Wildlife Wednesday: Crooked Creek

*DISCLAIMER* I was recently made aware that catching, handling, or possessing reptiles and amphibians in Pennsylvania without a fishing license is considered unlawful; therefore I will not be taking the kids on any more outings until I can purchase the required documentation. We respect the law here at ‘lil Burghers, however posts written about previous outings will still be published, as this knowledge was not yet made clear to me. I learned a valuable lesson, and since growing up in South Carolina, to my knowledge you did not need a license to catch frogs and snakes, especially for the purpose of study and release, this is all news to me.

This week’s adventure takes us to Crooked Creek State Park. We were accompanied by some friends and their kids. I had only been to this park once before and we didn’t do much exploring so I had no idea what to expect. On this particular day we found a few creatures I had never encountered before!

When we first arrived I suggested starting down at the lake by a boat launch area. We brought a few nets and bunch of buckets (thanks to our kids’ love of pretzels and cheeseballs) and started poking around a little creek.

The kids spotted several minnows and fry but all proved too quick for our small nets. It was very muddy and wet but that did not deter these brave explorers from splashing right in. Even Ava and Isla wanted to get into the action and at a few points tried to follow me into the muck (I was wearing water shoes, they were totally unprepared). Ava loved holding the net and trying to catch all the things!

As I was checking under rocks I heard a kid scream and a lot of excitement so I rushed over to see what happened. They were all pointing in the creek and yelling various “EEEEEWWWWW” “What is that thing!?!” “Kill it with fire”…ok maybe not that last one, but man just look at it, it’s pretty gnarly. Floating in the current was this wicked looking Crane Fly larvae.

After everyone’s shoes were thoroughly soaked, we decided a nice dry hike was in order. As we meandered along the trail we turned over rocks and logs and found many earthworms and slugs. I am so proud of the kids’ endurance, especially the little ones.

We stopped in a clearing and watched in awe as several Bald Eagles soared overhead. I still get chills thinking about it; ‘Merica! Amiright!?!

As we marched on, one of the little girls yelled that she found something. There, in the middle of the trail, was the biggest Millipede I have ever seen. Once she spotted one, then we all started to find them. They are so cool but I warned for them not to touch them with their hands. Millipedes cannot bite or sting, but when threatened, they will first roll into a coil, not unlike a rolie-polie. Their second line of defense is to secrete a toxin from the sides of its body that can result in a skin irritation and in more severe cases, nausea and vomiting.

The kids were growing tired of the trail so we headed back and one of our friends suggested that we check out the Environmental Learning Center. Unfortunately, we arrived to find the building closed, however we were not to be dissuaded. There was a perfectly nice garden to walk around and as I turned over a few pieces of wood this little emerald beauty scurried out.

Our friend pointed out a trail through the woods surrounding the center so we gathered the troops and got to steppin. I always love just simply being in nature, admiring all of the natural beauty around us. Too often we take it for granted. More slugs and worms were found, as well as some nice size locust. All of a sudden, the familiar screech of a very excited little girl yelling “SNAIIIIILLLLLS!”. Sure enough, there were snails EVERYWHERE! I had to watch my step so as not to crush the poor little gastropods.

As we made our way back to the cars, I smiled watching the kids running together, enjoying the wonders of nature and the company of good friends. I will admit, I was slightly disappointed that we did not discover some more impressive animals for the children to see, but that is also the beauty of nature. To quote Forrest Gump’s mama, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. Until next week, happy herping, Ya’ll!

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Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #GrillNGear #CollectiveBias 

This summer, make a commitment to your family to spend more time soaking in the sun and the memories together. This recipe for Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches is perfect to help you stay true to your word!

Summertime is meant for family and fun – but all too often we moms and dads get too busy to stop and enjoy it. This summer, I’ve committed to being more present with my family and enjoying moments spent doing our favorite things – like grilling and enjoying ice cream. Since we are on a tighter than usual budget this year, trips to the local ice cream shop will be less frequent. That’s sparked my creativity and I got to thinking about cookouts completed with a treat – grilled ice cream sandwiches!

Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches

Because more time for family gets to include my recently retired and new homeowner parents(!), we decided to load the kids in the van and make some memories with Grammie and Pappy. Our only stop along the way was at our local Giant Eagle grocery store to get everything we’d need for a fun evening of grilling.

Our Giant Eagle shopping list included:

  • Lipton Tea Bags
  • Lemon Lemon Sparkling Lemonade
  • Bacon Cheddar Angus Beef Burgers
  • Chips
  • Veggies
  • Breyers Ice Cream (for this recipe)
  • Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies (for this recipe)

After getting our ingredients, we headed to their house and got some sun tea brewing to make “Sparkling Arny P’s” – a twist on your usual Arnold Palmer (half iced-tea and half lemonade).

While letting the kids play, Greg fired up the grill and got the burgers going. I‘m sure know all of the neighbors who could smell the grill were jealous – the Market District line of gourmet burgers from Giant Eagle are incredible! They have the perfect ratio of bacon to cheese to burger and stay juicy. The store tag says “the best Angus beef available” and that has to be true.

(PS – if you are looking for some ways to take these burgers to another level, check out this Giant Eagle Pinterest board for “Summer of Grilling” ideas!)

After we enjoyed dinner, it was my time to shine. My special treat, the Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches, were about to make their debut. I’m sure at first there were a few skeptics in the crowd, but I just knew the combination of hot cookies and cold ice cream that was just starting to melt was going to taste like perfection.

To get started, I put the cookies in a skillet on the hot grill. I let them heat for just a few minutes – long enough to see the chocolate was starting to melt.

Then quick work began, scooping the ice cream onto a cookie and topping it with another. (Pro tip – if you are like me and like your ice cream to sit out a few minutes before enjoying it, get over that. Have a helper bring you the tub straight from the freezer and have a ice cream scoop with some hot water ready to go. You really want the ice cream to be firm for this step!)

ice cream sandwich ingredients

I had to quickly hand off the treats and let the kids (young and old!) get to enjoying them. Can you blame them?

Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients (aka #GrillNGear)

  • Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies (or your favorite flavor)
  • Breyers Ice Cream (in your favorite flavor)

Tools

  • Outdoor grill
  • Grill-safe skillet
  • Ice cream scoop

Instructions

  1. Place the cookies flat side up in a skillet.
  2. Place the skillet on a grill (about 300-350 F) for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Scoop firm ice cream onto one cookie.
  4. Top the ice cream with another cookie.
  5. Enjoy!

If this recipe caught your eye and has you drooling, remember that you can grab everything you need for it at Giant Eagle. They’ll be sharing fun summer grilling recipes all summer long on their Pinterest Page, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you make this over the summer, please share with us and let us know how it tasted.

What do you plan to grill this summer? Does your grill “stop working” in the winter or has it been going all year long?

Can you help us settle a score – are you team cookie dough ice cream or team chocolate truffle? 

 

 

 

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Dad’s Last Service

Many of you know that we’re a faithful family. Perhaps you don’t know that is because Greg and I both were raised in our faiths by parents who are deeply faithful. In fact, I’m a pastor’s kid…even though he’s in retirement mode! Dad’s last service as a United Methodist Minister was on May 14.

It was bittersweet to step into East Brady UMC one last time. This time, it was full of family from both my Dad and Mom’s sides as we worshiped and took in his last sermon as an active minister. I won’t deny that I shed a tear or two, but it was more the church I’m used to with him – he made us laugh and he made us proud.

Once everyone had left, our family walked outside for a quick photo before celebrating both of my parents’ retirement with a picnic.

East Brady and Sligo had been their appointment since 2011 – when Evan was six months old. Their parsonage is all Evan and the Twins have ever known as Pappy and Grammie’s. Arianna and Greg knew the Allegheny River Charge (Ford Memorial, Manorville, Roger’s Chapel, and Union Avenue).

But Dad, Mom, Jack, and I have so many other places that have our hearts and that we could call home thanks to this ministry. These are stories for another time, but I am so thankful for how God moved in our midst, providing us just the right places at just the right times in our lives. Bringing us people who became friends and even family. Bringing us memories and strength. It wasn’t always easy being a “PK”, but it sure was nice looking back on it.

If you’ve been blessed by my dad’s ministry or if you’ve been part of our journey through life across Western PA and Western Ohio, thank you. Dad and Mom are settling down just a short car ride away from their kids and their grandbabies and plan to take some time to just relax and enjoy. He will be honored at the Western PA Annual Conference Retirement Ceremony on Friday (June 9) at Grove City College.

Dad (or Pappy) and Mom (or Grammie), we are so thankful for your love and faith. Congratulations on your retirement and enjoy your new home – you deserve this blessing! xoxo

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Friendshipping

Friendshipping is hard when you’re a kid, but it’s downright tough as an adult. It’s 2017 and I feel like I am learning it all over again, right alongside the kids.

As an adult, it’s not as simple as finding someone who likes the same color as you or also pulls all the cheese and toppings of their pizza. It is a lot of give and take. Coordinating schedules and kids and diets and interests and opinions and political views and relationship statuses. Finding someone who understands that sometimes you might say something awkward, might not return a text for days, might not pickup the phone when you really do need someone to talk to.

It’s downright tough, this friendshipping as an adult thing.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly seeing streams of happy faces of friends enjoying time together and it makes me wonder – how do they find the time and make it work? 

It’s because the ones that make it work, the ones that meet in the middle and hold your hand, these are the precious ones. They are the ones that get you even when you cannot do anything more than sob into the phone. They are the ones who know when you say you want ice cream get you ice cream. They are the ones who make this adulting friendshipping thing not so tough after all.

Kids – you’ve got built in best friends with each other. Don’t forget that, but find you some real, genuine, loving friends. They may be in your life for a season. You might lose them all too soon. Or who knows, you might still be friends with them 30 years later. Hold those hands tightly.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Northmoreland Park

Last weekend, Evan and I camped out at Northmoreland Park with his Royal Rangers outpost. One of our Saturday activities was going down to the lake to fish. As soon as we got close to the water we spotted a snake swimming by the bank. While everyone else got started fishing, I stalked the Northern Water Snake from the shore, determined to catch it to show the kids. After a few misses, i thought I’d lost him, so I went to check on Evan. All of a sudden the serpent popped it’s head out of the water right in front of us. I got down on the ground and started to army crawl towards it as it neared the bank. When it’s head ducked around a curve in the bank, I made my move, grabbing its tail and hoisting it to shore. As I worked to corral the reptile it began striking at me and a crowd began to gather.

For such a harmless creature, they sure like to act tough! They have several ways of deterring predators. First is to flatten its body out to make itself look big and intimidating. When it does this, the head takes on the familiar diamond shape of it’s venomous relatives. The second line of defense is to strike. I know, I know, but Greg, you said they are harmless. I suppose it should be said that they are not venomous, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bite. They have small teeth and a bite can be a bit painful, but are mere flesh-wounds. The snake’s third route to ward off predators is pretty crappy, literally; they poop on you, and it smells awesome! That is it, that’s all the more danger a water snake poses to humans.

After showing off the snake, I decided it had been stressed enough for one day so I placed it back in the water and off it swam. I enjoy observing wild animals up close, but you always need to be aware of the animal’s stress level. Many animals can basically be scared to death so it is usually wise to keep your encounters brief.

The next day, while the rest of our group left the park, Evan and I returned to the lake to explore some more. When we got there the lake was packed with people and we soon found out there was a fishing derby going on. I was a little bummed because I figured surely all these people would scare any wildlife away; Boy was I wrong.

We decided to walk all the way around the lake since the near side was very crowded. Once we got to the other side, Evan began to notice frogs by the bank. Several attempts at capture proved futile and only resulted in a muddy shoe. We walked through a beautiful wooded area and watched chipmunks scurry across the trail. When we got out of the woods we returned to the lake’s edge and were greeted by a family of geese. The young goslings were very rowdy and splashed about; it was rather entertaining.

As we scanned the shoreline I noticed a frog and as I bent down to make my move, something else caught my eye. There, lying in the mud was the cutest baby snapping turtle! I decided that the turtle was easier pickins and a rarer find. With a precise grab, and to the delight of Evan and a little girl fishing with her family nearby, I lifted the turtle out of the water by its rigid tail. As far as snapping turtles go, this little guy was very well behaved.

snapping turtle

Evan and a baby Snapping Turtle

Remember how I told you that I am not a Zoologist, well it showed in my knowledge of handling snapping turtles. While holding the turtle by it’s tail may be the safest option for us, it can do serious damage to the turtle’s tail and/or vertebral column. The safest way to handle a snapping turtle is to hold it by its shell just above the hind legs. Hopefully this little guy is ok and we didn’t do too much harm. :-/

After putting the turtle back in the water and watching him disappear into the mud, we moved on down the bank. As we peered into the shallows we came across a father and daughter fishing who inquired about our mission. They informed us that they had encountered a snake up on the trail nearby. After discussing our other findings, we headed over to the last known location of the snake. We walked through the tall grass alongside the trail and Evan spotted a cool snail.

As we walked, his snail was soon forgotten when a pretty little garter snake went slithering through the grass by our feet. I carefully picked up the snake and handed it to Evan. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen him smile so big!

Normally I try to catch and release the critters that we find, however garter snakes are beneficial to gardens and I have a slug problem in ours, so we brought it home with us.

As we continued our walk around the lake we came across a drake(male) mallard duck letting people come get extremely close. I thought this odd so I took a closer look, and down by the water’s edge was a mama mallard and her 8 little babies.

As we came back around to the front side of the lake we began encountering more fishermen. We also spotted lots of frogs sunning themselves along the shore. After missing a mammoth brown bullfrog I managed to snag a slightly smaller but equally beautiful green bullfrog.

We continued walking along the shore back towards the car, Evan insisting on showing off our catches to anyone who seemed interested. He played on the playground for a few minutes and we snapped a few pictures before letting the frog go.

As we left the park we both had huge grins plastered on our faces, knowing we had experienced some of nature’s treasures up close and personal. We talked about all the things we saw and looked forward to our next trip to Northmoreland Park.

If you live in Western PA and love critters and much as we do, I highly recommend checking out Northmoreland Park! Until next time, happy herping, ya’ll!

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Make a Statement with Your Hair and Divatress

This is a sponsored post about Divatress. All opinions are my own. 

Last night after the twins’ bath, Greg and I got to talking about their hair. Both have really pretty hair. Ava’s is a beautiful brown with super tight curls. Isla’s is almost white blond with some ringlets in the back. Our hope is they keep this pretty, natural hair as they grow, but we know the reality.

They’ll grow up like Mama and not really appreciate or love their hair. They’ll wish their hair was more like their sister’s or their best friend’s or Mom’s. Something. Right? I can’t blame them. I didn’t grow up loving my hair and I sure have made some changes throughout the years.

Well, thanks to beauty products, we women have that right – the right to make a statement with our hair that fits our current mood or style. It makes life fun to change up your look, especially when it comes to hair. Be it an enhancing shampoo/conditioner, temporary color, a hair cut, or a quick change with extensions or an outre hair weave from Divatress; there are so many ways to make your hair fit you. And it makes you feel pretty awesome, doesn’t it?

outre hair weave

(Source: divatress.com) This would be a great way for me to try the ombre look I’d love in the fall!

If you are looking for a new look, Divatress (a leading beauty company with thousands of wigs and hair care products) has options to help you do that before taking the scissors to your hair. They are a leader in black hair care and have many budget-friendly options to help you make a statement with your hair.

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What do you love about your hair? Hate? Wish it would do?

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Splashlings Medical Center and Wave 2 Blind Bags

[Review Disclaimer] Today we’re opening up the Splashlings Medical Center and Wave 2 Blind Bags. If you’ve not yet heard, Splashlings are a set of collectible toys that my kids (ages 8 and 6) are obsessed with. They are ocean-themed and include over 200 characters to collect and trade. Our favorites are the mermaids and the sparkly treasures.

splashlings wave 2

The Splashlings Medical Center lets your child pretend to be doctor – a like when their mama accidentally drops one of the precious ones. They can measure height and weight, conduct an exam, or even take an x-ray of their characters.

Each set we opened came with blind bags – actually ultra-cool shells – that keep some of the characters a mystery. Part of the fun is opening up the sets and seeing who is hiding inside. According to Arianna, duplicates aren’t a problem – they give kids a trade or let them enjoy as twins. But the best part is when you find characters who are not common (the Splashlings call these rare, ultra-rare color change, and super treasure).

Splashlings Medical Center

Check out our video to see what happened when Arianna opened up the Medical Center, a 6-pack (with two surprises), a 12-pack (with two surprises), and a blind bag star-fish shell.

PRO TIPS:

  • Keep some Splashlings Collector’s Shells on hand for those moments when you catch your kiddo being good.
  • Use ICE COLD water to change the color of your ultra-rare color change Splashlings. This didn’t go so well in our video until we did so!
  • Store your Splashlings in a cool container (Arianna uses a pencil box) so their siblings don’t lose them (Arianna’s tip).

As an 80’s kid, it’s really cool to know my kids are enjoying collectibles brought to them by the same creator that brought Pound Puppies® to my life – Mike Bowling.

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Splashlings are available at Walmart, Toys R Us, Justice, and Amazon. MSRP starts at $3.99 for the shells to $19.99 for the larger playsets.

In addition to the complete line of collectibles, fans can collect Upper Deck trading cards and tap into the Splashlings Official Checklist & Collector’s Guide companion app, offering a fun way to keep track of their growing toy and card collections.  The brand will see apparel, bedding and food/beverage products in the coming year. Splashlings assortments are available at Toys “R” Us, Amazon, Justice Stores, and Walmart beginning February 1, 2017.

Stay up to date with Splashlings via Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

splashlings

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Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday

You guys, I freaking LOVE animals, especially reptiles and amphibians. When I was a kid, my heroes were Steve Irwin(The Crocodile Hunter) and Jeff Corwin and my dream was to be a herpetologist and discover a new species. I was always bringing some new animal home, whether it be frogs, turtles, lizards or snakes(much to my mother’s dismay). My mom would take me and my sister out for hours to local ponds and ditches with a bait net and we would swish it through the shallows to see what cool critters we could come up with. This is a tradition that I plan on continuing with my own children, so the ‘lil Burghers have decided to introduce a new series: Wildlife Wednesday.

wildlife wednesday

I am hoping to take the kids out at least once a week to explore local ponds, streams, lakes and parks. If you are local and have recommendations for places to explore or if you would like to join us on our adventures, please hit us up in the comments. My goal is to observe the beauty of our world, to educate and entertain our readers, but most of all, it will be a vital bonding experience with my children that I can cherish forever.

snapping turtle

Evan and a baby Snapping Turtle

I should also add that I am not a professional zoologist, but I have a fairly decent knowledge of the wildlife we will be encountering and have many years of experience catching and handling them. Especially when it comes to snakes, please use caution; and kids, never pick up a wild snake by yourself. I will be going over snake guidelines in another post, including how to tell if that snake in your yard is venomous, or just harmless pest control.

I truly believe that it is important to learn all we can about these beautiful creatures so that we can learn to protect them for generations to come. Maybe we will even inspire some of you to go and check out the critters in your own backyard.

Until next week, happy herping, ya’ll!

{Be sure to follow along with Wildlife Wednesday on social media with #wildlifewednesday & #lilburghers for extra content!}

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What We’re Reading: May 22

Every so often, we get a chance to receive books in exchange for a review here on the blog. All opinions on these books are 100% our own. These What We’re Reading posts also contain affiliate links – thanks for supporting the ‘lil Burghers with your clicks!

What We're Reading

What We’re Reading: May 22

As we get ready for the next to last week of school (seriously, where has time gone?), our reading is starting to increase. The kids will be part of the Summer Reading Program here in Kittanning, so we want to be sure the kids are ready to jump in.

The Twins (Books for ages 0-2)

Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski pretty much is the story of our twins – “’some chicks like day, others like night. Some sleep in the dark, and some in light”. With irresistible illustrations and adorable rhymes, this story of baby owl and baby goose is perfect to share with babies and toddlers. Follow along as the babies (whose eggs hatched in the wrong nests) find their way to get bedtime just right. Sterling Publishing, March 2017; available on Amazon and at other retailers (MSRP $14.95).

Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev is another great one for our girls, especially Isla who wants to be grown. When you are the smallest in your family and just can’t wait to grow, the struggle is REAL. Ask Isla or Big Little Hippo. With a good message about helping others, this book is sure to be a pleasurer. Sterling Publishing, April 2017; available on Amazon and at other retailers (MSRP $14.95).

The Bigs (Books for ages 6-10)

Redwall, Book One was one of Greg’s favorite series when he was growing up. He reserved this plus the next two from the library and has been reading it to The Bigs before bed every night. I’d tell you more, but it’s like a secret society of readers in there, so you’ll just have to trust the fact that I hear lots of “keep reading!” squeals coming out of the room. Redwall is available on Amazon (MSRP $9.99).

Elly and the Smelly Sneaker by Leslie Gorin is a good modern-day girl retelling of the classic, Cinderella. When a girl wants to be just like all the other kids, her fairy godfather grants her a wish to trade in her glass slippers for sneakers. This is a good, quick read with The Bigs before bed or when we just need 10 minutes of chill time before a sporting activity. Sterling Publishing, April 2017; available on Amazon and at other retailers (MSRP $14.95).

The Adults

This post has made me want to revisit my love for reading. I can tell you something I should be reading for work, but have yet to get past the Introduction. Let’s save that for another installment so I can update you, ok? Greg will be taking the kids to the library, so perhaps that’s incentive to find some more reads throughout the summer.

Have you started a summer book list? For you, the kids, or both? What is on your must read list?


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Not an Only Child

This girl is blessed. She’s blessed because she is not an only child. Although there are plenty of other things that make her blessed, I’m going to stop and focus in on this fact for a few minutes. 

not an only child

This weekend, Greg and Evan are away camping with the Rangers. As a mom, I really should have been excited to have a weekend with just my girls. The honest truth is that I was scared.

No, I wasn’t scared of being outnumbered (which includes two two-year-olds). I wasn’t scared of someone breaking in or creeping on the house. I wasn’t scared of someone getting sick and me having to clean it up (one of my worst mom-qualities).

I was scared of Arianna being alone without her brother. 

Those two are such a pair. They might fight like cats and  dogs, but they are truly a pair. Perhaps not gifted as built-in besties like Ava and Isla, but one would think The Bigs are more the twins than The Twins are.

Without Evan, Arianna faced the need for constant attention. She was bored. She was tired (but wouldn’t nap or sleep because SCARED). She was hungry. She was not hungry. She was clingy. I knew this is what I was in for, but I didn’t really prepare myself.

Driving to work on Friday, I remembered that the Y had Kids Club, so I registered her. When I got home, she was mad that I had. Registering meant she was going and going meant she needed to take a swim test that she knew she wouldn’t pass. Not passing meant she was going to have to stick in the kiddie pool without her brother. Deep down, she finally admitted that taking the test was the thing because she was scared. I told her to just admit she couldn’t pass and that she wanted to stick in the kiddie pool. It worked, and I got an hour and a half to power clean the toy room while the girls played in the living room. Mom win.

On Saturday, she woke with the sun and had to entertain herself until I was ready to get out of bed. When I finally did, I found her in the bed with me (sneaky chick!). We worked on breakfast together then headed off to softball practice.

The afternoon was an impromptu visit to a Lularoe fundraiser so I could pick up something from a friend and I left with an unexpected gift from another. We dropped supplies (blankets) off to Greg and Evan and she clearly wanted to stay. But little brother was in the boy zone and no girls allowed was heard loud and clear. Before we left, he did give her some candy, to which she noted was a nice thing.

But the rest of the weekend has been everything I was afraid of. It was like she was magnetized to me. I’ve yet to use the restroom alone. I’ve been paying bills and trying to blog and she’s right beside me. I only got to write this post because I told her it was time to shower before church.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids, all of them. But Arianna is definitely blessed that she is not an only child. Especially blessed with her little brother, her partner in crime. And she, like me, is counting down the hours until he gets home.

Maybe I should have just got her the darn fidget spinner. 😉

 

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