretty far in Wisconsin, or at least in the Madison area. Whereas in Massachusetts, this information is rarely helpful as you will often find yourself going north to go south as you work your way around the roads that were paved off of old cow paths. You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. At one point on our drive we totally saw signs for highways going west to get to Easthampton and so forth. This is all normal in New England.

Speaking of flat, Wisconsin might think it has mountains but it’s wrong. The kids were BLOWN away at the size of the mountains in New York and Massachusetts (even ones that weren’t really that big). The trees are also humongous, towering old giants compared to the much newer, younger trees in Wisconsin. You can feel the age of the old New England towns quite clearly just by the tall trees, nevermind the often older buildings.

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Our first stop in Massachusetts was lunch in Northampton with my aunt. This was my first visit to Northampton so she had a lot of fun showing us around her neighborhood and we all enjoyed just getting to catch up.

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20140703_085351After that it was off to grammy and papa’s house where we stayed for the week that we were there visiting. This was great because no matter how busy we were each day, there were still lots of lazy hours spent in between:

Playing with old telephones – This might be the only corded phone my daughter ever gets to use! So much nostalgia watching her twirl the cord around her fingers as she “talked” to people on the phone. Our kids don’t know what joys they are missing out on!

Drawing elaborate pictures (the picture below is a drawing of Princess Belle battling Prince Out of the Ordinary Bad  – Belle wins obviously). There were also lots of hours spent playing with play dough and snuggling playing with their cousin (who was a newborn baby the last time we were here). He is pretty much the cutest kid ever – we were thrilled to get to spend lots of extra time with him on this trip as he will probably be running the next time we see him!

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Princess Belle battling Prince Out of the Ordinary Bad

We got to catch up with a lot of friends and family while we were in town which was awesome but the weather didn’t cooperate very much. We were in town for the 4th of July so I’d been looking forward to going to see fireworks and the town parade with my family but both were postponed and we missed out. My aunt and uncle were nice enough to throw a little impromptu party at their house with takeout pizza and lots of relatives who came by to see us which was really great.

While we were there, BB was talking to my cousin about ages – he was explaining to her that he was twice as old as MM who turned 8 in April and BB very studiously thought about this and then counted to eight on her fingers once, paused and then started from 9 counting up to her eighth finger again and said “So you’re sixteen!” And we all kind of collectively just stared at the tiny four year old who just did a multiplication problem with no help. What?

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We also got to see all my besties! My good friend just got a new house in the area so she invited us all over for a cookout to show off her new place. This was a great way to get to see a lot of people in a small amount of time! I love that I have such great friends that you can go months or years without seeing and just pick up where you left off like no time has passed. It’s hard to believe that I’ve known these ladies for as many years as I have – and now all these kiddos later and we are all still friends. Lots of laughs that day!

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Next up on the recap list is our week in Hershey Pennsylvania with Dan’s parents and (most of) his siblings.

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