The Golden (um, actually RED) Arches

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After leaving Zion National Park, resting up at a hotel in Richfield, Utah and getting back on the road, we beelined it for Arches National Park.

Between Richfield and Arches, we wound through a stretch of I-70 that looked pretty nondescript on the map.  It was actually pretty neat; though we drove through it on the way to Disneyland, most of it was after dark.  We managed to stop at the Black Dragon Canyon Overlook while we headed west; it was dusk and Nathan was aching to see what Eagle Canyon and Ghost Rock looked like during the day.

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On the trip back east, Nathan broke out his GoPro and we snapped away.  In various stages of undress.  Hey; the kids had a complete outfit between them.  And we were literally in the middle of nowhere, so neither Nathan or I much cared.

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Had I been a person with lesser morals; I would have stolen as much flagstone that I could fit in the car.  There was tons of it; everywhere, and it was begging me  to vacation in Colorado Springs.

Once we had filled our bellies with Wendy’s in Moab, we drove through the front gate of Arches.  It is immediately amazing; we wound up the switchbacks until we were happily nestled in its red sandstone towers.  Nathan and I were drooling; oohing and ahhing at everything around us.  The kids didn’t even want to get out of the car.

Whose children are these?  They sure aren’t ours.

Finally, we managed to get Finny out to snap a few pics.

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We headed deeper into the park to check out The Windows and Double Arch.  There were scads of people hiking The Windows Trail and only a few on their way to Double Arch.  Double Arch it was.

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The kids climbed and scrambled up the formations until I couldn’t take it any longer…  And as more people arrived behind us, my stress levels skyrocketed as I imagined them falling, too.

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I never had a fear of heights; but the last few years I’ve suddenly become a nervous wreck anytime I see someone, anyone, getting too close to the edge of their possible demise.

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We gathered the brood as my heart started to pound from the seemingly parentless children dangling their legs over the back of Double Arch (which Nathan made sure to let me know was a sheer plummet to more rocks below).

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The trail back was short, though I made sure the kids and I were downing plenty of water.  I was not going to be waving at any vinyl decals of dogs like I had a Zion.

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We stopped at the visitor center on our way out…  Where Alice fell deeply, madly in love.

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“But I WANT him, I want him, I want him, please, please, please!!”  She has all the making of Veruca Salt, that one.

“Alice, let go of the goat.  We’re leaving.”

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Finn was a little more partial to the bronze crows.

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And that was the end of our journey.  We piled back into the truck and spent the last seven hours of our trip home a little bummed out that it was all over.  All the castles, canyons, waterfalls, arches, mountains, princesses, pixie dust, mice and bronze goats were on the road behind us as we made our way back to reality.

The Zion King

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Ahhh…. Hiking and climbing in the hot sun.  The perfect nightcap to three days in Disneyland.  …Right?

We climbed back into the car for the first time in four days right after walking out of the gate at Disneyland.  We planned on getting as far as we could before Nathan and I pooped out.  We made it out of California (a relief after battling CA drivers and their cars on the way to LA), past Las Vegas (but not after my most uncomfortable moment as a parent while shamefully dragging my kids through a casino as quickly as humanly possible) and into Utah.  For as much as Disneyland was for the kids (read: me), the trip back was for Nathan.

Which is as much as a consolation prize as that sounds.

Never in our lives have we lived in a place that is in such close proximity to so many National Parks; and good ones at that.   We have more than a handful of them on our list, and this trip was slated to check off two; Zion National Park being one of them.  You probably have seen pictures of it before; its famed Narrows are amazingly breathtaking and out-of-this-world gorgeous.  Or so I’ve heard.

We have every intention of hiking The Narrows once the kids get a bit bigger; and Angels Landing is on Nathan’s docket.  But for now, when the kids are small, we tend to stick to the easier and less dangerous trails.  This trip marked a milestone; where I had the realization that Finn really needs to be walking the whole time.  We have a backpack that he’s been viewing much of our hiking trips from.  I know he is perfectly able-bodied to walk, but our reasons for using it this far into his young life are pretty selfish.

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Sure, it is nice to teach your kid to behave and listen on the trail.  But it is NICER to be able to strap him in and enjoy it for yourself.  He’s too big for it; I know.  And I’m hell-bent on him not riding in it any longer.  Go ahead and judge.  There are some things I just don’t care if people think I’m parenting incorrectly… And the backpack is one of those things.  But the time has come.  Now it is just about getting Nathan on board as well…

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We hiked the Emerald Pools trail up to the middle pools.  It was pretty well-traveled (which was a bit of a bummer), but once we settled in for a snack next to one of the pools, it was all forgotten.  Most folks turned back at the lower pools and we had relative peace and quiet while we noshed on Pop Tarts.

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After we got into areas where Nathan could contain his overprotective side, we were nearly back to the Zion National Park Lodge.

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We checked out the tadpoles in the stream… (While balancing on one leg)

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Just in front of the Lodge, an enormous tree shades an even bigger lawn.  All of us were starving and we headed inside to have our first sit-down meal of our entire trip.  Naturally, we smelled (and ate) like livestock.  But everyone was happy.

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Alice had a hard time containing her excitement; it was the first time where both kids had room to run and play without either of their parents trying to keep them from getting lost in a crowd or plummeting to their deaths.  All four of us were pretty happy, come to think about it.

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After having absolutely nothing to do but run and scream for nearly an hour, we packed up the kids and headed back to the visitors center.  After getting a couple of little souvenirs, we headed back to the car.  The moment I realized I probably should have drunk more water was when I caught myself waving to a dog in an RV…  Which I immediately realized was only a sticker of a dog.  One of my prouder moments.

After driving through to the other end of the park, we wisely decided to crash at a hotel for the night.  One with hot showers, soft beds and an endless supply of drinking water.

Next stop…  Arches National Park.

 

 

Faith, Trust, (a reasonably large sum of money) and Pixie Dust – Disneyland Part 2

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Our second day at Disneyland was a bit of a rough start.  Little people didn’t get quite enough sleep.  Coffee was not consumed early enough.  Hoards of people flocked to the gates an hour early for Disneyland’s early opening.  We were among them.  We were dragging… Quite a bit.

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Alice (very appropriately) snatched up a shiny red apple from the breakfast spread at the hotel.  Today was a day that I had been looking forward to for weeks; we had reservations to dine with the princesses at Ariel’s Grotto.  I brought along Alice’s Snow White dress for the occasion.  About two weeks before we left, I had a moment of extreme, dorkheimer clarity where I resolved to match the little lady.  No, I wasn’t going to wear the same dress…  I was just going to be “inspired” by Alice’s outfit.  Brace yourselves for the onslaught of nerdyness…

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Seriously, if a grown woman can’t dress up as Snow White at Disneyland, the world is a very unfair place.  I was later asked by a perky girl in her early twenties if I was “Disneybounding as Snow White, cause that is, like, so. SO. CUTE.”  Now I know that dressing in a regular outfit “inspired” by a Disney character isn’t just, like, a thing, and, like, so. SO. CUTE, but it has a name; Disneybounding.  And after it was brought to my attention, I realized there were scads of people doing the very same type of thing I was.  And all of them were a decade younger than me.  Even when I don’t even know it, I’m trying too hard.

Not pictured: Finn... Who was pouting in the corner, refusing to take a pic with Mickey.  Again.

Not pictured: Finn… Who was pouting in the corner, refusing to take a pic with Mickey. Again.

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Before we got around to having breakfast (at 9:30, which is damn near lunch time when you wake up at the ass crack of dawn to dress as Disney characters), we caved to Finn’s ever-increasing insistence that he go on The Tower of Terror.  It is aptly named; you get on an elevator in a run-down, haunted, cursed hotel only to shot up 130 feet and shot back down.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Normally, this kinda thing is my jam, but when you involve your naive five-year-old, the momma bear instict kicks in.

We tried talking him out of it.  I made him watch a Youtube video of the ride (which only made him more intent on going).  We resorted to begging, pleading and swearing that it was the scariest ride in the park (it is).  At the end of it all, we decided that the only way to get him to understand how scary it really is was to let him have his way and go on the ride.  He’d learn the hard way.

I gave him every opportunity to back out; all the way up to getting in the actual elevator.  He insisted.  And after buckling in, I realized all this time I had worried about it FOR HIM, I had forgotten just how scary it was going to be FOR ME.  We got in, I got the camera rolling, wrapped my arm around Finny and then started to panic.  But only on the inside.  A few seconds later, I was panicking on the outside, too.

And it was ugly.  Like, nostril-flaring, chin-quivering, ugly-faced crying UGLY.  Wanna see?  Yes.  Yes, you do.

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And it only got worse…

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All the while, Finn never made a peep.  Big eyes, one hand clutched to me and the other one in his mouth.  He was braver than I.  And when we got off, he was peachy.  My leg was shaking like a Nokia on vibrate.  Finn wanted to go again.

“Mom.  MOM.  I forgot to scream!  I was so brave that I didn’t even scream.  We have to go on it again! “

Just in case you want to listen to me completely lose my shit, here is a minute of video.  Of me screaming.  And Finn’s eyes as big as saucers.  My dad will totally watch it.  And that’s probably all.  Sidebar; this is the worst I have ever looked on camera.  And the one screaming the loudest and the longest?  Yeah… That’d be me.

Right after Tower of Terror, we headed over to breakfast.  Where Alice was decidedly in hog heaven.

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Princess after princess came and went.  Alice was too excited to care much about her food.  I was too excited to care about how much it was costing us since we were saving hours of waiting in line to get autographs and pictures with Alice’s celebrities.

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The only one she couldn’t quite warm up to was Belle (I think it was the giant dress), but Finn was quite smitten.  Cue the blushing.

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Sadly, Tiana was nowhere to be found.  Alice was pretty let down about that, but when we told her we’d get to meet Rapunzel the next day, she leveled off.

And finally; mercifully, Nathan got some coffee in his system.

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It’s good to be king.

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We headed to Cars Land to use our passes at the Radiator Springs Racers.  This is the newest and (what seems to be) the most popular attraction in the whole park.  Since Alice was too small to ride, Nathan and Finn went first, followed by me flying solo.  Trying to explain the Fastpass system, baby swap and wait times to a five-year-old that so desperately wants to ride again sent Finny into a frenzy…  He threw a monumental tantrum.  Nathan ushered me on my way and Finn booked after me, darting through the crowds faster than a dad with a toddler could chase after him.  By the time I met back up with them, Finn and Alice were both (still) bawling and we beelined it for the park’s exit.

Once the kids had napped, they were in much better spirits.  By that time, it was Nathan and I’s turn to have our own tantrums.  It came to a head on our walk to McDonald’s.  Nathan resolved to take Alice in one direction while Finn and I went in another.  We managed to hold it together for a meal.  After Finn remarked that “Daddy isn’t going to leave with Alice; it’s all just a joke,” we both had calmed down, parental guilt weighing on our shoulders.  Honestly, there really isn’t much a handful of carbs and a box of McNuggets can’t fix when you’re on vacation.

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Poof.  Everything was perfect again.

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We took in Mickey and Minnie’s houses over at Toon Town…

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And I managed to snap two of the most adorable pics of Nathan and the kids that night.  Sure, they might not be in focus, but to me; they’re perfect.

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Knowing we still had a third day to conquer, we headed back to the hotel around ten and hoped for a better start the following day.

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After riding everything we’d missed in Fantasyland, Adventureland and taking in Big Thunder Mountain, we rafted over to The Pirate’s Lair.  To me, it will always be Tom Sawyer Island.  There weren’t many people over there; we explored the caves, bridges and the island’s bathrooms in relative peace.

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Just before we made our final stop of the day, we scarfed down Dole Whips outside the Tiki Room.  Then we settled in to watch the story of Tangled at The Royal Theatre.  Man, Disney puts the Renaissance Fairs to shame.  It was hilarious and the kids both enjoyed themselves.

After the show, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider came out to meet us.  Alice was shy.  And hey; Flynn Rider made me blush, too.

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And that's not even him doing "the smolder."

And that’s not even him doing “the smolder.”

The kids were tiring out and we made the wise choice to head on out before things got ugly.  Sadly (though not as sadly as when I leave Disney World), we bid Disneyland adieu.  And made it our life’s mission to make it to Vegas before nightfall.

Success?  Yes.  Two happy kids.  Two exhausted but happy parents.  And totally worth that reasonably large sum of money.

And for those of you still standing, please hold on to the handrails throughout our journey and check out Part 1 of our Disneyland adventure.  And please stand clear of the doors.

 

Faith, Trust, (a reasonably large sum of money) and Pixie Dust – Disneyland Part 1

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Brilliant Plan:  Roadtrip!  Colorado to Southern California.  Two days in the car. Sixteen hours of drive time. Two kids. Concoct biggest surprise said children have had in their short lives.

Chalk this one up to “seemed like a good idea at the time.”

By all accounts, the actual trip was awesome.  The little people were relatively well behaved, Nathan and I were in good spirits (most of the time), and we only realized that the air conditioning in our road trip car was non functional once we reached the desert.  Nice.  Yeah, and we had to replace a set of tires in the middle of nowhere, Alice face planted at Walmart and just barely escaped without stitches in her lip… And that massive surprise was kind of a bust.  But other than that; good times.  Good times.

We headed straight out to Disneyland in complete secret.  Finn thought we were just out for another camping trip while I was busy sneaking autograph books, Mickey ears and Disney pins into my suitcase.  We planned on walking him into Downtown Disney, seeing how long it would take him to notice where we were and then blow the top off the whole charade.  In my mind, I pictured Finn bursting into heaving sobs of joy; hugging and kissing his parents and showering them with gratitude…  Kinda like this kid whose mom reunited him with his best friend after three years of separation.  I seem to have forgotten that my life is not a movie.  And Finn is five.

As we walked, Finny began to notice the signs for Disneyland.  And the monorail.  And when he saw crowds of people walking back to their hotels carrying Disney bags, we thought the cover was blown…

“Wow.  All those people must have just gone on vacation to Disney.  That is really weird.  Look at their bags,” Finn remarked as yet another monorail passed overhead.  And still, completely oblivious.

We sat him down, asked him where he thought he was and braced ourselves for an onslaught of gratitude.  Instead, we got a, “Oh.  That’s cool.”

By the time we were on our way to the actual park the next morning; enthusiasm seemed to pick up.  Finn’s never been to Disneyland (but has been to Disney World), so he knew what was in store, but also knew that there were things in California that he’d never seen in Florida… The Matterhorn.  Cars Land.  Monsters, Inc.  And he knew he was now tall enough to go on Tower of Terror.

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Once we were tucked away into the confines of the Happiest Place on Earth, it was an all-out scramble for Finn to get on as many rides as he could.  We took in the Matterhorn, Dumbo, the Storybook Land Canal Boats and the carousel while all anyone else seemed to care about was scrambling for a place in the two hour line to see Anna and Elsa.  Spoiler:  I have better ideas on how to spend 120 minutes.  We skipped it.

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Alice got her own Mickey ears while Finny and I went on the Matterhorn.  I felt like she was officially inducted into the family.  Sure, she’s two-and-a-half.  And our own flesh and blood.  But now she BELONGS.

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Finn is crazy for the Haunted Mansion…  The video game version, that is.  When we got to the real thing, he was ready to be done.  “Why do they have to make this place so scary???” he pleaded.  All the while, I was hoping that the whole ordeal would scare him enough that he wouldn’t want to try The Tower of Terror.  So far, no success after visiting the 999 happy haunts.  No matter his fear, he was still hell bent on flinging himself (and me) down a thirteen story elevator shaft.

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We stopped for lunch just after riding Winnie the Pooh (best lemon and honey cupcake EVER!!) and headed back to to hotel for a nap soon after.  Both kids crashed hard…  And Nathan and I had one of those moments where we almost cried we were so happy.

Well… I did.

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“Do you want to go back to Disneyland?” I asked as soon as the kids woke up.

“YES!”

For once, they agree on something.

“But what about breakfast?” Finny asked, a slight panic in his voice.

“Finn.  It is still the same day.”  This child is NOT accustomed to taking naps in the middle of the day.

Later that evening, we headed over to California Adventure to check out Cars Land.   It really was a sight to behold; Finn and Alice thought it was “really, really, cool” with all the rock formations from the movie.  Nathan and I rolled our eyes since they had zero interest in the real rock formations we had spent hours driving through the day before.  The rides were surprisingly a kick in the pants; I figured bumper cars, spinning tractors and a street that looked exactly like Radiator Springs would be pretty standard faire, but it was awesome.

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While waiting in line for Luigi’s Flying Tires, Alice decided she must braid my hair (just as the two teenage girls were doing in front of us).  She’s got a ways to go before we send her to beauty school.

Alice’s favorite ride of the day was the bumper cars in A Bug’s Land…  Those were exactly as much fun as I remember bumper cars being.  Only slower.  But the kids got to drive, and neither one of them noticed the lame-ness.

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We finished off the night with World of Color (a light and water show) and another trip down the main drag in Radiator Springs.  Every Disney vacation we take, without fail, Nathan always manages to get oddly overexcited about some beverage container…  We have a collection of light up mugs, blinking ice cubes and glowing Buzz Lightyear drink clips awkwardly shoved into the cabinets.  This time, it was the construction cone mug. (By the way, Nathan is not happy with me putting this “stupid picture” of him on Facebook or here.)

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By the time we stumbled back to the hotel that night, we were all cashed.  And still had two more days to go…  On our second day, I managed to showcase my complete lack of coolness – three times – on an epic scale.  One of them involved completely rocking out to “Jump” by Cyprus Hill (a staple of my junior high days) at the Mad T Party… So much so that Finn asked what the hell I was doing.  And that is the tame one.

You’ll just have to wait to see the other two.

See ya real soon!

The Cake that Almost Wasn’t

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Another Big Bite - Elsa Frozen Cake

Thanks to Heidi over at Sassy Crumpet for taking a WAY better pic than I did. :)

“Don’t spend that much on an Elsa cake!  I will totally make one for you.”

Ah, ha.  Famous last words.  Why is it that whenever I expect things to go smoothly, I end up with chunky peanut butter?

One of Finny’s preschool friends was turning five, and like just about every girl under the age of fourteen, she is a major fan of Frozen.  Surely you have heard of this small, independant film?  You know the one; made by Disney, starring not one but TWO sparkly princesses…  The same one that people are spending hundreds of dollars on merchandise on Ebay…  The movie whose soundtrack I have managed to tune out much like a seasoned mother tunes out the tantrums of her two-year-old…

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In December, I made Alice and Ariel cake and I thought I would tackle this one in much the same manner.  A plain, round cake with a VERY basic princess on top.  Nothing too fancy, and “not Ace of Cakes or anything, so don’t get too excited.”  The internet is chock full of Elsa cakes.  I’d find a little inspiration, get to try my hand at marshmallow fondant (to get rid of the marshmallows taunting me from the pantry) and maybe even get super fancy with sugar “ice.”  Hell yeah.

Hell no.

My first batch of sugar ice never got any harder than maple syrup.  Many YouTube videos and and two hours later, I was proudly admiring my second batch of perfect blue sugar glass.  And I was ready to tackle a fondant Elsa as soon as the kids went to bed.

Fondant Elsa had other plans.  Turns out marshmallow fondant isn’t quite as stiff as regular fondant.  Just as I was working on her head, I noticed her slowly slumping to one side.  I went to cut another toothpick to hold her up and as I turned around, I watched the skewer holding her up poke through her shoulder.  I gave up and waited for her to dry out a bit before I kept going.

She dried up enough to stand on her own by the next morning.  The cakes were baked, frosting was made, and the following evening I got to assembling everything.  Purple and blue marbled cakes got a coat of teal frosting and marshmallow fondant snow.  I made a fondant Olaf which turned out much better than expected.  The blue and purple sugar ice was set to go on the next morning before the party.

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Just as I was finished putting the sugar ice on, I stopped to snap a picture of my handiwork.  It turned out pretty cute and just as I was patting myself on the back, Alice decided she would take a taste.  She gouged out a hunk of fondant and cake from the top of the cake and I completely lost it.  I started crying and yelling; it was as ugly as the time Finn knocked over the Christmas tree and smashed half of my childhood ornaments.  A few minutes later I realized I was being an idiot.  I smooshed in a few more shards of sugar ice and packed everything up in the car.  I may or may not have sung “Let it Go” to move past my drama.

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It was hot that day.  We stopped to get lunch at McDonalds on the way to the party.  Just like every Saturday afternoon, the place was packed, but the kids were so excited to get to the party that they didn’t ask once to go in the playplace.  We headed over to the gymnastics gym.  And we were the only ones there for Ava’s party.  Because I was an entire day too early.

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On the way home, I noticed that the whole cake was slumping…  It was too hot, and all the movement in the car was making all the frosting slide down around the cake’s ankles.  By the time I got home, I was crying again.  (Might I mention I was more than a little hormonal?)  I did the only thing I could think of; I pulled Elsa and Olaf off and we ate the cake.  I drug the kids to the grocery store and gathered all the supplies to make a whole new cake.

“The cake never bothered me anyway….”

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As I was putting it all together the next morning, Finn was more than a little confused.

“Didn’t we eat that cake yesterday?”  Yes we did, son.  Yes we did.

Cake 2.0 made it to the party relatively unscathed and the birthday girl loved it.  Which made it all worth it in the end.

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