Category Archives: my son

Chocolate Monday: Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Happy Birthday Truffle bar

3 Cs birthday cake bar with confettiI am not generally someone who loves shopping. I know that according to pretty much every movie, TV show or book ever written, that as a woman, I am supposed to simply adore shopping. I am supposed to reach near orgasmic heights at the prospect of finding some amazing discount on designer shoes or purses or some such nonsense. Although I can name some designers, aside from the famous Burberry pattern, I’m not sure I could actually identify anything by a designer. Oh wait, does Vera Bradley count? I can pretty much always recognize her stuff. Not because I like it (I am not a fan), but because just about every teacher in the world has some sort of Vera Bradley bag. I have four different friends with Vera Bradley lunchboxes.

But as usual, I digress.

About the only time I actually enjoy shopping is if I am with my best friend. And then, it isn’t for the shopping, but for the company. I love being out and about with my BFF. As long as we are not in Anthropologie, she actually makes trying on clothes kind of fun. A part of each trip to visit her in Athens, Georgia means finding one of her college students to babysit my kiddos so that the two of us can have a few hours to have a semi-fancy lunch and hit downtown to look at the fun shops.

At one of our stops this year, we found a store that carries pretty much everything girly. There were clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry, cards, soaps, lotions…if it seems like it should be in a boutique for women, they have some version of it. I’ve been in this store a lot, so I wasn’t really surprised at the majority of the inventory. However, when I saw a whole display of Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate bars and truffles, I knew I would be making a purchase this year.

3 Cs birthday cake packageMy BFF decided to buy the box of truffles. Each night as we watched something fun on TV, she’d take out two truffles, cut them in half and we’d savor them. I don’t actually remember any of the flavors of them, but I do remember enjoying them. My contribution to our nightly chocolate fest was two of their chocolate bars. I grabbed the Sea Salt Caramel bar (not sure how I’d miss this one so far) and the Happy Birthday truffle bar.

The Happy Birthday bar is really pretty cute. I think the little pieces of candy confetti on the back are a nice touch. While it may not be quite the same as eating the delicious looking cupcake on the front of the package, I love that they did their best to replicate the experience by adding the confetti. Visually I love it. However, I am not a big fan of sprinkles or candy dots like this on actual cake. I don’t like the crunch they give desserts and I don’t like the strange, nondescript sugar taste they add to an otherwise delicious treat. These candy dots are no exception. They detract a bit from my enjoyment because they add a sort of useless extra crunch to the bar.

3 Cs birthday close upThe milk chocolate is smooth and creamy and I think the best part of this bar is the bites of simple solid chocolate. The filling claims to be a buttercream frosting truffle. I’m not quite sure what a buttercream truffle would be as I’ve never had another company claim to make one. The center of the bar definitely reminds me of cake frosting, but once again, not in the way I’d hope for. It is almost too sweet. It reminds me a bit of the poorly made, almost cloyingly sweet frosting that comes on cheap grocery store cakes. My kids loved it, but then again, they both love sprinkles on cupcakes and love those cheap grocery store cupcakes some parent always brings in for classroom celebration days. I find myself scraping the frosting off and then being sad that the cake is too dry.

I had high hopes for this bar as birthday cake is one of my favorite foods in the world. Sadly, this was not a happy celebration.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 3/10 (since I didn’t like it, it definitely made the $5 bar of chocolate seem way over priced).

 

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Throwback Thursday: State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

botanical garden main.jpgOn my very first trip to Athens, Georgia five and a half years ago, my best friend took my kids and I to the UGA State Botanical Gardens. It was early October and still very warm. Unlike all the gardens in Indiana, this one was teeming with vibrant colors and a plethora of thriving trees, bushes, flowers and herbs. We spent a good portion of the afternoon picnicking near the fountain in front of the greenhouse and then strolling through various gardens, marveling at the beauty of it.

My kids loved walking over the little bridge that led up to the Japanese garden. They laughed as they found tiny lizards running among the flowers in the planters on the bridge. They loved seeing all the butterflies flitting around the gorgeous flowers. They marveled at the giant flowers and leaves in the greenhouse. And, they nearly lost their minds when they found the giant stone ball floating on top of a spout of water that they could make turn with just a push of their hands. I’m not sure how long my best friend and I stood staring out over the gardens while they took turns pushing that ball around.

Although it was quite warm outside, the gardens were so lovely, that I hardly minded. They are, without a doubt, the most lovely spot I visited, not only on that trip but on any of my subsequent trips.

I wasn’t exactly expecting much as the gardens are tucked away behind hay fields and cow pastures. In fact, if not for a rather dull looking sign announcing their presence, I would have had no idea that anythings so beautiful could exist along that stretch of road.

Because the botanical garden is a great way to get not only myself  but my kids outside and working off some energy (and some calories from all that great food), we try to visit on every trip. Sometimes we do not have stellar luck. On our second visit, which was in March, five years ago, it was unseasonably cold. I’m not sure the temperature got above 60 the entire time we were there and most mornings it was so cold that when my kids and I tried to go on a walk, we could actually see our own breath. Before we got halfway around the circle my best friend lives on, we had to turn back because my ears were frozen. So, when we visited the gardens, even though we’d picked one of the warmer days and the sun was shinning, there were hardly any flowers to look at.

botanical gardensAlthough we did a bit of walking out to the trails, we spent most of our time in the greenhouse. Thankfully it is very lovely, very warm and has a fantastic collection of orchids, which I am fascinated by. Ever since I read The Orchid Thief and then watched Adaptation as part of a wonderful book to movie club my friends had back in our mid-20’s, I’ve found orchids captivating. Because their scent is one thing the book focuses on, I always get as close to orchids as possible, hoping to catch one of the oddly scented ones. I love the variety of orchids the greenhouse has on display.

On this trip, we picked a warmer, sunnier day to visit. While it could have been warmer for my tastes, it was just over 70 and spring was clearly in the air. There were tons of volunteers all around the gardens weeding, planting and generally tending to everything surrounding us. We all had a blast wandering all over the gardens because almost everything was in bloom. There were beautiful trees bursting with lovely purple, pink and white flowers. There were row upon row of tulips in colors ranging from pale yellow all the way to a red so dark I thought it might actually be black. The herbs in the physic garden were blooming and a slight rub of the leaves released wonderful scents.

botanical garden statueWe made it so far down the trails that we found some really awesome statues and art displays that my kids really liked. Not only did I have my camera out snapping pictures like a mad woman, but my best friend had purchased a Polaroid for my kids to use. They had the best time taking pictures of the flowers, the art and each other. My daughter struggled a bit to remember that it was not a digital camera, so she couldn’t take quite as many pictures as she wanted. Nor could she just erase them, but eventually she figured it out. The photo albums my BFF bought my kids are filled with pictures from our trip to the botanical gardens.

My only regret about our visits is that I haven’t gotten to see it in May, when my BFF says it is actually just exploding with color. Maybe one day I’ll get there during true spring. But for now, I’m pretty happy with the time we’ve gotten to spend there and I know that our next trip (which won’t be until October), we’ll be up for another run around the grounds.

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Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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Chocolate Monday: Viva! Argentine Cuisine cupcakes

Viva cupcakesSpring break is finally here and just in time. If I had to sit through one more class or grade one more final, I might have lost my mind!

Ok, who am I kidding, I’m a teacher…I lost my mind a long time ago! Plus, I actually have tons of grading (and planning) to do over break, but I’m sort of in denial mode for the moment.

The biggest reason I am denying all the work I need to do is because break also means a trip to Athens, Georgia to visit my best friend. And, for the first time since she moved to Athens to become a professor at UGA, we have the same spring break!

Don’t misunderstand, I am thrilled with any trip to see my darling BFF, but usually when my kids and I go to visit her, she still has to do quite a bit of teaching, grading and planning for her own courses, which means several hours every day that she is off on campus and I am trying to entertain my kids. And, last year it rained half the time we were there!

But this year since we all have break together, we get to spend nearly every waking moment together (she did have to to in to campus for about two hours today) and the weather so far has been a bit chilly, but the forecast looks bright, sunny and nearly 75 degrees a few days. Considering it snowed in Indiana today, I’ll take having to wear a fleece because it’s a bit windy!

One of my favorite things about visiting Athens (aside from the endless hours of catching up, shopping and movies with my best friend) is the food. Athens has some really amazing places to eat. I live in a city about seven times the size of Athens, but I’m not sure we have anywhere near the number of delicious eateries around town.

Our first stop this trip was Viva! Argentine Cuisine. I ADORE Viva! My best friend and her husband took my kids and I there on our very first trip into town and we all agree it is an absolute necessity of every trip. I’m not sure what my kids love more, the super tasty empanadas or the cupcakes. Who am I kidding? Of course it is the cupcakes!

Every day, Viva! offers a variety of moist, delicious cupcakes. I’ve never been there when there are less than a dozen flavors. I’ve tried eight or nine different flavors and I’ve yet to be disappointed in any of them. One of my absolute favorites is their version of dulce de leche (it has another name I can’t remember…its nickname is Alfie). It is simply melt in your mouth good. As much as I love it, this time they had several Girl Scout cookie inspired cupcakes I’d never seen before, and I had to try those instead.

They actually had three Girl Scout cookie inspired cupcakes: Savannah Smiles, Tagalongs and Samoa. Since Samoas are my absolute favorite Girl Scout cookie ever, that was the first one I ordered. Although I love the taste of lemon, I am not a huge fan of the Savannah Smiles. They are just not lemony enough. And while I was sure Viva! would have an amazing lemon cupcake (I’ve had their blueberry lemon one before and it is awesome), chocolate and peanut butter is a hard combination to beat, so I had to pick the Tagalong cupcake.

I know picking two cupcakes seems more than a little decadent, but one thing I love about Viva! is that they have mini versions of most of their cupcakes, so I was able to get both a Samoa and a Tagalong with very little guilt and no nausea from over eating!

Since I’m a save the best for last kinda gal, I started with the Tagalong cupcake. It was a great chocolate cupcake filled with a bit of peanut butter and about a third of a Tagalong cookie on the top. The cake was rich and delicious. It was perfectly moist, which can be a real issue with mini cupcakes. Often they are a bit overcooked and dry, but Viva! always has perfectly baked cupcakes. The only odd bit about this cupcake is that the bit of actual Tagalong on top was not even remotely crisp. It was the first time I’ve ever had a Tagalong that didn’t sort of “snap” when bitten into. It was a decidedly flimsy cookie bit. Still, it wasn’t enough to dampen my spirits or make me not like the dessert. It was still super yummy, if a bit of an odd texture.

My Samoa cupcake was even better. Once again, it was an awesome chocolate cupcake with a little dot of caramel filling. The caramely coconut frosting on top was superb. And, the Samoa piece on top was the right consistency, which definitely made it even better. It was precisely what I’d expect the cake form of a Samoa to be. My son liked it so much he ordered two of them!

Overall:

Appearance: 9/10
Taste: 9/10
Value: 7/10 (at $2 a pop, mini cupcakes are a bit pricey, especially since regular sized ones are only $3 each).

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Throwback Thursday: Selling Girl Scout cookies

Girl Scout Cookies

When I was a kid, I loved being a Girl Scout. I can’t remember a single moment I wasn’t having a great time hanging out with my troop. I loved meetings. I loved earning badges. I loved playing games. I loved the Girl Scout Olympics. I loved camping.

Yes, that’s right, I loved camping…and even running…as long as it was through Girl Scouts.

I remember time spent at international food festivals where each troop member would research other countries and cultures, prepare food to share with each other and spend the evening pigging out. My mom and I picked France and she helped me make gateau au chocolat…or chocolate cake for those of you not in the know. It was fun and delicious.

I remember camporees where we would make “swaps” to, well, swap with girls from other troops. Each swap would be some tiny crafty thing that somehow tied into the theme of the camporee and had our troop number on it. The goal was to collect as many different swaps as possible, all while getting to know girls from the surrounding areas.

I remember learning how to lash (I have completely forgotten how), how to make hobo stew (I could totally still make this) and how to make those strange plastic lanyards and keychains every kid whoever goes to camp ends up making.

Girl Scouts was amazing.

I also remember Girl Scout cookie time. Aw…the joy of being surrounded by all the delicious different varieties of cookies.

When I was a kid, Trefoils still had sugar crystals on them, one of my favorite cookies was called the Chocolate Chunk,* and they were only $2 a box. Every year I busted my butt to sell as many cookies as possible. My mom was a stay at home mom, so she had no work friends she could sell cookies too. My step-dad worked in a place that did not allow people to bring in any kind of fundraising materials, so he couldn’t sell them either. Unlike most of my fellow scouts, my cookie sales were all on me. Thankfully the majority of my extended family bought TONS of cookies and not only paid for the cookies, but then paid to have my mom ship the cookies to them, all the way from California. While I was never a top seller, I was able to fall solidly in the middle.

This year I got to experience Girl Scout cookie time like never before: as the mother of a Brownie. Yes, that’s right, my second grader is one of those fairly cherubic looking little girls who no doubt bombarded you as you walked out of the grocery store, or hardware store or craft store, or super hippy breakfast place in that really trendy section of town, and asked if you want to buy a box of these delicious and addictive treats.

I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I haven’t had a box or two of cookies stashed in my pantry or fridge. For the past 6 years, I’ve bought them from one (or both) of my nieces. Before that I bought them either from a host of colleagues whose daughters were selling them or in few rare cases, from students who’d stuck with scouting into high school. Those years were wonderful. I’d buy four or five boxes, they’d last for a few months and I’d be satiated for a few months more. Then, around January, fresh out of Christmas goodies, I’d start wondering when cookie time was going to roll around again.

But this year, everything changed.

This year cookie season started off not with a call from one of my nieces asking me to buy a box, but at a cookie rally on a Friday night over winter break. My daughter and I joined her troop members in one of the most crowded meeting rooms I’d ever been in, trying desperately not to get overwhelmed by the three ring circus that was the rally. Not only were there six craft tables with girls packed so tightly they could hardly move, but there were adults circulating around the room with trays of cookies for everyone to try. On top of this, there was someone constantly making announcements and drawing numbers for a raffle.

My daughter, who has some major sensory issues managed exactly two craft tables before she couldn’t take it anymore. Even the prospect of more cookies (she’s already managed to sneak 6 and we generally allow one cookie for dessert) and raffle prizes couldn’t make her endure a few more minutes of the chaos. We were out after 20 minutes.

Then came the selling of the cookies. My daughter will proudly tell you she sold over 300 boxes of cookies, which was enough to get the turtle music speaker she really wanted. This is not true. My husband and I sold most of those cookies. Sure, she sold about 70 of those boxes, but that was mostly because she worked a cookie booth at a local Kroger on the day of the Superbowl. In two hours, the three girls sold 165 boxes.

What all this meant was a TON of cookies piled in my den. I don’t remember exactly how many cases we had once all was said and done (we had to go back for five additional smaller orders), but at one point I know we had 16 cases in there. It was nuts!

All of this did mean I got to try every single variety of cookie this year. Although they were all the same as last year, I tend to be a creature of habit, so I usually only get Samoas for myself and Do Si Dos for my husband. This year, though, I let my kids each pick a box of cookies (Thin Mints for my daughter and Toffee Tastics for my son). We had to try the S’Mores cookies since they were pretty new as well. Plus, I couldn’t remember if my husband liked the peanut butter sandwich or chocolate peanut butter, so I got some Tagalongs too. At the cookie rally I grabbed a Savannah Smile and a Trefoil to round out my collection.

Although I found I really enjoy the S’Mores (not as good as the real thing, but pretty tasty nonetheless), in nearly 35 years of eating Girl Scout cookies, my favorite cookie has not changed.

My heart forever belongs to Samoas.

*For a trip down Girl Scout cookie memory lane, check out these old favorites too.

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Chocolate Monday: Samoas

SamoaIt’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, it’s not Christmas…it’s Girl Scout cookie time!

Thanks to the cookie rally I got to attend with my daughter this year, I got to try every variety of cookie on sale. Despite some pretty tasty offerings (I’m a big fan of the S’Mores cookies which were new last year), after all these years, my favorite has not wavered even once.

I love Samoas.

These are the best packaged cookies ever. Notice, I didn’t say they are the best cookies ever. There is not much that beats a fresh from the oven cookie (no matter what is in it). But if we are talking shelf-stable, plastic wrapped cookie, I’ll take a Samoa over any other cookie out there…especially the vastly inferior Keebler knock-off Samoas. Nice try elves, but we see what you are up to. Peddle that rubbish elsewhere!

There is just something about the combination of toasted coconut, caramel, chocolate and shortbread that just makes me smile. It is sweet without being over the top sweet. The shortbread has just the right buttery crunch and the caramel gives it a creamy chewiness that almost makes it seem like a soft cookie. I love how it is both soft and crunchy at the same time. It’s a rich, buttery, chocolatey piece of heaven.

And, I won’t lie, I love the way the caramel makes the coconut stick around in my teeth just a bit so that even after I finish my cookie, I still have a bit of amazingness to savour.

No matter what other cookies the Girl Scouts introduce, Samoas will always be my joy. That doesn’t mean I won’t take a Thin Mint or Trefoil if offered, but dollars to donuts, I always want my Samoas.

Overall:

Appearance: 10/10
Taste: 10/10
Value: 9/10

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Throwback Thursday: Disneyworld

DSCN0661For as long as I can remember, I have been a Disney kid. We moved to Southern California when I was 6 and lived less than an hour from Disneyland until I was 14. In fact, for several of those years we lived in Anaheim and were year round pass holders. My sister wasn’t in school yet, so my mom would pick me up after school and take us to Disneyland for an hour or two before my step-dad got off work. We’d get to ride a few rides and be home in time for her to make dinner. It was magical.

When I was 14, I moved in with my dad in Indiana, which although removed from Mickey and his gang, did not stop my love for them. I was still had all the movies to watch any time I wanted. Yes, even as a teenager I watched Alice in Wonderland, Pete’s Dragon and The Little Mermaid repeatedly. When I got my first car, I also got The Little Mermaid cassette and it played repeatedly when I was in my car. My best friend was also a Disney fiend, so we’d sing “Kiss the Girl,” at the top of our lungs on the way to school. I worked at the movie theater when The Lion King came out and not only did I see it for free multiple times, I heard that soundtrack every single time I worked (on a constant loop) for an entire summer.

Since I lived so far from California, my Disney fix had to be filled by heading to the other coast: Disney World. I’d been a few times as a child, but my favorite Disney World memories came as an adult. One year my dad and step-mom took my boyfriend and I to visit my great aunt who lived in St. Augustine and then we headed down to Disney World to spend three magical days in the Magic Kingdom. Well, one day there, one day at Epcot and one at Hollywood Studios (there was no Animal Kingdom then). I still remember how my boyfriend FREAKED on The Great Movie Ride* when an alien from the Alien portion of the ride came at us from above. He was so busy looking at the one on the side of us that he completely missed the one above us and just about wet himself. It was fantastic!

Another year my step-mom, aunt and cousin went together as part of a celebration of my cousin’s high school graduation. Once again we visited my great aunt. This time we had to paint her deck before we could reward ourselves with a trip to Disney. We were not prepared for painting a second story deck in 90+ heat using rickety ladders. It was truly horrific, but it made for some great family bonding and it made any hot weather or tired feet at the parks seem like a wonderful reprieve.

My aunt and I made a solo trip a little later and it was fantastic! It was on this trip that I discovered the wonder of Waffle House waffles. After a VERY long drive to get to Florida, we found a Waffle House near our hotel and dug into pecan waffles. They were delicious! We did everything at a leisurely pace and aside from a speeding ticket I got on the way home, it was a great trip.

My aunt also took my husband (who was just my boyfriend at the time), my uncle and I to Disney World not long after we started dating. My uncle drove 17 straight hours to get us there, stopping at every single rest stop to stretch and have a cigarette. The car was pretty small and when we finally reached our destination (once again we went to St. Augustine first), it was glorious. Sadly, my aunt got pretty bad vertigo on day two at Epcot (Mission Space was brand new at the time) and she had to bow out of the rest of the day, so my husband and I roamed the rest of the day while they went back to the hotel.

Although my husband is not obsessed with Disney the way I am, he gives in to my whims and so far we’ve taken one amazing family vacation to Disney World with our own kids. We only went to three of the four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios). It was seriously the best family vacation we’ve ever been on. I cannot even describe how wonderful it all was.

DSCN0668Our second trip was not quite as awesome. We were there as Hurricane Matthew approached and not only did we get soaked through pretty much every single day, we actually left one day early because the hurricane was getting ready to hit and we knew Disney was going to be closed for the fourth time ever. We lit out as early as we could Thursday morning and ended up at my best friend’s house in Athens, Georgia, so even though we were sad to cut our trip short, we had a great time with my best friend.

That leads us to our latest trip, which is actually coming a year earlier than planned. Initially my husband agreed to every three years for a Disney trip. But we just went back in 2016, so at this point, I should just be wistfully thinking of our trip next year, not writing this blog with a hotel room and tickets already booked and paid for.

What makes this year so special? My aunt and her two kids are coming with us. My aunt is pretty much the biggest Disney fan I’ve ever met, but because of her vertigo, she can’t drive long distances and she refuses to fly. So, this year, we are all going together. Not only do I get to share Disney World with my kids again, but I get to share it with my aunt, who is my closest family member (more like a mom than an aunt), and her two kids. My kids get to run through Disney World with their cousins, who they adore.

Once again, we get to make new memories with the people we love most.

I know a lot of people mock Disney because it is too commercial and too expensive and too crowded and a host of other “toos,” but for me, it will always be one of the happiest places on earth. I have so many wonderful memories there and I simply cannot wait to make more with my aunt and her kids.

*You can watch the Alien portion of The Great Movie Ride around minute 3 if you use the link

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