Adventures In Atlanta: Part 1 (World Of Coca-Cola)

Coca-Cola World (It's An Ordinary Blog)

Happy Thursday, Everyone!

After what seems like a whirlwind of a week, I’ve finally landed in Atlanta for my first ever blog conference and even though the party doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, my internet turned in real life friends Sarah from The House Of Boys & A Girl and Heidi from The Pajama Mama and I wanted to spend some time doing something fun today. So, naturally, we went to The World Of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta.

Located across from the Aquarium here in Atlanta, The World of Coca-Cola is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the hotel I’m staying at for the duration of the week. In other news, it’s an easy ride on the Marta to get there (the way back is an entirely different story which will have it’s very own dedicated post- stay tuned!) and it was well worth the adventure.

In an effort to keep this post short (and because, honestly, I’m feeling kind of tired and lazy), I’ll just share the pictures from our visit today. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend visiting. We saved up our reward points from all of the Diet Coke we drink (because I’m an addict) and it paid for our admission today but I’d happily pay the entrance fee any day. As an added bonus, at the end of your tour, you can drink all of the carbonated beverages from around the World that you want (as long as Coca-Cola manufactures them).

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The staff at World of Coca-Cola were absolutely INCREDIBLE and their hospitality really put the experience over the top. Special thanks to our new friend Noland who was working at the vault (where the secret recipe for Coke is located) for his time and attention today. He came up to chat with us while we were hanging out and we shared some laughs. I kind of wish every business had at least one Noland on staff- he was great.

I’ll leave you with this: When you go, make sure you watch the “Moments Of Happiness” video. It’s something I’m told will be public at some point in the future but, for now, you can ONLY watch it at World of Coca-Cola. I had all of the (good) feels. It was great.

With that, I bid you adieu. Until tomorrow, goodnight.

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Succulent Sundays: Wine & Lasagna (Hint: There’s a Recipe!)

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As you may remember (reading back to this post), I’m not really into alcohol but when my husband and I saw a Groupon for a small group wine tasting in our home, we pounced on it. 8 bottles of wine, a relaxed atmosphere, and some time with our friends seemed too good to pass up. I learned something…I like wine! The glass pictured above was one that our consultant said would be good with lasagna and so that’s what I made for dinner last night.

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I thought I’d take some time to share the recipe…

You’ll need:

1 pound lean ground beef (or ground turkey) browned and drained.

Lasagna noodles (you can either buy the oven ready noodles or cook them yourself).

8oz Pasta Sauce (I use unsalted)

8oz Stewed tomatoes drained and sliced.

2 cups mozzarella cheese.

16oz large curd cottage cheese.

2 eggs.

Combine the eggs and cottage cheese into a bowl and set aside.

Combine the meat, pasta sauce, and stewed tomatoes into a bowl and set aside.

Assembling the lasagna is very simple. Start with a layer of noodles and then add a layer of your cottage cheese/egg mix followed by a layer of your meat and sauce and then a layer of mozzarella. Repeat, repeat (typically you get two to three layers per recipe).

Bake in the oven, covered with aluminum foil, at 350 degrees for 60 minutes.

Serve and enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine.

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 I suggest pairing your lasagna with fresh salad and homemade garlic bread. To make the garlic bread, I sliced a fresh made baguette from my local bakery, used my new Orblue garlic press that I purchased through Amazon (you can find it here). I combined the fresh garlic with melted butter and brushed it onto the bread before baking it at 400 degrees for about five minutes. It was delicious!

Bon Appetite!

 

 

Tips For Organizing Your Life: Toddler Toy Edition

546 Organized toddler room

As any parent would tell you, young children accumulate a lot of stuff. All of the toys, books, games, dress up clothes, and stuffed animals that multiply with each passing holiday, birthday, or visit to Grandma and Grandpa can become a little (or a lot) overwhelming. One thing I’ve learned in parenting my three year old is that messiness begets messiness.  The less organized I am, the less likely my daughter is to keep her belongings organized.  I’m slowly trying to change our household habits and I’ve noticed a huge difference in how my toddler treats her belongings. Once I got everything organized, I implemented a standing rule that once she’s doing playing with one toy, book, puzzle, or game she has to put it up before getting something else out. So far, it’s been a total success!

Organizing your toddler's room

When my daughter was an older infant and started actually playing with toys, I kept them in bins and thought I was organized.  Now that she’s older, I realized that’s not going to work for much longer. We were constantly missing puzzle and toy pieces and having a difficult time finding all of the parts to the one puzzle we wanted to work on.

Bins For Toys

I dumped out all of the toys from each bin (one by one) and organized them.  Then I set aside all of the puzzles (I did the same thing for the toys and games) that were missing pieces to organize later when the lost pieces came home. Tips for organizing I only used two of the puzzles for the picture because, honestly, nobody wants to see the ungodly mess that was my daughter’s room the day that I took on this project.

Tips for toddler organizing

Each puzzle went into a gallon size zip lock bag which was labeled with the name of the puzzle, toy, or game, a description, and the number of pieces that are supposed to be included in the bag.

tips for organizing toys

It is so much easier to make sure we have the right amount of pieces for each toy to avoid a meltdown later on.

Tips for organizing toys

Putting them in the labeled bags also helped make it easier to store them in my daughter’s bins. Take a look:

Tips for organizing toddlers

I did the same thing with all of the other toys in her room.  I know it may *seem* like a lot of work but, trust me, I am confident you’ll find that it is totally worth it.

organizing toys

Tips for organizing your toddlers room

toddler toys

Since they don’t fit into gallon size bags (and because it’s not safe to put plastic bags over ‘living’ things) all of her dolls live together in a bin of their very own:

Toy bin ideas for toddlers

The last thing that I did was to create a small reading area in the corner of her room with several books and all of her stuffed animals (which were outgrowing her bed) so that she can relax and read to her favorite monkey, dinosaur, and bear.

Toddler Reading Area

How do you stay organized?

How “Queen Elsa” Broke My Heart

Elsa Frozen

My daughter celebrated her third birthday a couple of weeks ago (more on that in a later post) and, now that she’s getting older, we’ve started allowing her to watch Disney films. It would be an understatement to say that we’re movie fans in this household (duh- I write movie reviews) and that love for film is something my husband and I are passing along to our child. I don’t mind when my daughter pretends as if she’s Queen Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” or Merida from Disney’s “Brave” but she said something the other day that caught me completely off guard.

“I want to be just like Queen Elsa.”

Now I know it’s common for little girls to emulate and want to be like their role models (and Queen Elsa is a great role model to have) but it broke my heart to hear my three year old child say that she wanted to be anyone other than the amazing little lady that she already is.

We live in a World where most of us are constantly trying to be like everyone else, chasing unattainable standards of beauty (you can read more of my thoughts on this from my previous posts on the subject), thinking we’re never good enough, and nothing could have prepared me for the day when my daughter wanted to be different from who she already is. I explained to her that many of the same characteristics we appreciate about Queen Elsa are ones that she already has.

She is strong.

She is smart.

She is wonderful.

I recognize the innocence in my daughter’s words. I understand that she may not already be feeling that sense of inferiority that seems to plague us all with time but the mere fact that she feels the need to be different from the perfect person she is concerns me.

How do we find a balance, especially in our society, of encouraging our daughters as they look up to the heroes around them and teaching them that just being the person that they already are is good enough?

Adventures In Spray Tanning: A Cautionary Tale

One day sixty some years from now when I’m sitting around a pool, drinking a dirty martini, and enjoying the hot Florida summer I’ll look back on the events of last week and laugh. Then I’ll say to my grandchildren, “When I was your age, see (because, in my mind, all elderly people speak like they grew up as 1920’s gangsters), my skin glowed orange, see, because of this little invention known as the spray tan.” Then I’ll realize that those “grandchildren” I’m speaking to are actually birds. But I’ll continue on with my story, because it really is that important.

“See here, my feathered friend, society had these places we called ‘gyms’ where people went to use machines that made their bodies stronger,” I’ll say, sipping on my beverage, “well one day, my gym got a special machine that sprayed god knows what onto your skin, making it appear as if you’ve spent hours basking in the hot, hot sun.” The birds will look at me, confused at the fact that I don’t have any seeds for them, and inevitably fly away to their flock. But I’ll keep talking, because I’m not one to stop before the story is over.

“Well, old sport,” I’ll continue looking into thin air, “I’d never had one of those ‘spray tans’ before and decided to give it a whirl. The machine was like a tiny awkward shower that yelled directions at you while you stood naked and uncomfortable, see. I was elated. Elated that my ghostly white skin would finally have that healthy summer glow. I was wrong, I tell ya. Wrong indeed. This is something I didn’t realize, see, until hours later.” By this time, the other citizens of my neighborhood have rightly concluded that I have lost my mind and the poor pool boy stuck sitting in the chair next to me as I go on…

“Young man,” I’ll say, “In between the gym and home I stopped at my local Target, an actual building with groceries, toiletries, and an assortment of other items people purchased before the invention of Amazon Teleportation. I assumed the smiles from strangers came from a kind place, that people were just being friendly. It wasn’t until I got home, see, that I realized I’d made a terrible mistake.”

Spray Tan Gone Wrong

“This tan was not the cat’s pajamas,” I’ll continue, “because I had somehow covered too much of my forehead with the protective cap meant to keep the spray out of your hair. It was awful, see, just terrible. No good. Lousy. The next morning, it was worse. I looked like the illegitimate child of Snookie and one of Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas.”

“What is a Snookie and who are the Oompa Loompas?” The very confused, and mildly uncomfortable pool boy will inevitably ask. “Nevermind that, old sport,” I’ll reply, “The fact of the matter is that spray tan machines were no good, very bad, just plain awful.” Then he’ll get up, walk away, and call my family to move me into an assisted living facility never knowing that the events I described to him were true. And very embarrassing.

Spray Tan the next dayThe end.

Lessons For My Daughter: Part I “It Really Isn’t About You”

What Other People Think About You Is None Of Your Business

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a very personal post on parenting and faith. In that same spirit of sharing about my life (which is not always something that’s easy for me to do), I want to talk about the most important lesson I plan to teach my daughter as she gets older. It’s a lesson that’s taken me years to learn and it’s something that, even as someone who tends to think logically and objectively, I still struggle with from time to time.

The way people treat you has nothing to do with you.

It has everything to do with them.  

I am the adult by product of divorce. My father, who retired after serving twenty years in the United States Air Force, and my mother, who made her career working with new and expecting parents in Labor and Delivery, divorced in the mid-nineties. About a year later, my brother and I, along with our mother, relocated to the East Coast where we lived until I started college. My junior high and high school years were a whirlwind. Full of changes in our family structure, adjustments to a different life, and an assortment of other things that are irrelevant to this post. My relationship with my dad changed very little throughout the years in that it was, at best, distant. With lengthy deployments under his belt from the time he spent serving our country, I didn’t know that our relationship could have been any different and I spent years excusing his absence from my life on physical distance and busy schedules. One thing always remained the same, I love my dad. Always.

The issue is that the way that I express love is so vastly different from the way my own father does and, in the past, it left me feeling inadequate, undervalued, and unloved.

The little time that I did spend with my dad in my own childhood was wonderful. I have fun memories like the time we attended the “Father/Daughter Dance” when I was young or the vacation we took together to Orlando when I was a teenager. It’s easy to let those moments become overshadowed by the lack of communication in our day to day lives. The same can be said for my father’s relationship with my own daughter.

As my daughter grows and begins to understand more about the World, I want to give her the gift of understanding. It’s something that’s taken me years to figure out on my own. I want her to understand that the way that other people interact with and treat you represents who they are, not the other way around.

I want her to know that she’s worthwhile, good, and amazing. 

I want her to know that the only thing that defines who she is as an individual is the way that treats herself, others, and the World around her.

I want her to know the one thing that I’ve spent years figuring out: That we’re all different. The way I express my love for those around me may not be the same as the way my own father does but that has nothing to do with me.

Simply put: Take the good, leave the bad.

Parenting Without Faith

I want to preface this by mentioning that this is not an easy post for me to write. Although I’ve been documenting my life as a parent online for well over a year now, it isn’t often that I share intimate details of my thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. What I want to discuss tonight is something that’s been weighing heavily on my heart for well over a month and I hope that you’ll allow me the rare opportunity to be vulnerable with you without judgement.

Last month, I had lunch with my incredible friend Bethany. She’s someone I’ve been close with for several years and I was happy for the chance to spend some time with her while she was back in town. As we were eating, we witnessed a father and his young son at a table near us. Before they began eating, they sat together and prayed. It was really moving. But it was also heartbreaking, for me. Heartbreaking because that’s not something that I can share with my own daughter. We’ll never (at least not at this particular moment in our lives) share a moment like that together because I am parenting without faith.

Having grown up in a Christian household, been a leader in my youth group during high school, and active in my religious community during college, I am no stranger to what it means to have faith. While attending undergraduate studies with a major in a religion and culture so vastly different from my own, I began exploring other faith based systems. My journey, thus far, has led me to a place with a lot of unanswered questions. When my husband and I had a child of our own, coming to terms with the fact that we simply don’t know, was even more difficult to accept.

Fast forward to last week when my little family of three was sitting together in the kitchen. My daughter, now almost three, asked my husband (after he let out a loud cough) if he was okay. He replied, without thinking, “I think I’ll live.” Without missing a beat, my daughter said, “I want you to always live. And mommy.” Speechless. As the tears pooled in my eyes, I found myself thinking back to that father and son last month and how I wish, more than anything, that I could provide that same comfort and promise to my own child that this stranger was undoubtedly able to offer his son.

You see, parenting without faith (at least for me and my spouse) is not simply a choice that we’ve made for our family. I want, more than anything, to be able to provide my daughter with answers to life’s biggest questions (Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?) but the truth is, I can’t. We’ve flirted with the idea of attending some sort of religious institution for the sake of giving her a foundation of faith but, for us, that would be disingenuous to where we’re at in our journey and what we believe about life. There is comfort in religion – a comfort my family does not have.

For now, we’re teaching our child that the World is a beautiful place. That life is a precious, precious gift that we should cherish, respect, and enjoy. That we should treat this planet and all of its inhabitants with love and compassion. That people have all sorts of beliefs, ideas, and differing answers on life’s biggest questions and that it’s okay. One day, when she’s old enough, we’ll encourage her to explore and find her own path…wherever that might lead her. While we certainly can’t make any promises about what tomorrow may bring, and as heartbreaking as that may be for us, we’re forced to simply focus on today.

I think it’s important for people to understand that we’re not parenting without faith because we reject God or because we somehow are apathetic or indifferent towards having beliefs. I wish, more than anything, that I could be certain that I had answers. But that’s not my life. We’re not parenting without faith because we don’t care about our child’s future or her (perceived) eternal salvation, we simply don’t have the answers. Parenting without faith doesn’t make us immoral people and it certainly doesn’t mean that our child will grow up to be any less respectful, loving, or compassionate towards herself, others, and the World around her. Our goals, our hopes for our child (and any other subsequent children we may have later on down the road) are the same as yours.

So, please, don’t make assumptions about our lifestyle and don’t assume things about the way we raise our child. I may not be parenting with faith, but I’m still parenting with love.

New Year: New You (January 2014 Goals + An Update)

Happy Friday (It is Friday, right?!) Everyone!

I don’t even know what day it is (half kidding). I haven’t written anything since Christmas (hangs my head in shame) and have been asleep more than I’ve been awake since New Year’s Eve. I came down with something nasty (Sars? H1N1? Head Cold? Death?) pretty early on the night before New Year’s Eve and it’s been kicking my butt since. But I owe you guys a post, so here I am! Happy New Year!

I’ll play catch up later and bore you guys with all of the details about our Christmas, how we celebrated with Santa, and reflections on parenting a toddler around the holidays (better late than never, am I right?) but, for now, I want to chat about the new year. You might remember from last year that I’m not a resolution type of girl. This year, however, I want to try something a little bit different. No, I’m not going to suddenly make New Year’s Resolutions, but I want to try to form some new habits each month that are good for my health (emotional, physical, etc).

You can expect a lot of new ideas and posts from me in 2014 (get excited!) but I want to kick January off with a goal that I’ve made in the past but never followed through on. Water. There are so many reasons why drinking water is beneficial for your health (helps to keep you hydrated, maintains healthy skin, etc…) and I’ve never been good at follow through when it comes to hydrating my body. I’ll go into more details later on in the month about what I’m doing to drink more water and the progress that I’m making to be healthier this year but, in the meantime, I want to introduce you to some friends of mine.

If you’ve been following along for a while you’ve probably seen these first two ladies from time to time. Allow me to introduce my good friend Sarah over at The House of Boys & A Girl and my dear friend Heidi over at The Pajama Mama. Together with our friend Kate (who is an amazing Financial Wellness Coach), the four of us will be bringing you new ideas each month on how you can be better in our new series “New Year: New You”. Even though we’ll all be focusing on different things each month, the premise is still the same: One new, lasting change each month in 2014. Want to follow along?! Join us in making better choices this year and let me know how it’s going by connecting with me on Facebook and on Twitter!

Mommy & Me Date Ideas

Mommy and Me Dates

When my daughter started her part time preschool program this Fall,  I knew I wanted to do something special each week that just the two of us could enjoy. Having been home together full time for the previous year, I found that I was really missing having her with me all day every day. To be entirely honest, I still miss her but I know that giving her this opportunity to explore and develop in a learning environment is an experience that’s unbeatable and I feel fortunate that we’re able to provide that for her. One of the things that I worried about when we made the decision to enroll her was the closeness we have together that I feared would start to fade. Even though I still get to spend two full days a week and every afternoon at home with her, it isn’t the same as it was before (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). So, once a week, we go on “Mommy & Me Dates”.  We take some time after school one day a week to do something for just us.

When the weather was nicer, we spent some time outdoors (thanks for the free entertainment, Mother Nature) going to the park or just taking a long walk together. As the weather has shifted and the cold, winter air has started to settle in across the Kansas City metro, we’ve had to find indoor activities to enjoy on our “Mommy and Me Dates”. Even if you’re not a mommy (Dads can do this, too) and even if you don’t work outside the home, I still advocate getting out of your normal ‘zone’ to enjoy some time away with your little one in an environment that’s special. I wanted to share some of the things we do with all of you in hopes that it might inspire you to do the same.

5 “Mommy And Me Date” Ideas (That Dads Can Use Too!) Winter Edition

KidsCoffee Starbucks

1. Quiet Time 

My husband and I are both coffee drinkers and some months ago, our daughter started to catch on. Every once in a while (okay, all the time) she would ask for a ‘sip’ of our coffee (which, for those of you without kids, always means the whole thing). I think that’s why our occasional visits to a local coffee shop are so special to her. Starbucks had child’s sized hot drinks available for about the same price you would pay for a milk at just about any of your local fast food chains making ‘coffee dates’ pretty affordable. Going to these coffee shops is also a great learning opportunity. The first time we went, I had to explain to my daughter that people go to coffee shops for a lot of reasons. Some people go to work, some people go to read, and some people go to enjoy quiet conversations with their friends. I was surprised at how well she understood that it’s okay to talk in coffee shops but we have to keep our voices low and stay in our nice, comfy seats (which wasn’t a problem at all).

books

2. Story-time

Nothing compares to the feeling of sitting down with your child and reading a story together. Books have the amazing ability to take us to kingdoms far, far away where we encounter dragons, knights, princesses, talking animals, and all sorts of fun journeys that only exist in fairy tales. Watching the look on my daughter’s face as we navigate our way through a captivating book is priceless. Also priceless (in the literal sense of the word) is enjoying story time together. Our local library provides lots of opportunity to enjoy books right there in the building. With seating available in the children’s area, it’s a great way to enjoy reading in a setting a little different than your own home. If sitting at the library isn’t your scene, most Barnes and Noble stores have seating in their children’s book sections as well that you can use to read to your little one.

Cat Room SPCA

3. Cuddle Time  

I know there will inevitably be some readers who will cringe at my next suggestion but your local animal shelter is a GREAT way to enjoy some time with your little one. Spending time with animals is wonderful not only for children (who learn about being gentle, being compassionate, and responding to an animal’s cues) but it’s also beneficial for the animals who don’t often have enough human interaction. We’re fortunate in that our local SPCA animal shelter has rooms where the well behaved cats are free to roam around. Even better, our local animal shelter welcomes visitors and allows people to explore the cat rooms freely for as long as you’d like.

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4. Play Time 

We are lucky to have several fun spots that offer open gym time around Kansas City and, as my daughter gets older, I’m finding that she enjoys that kind of activity more and more. While attending open gym isn’t always the most conducive for spending quality time together, it does grant me the rare opportunity to watch my child test out her abilities. It also offers me the chance to teach her that I’m always there for her whether that’s through encouraging her to jump into the foam pit or lending a hand as she works on the balance beam, she knows that I’ve got her back. No matter what. Many places offer open gym time for reasonable rates (ranging from $2 to $8) and kids get to expend all of that excess energy that’s been building up indoors during the colder months.

Be All There

5. My Time

Maybe it seems ridiculous that an hour of completely undivided attention is something to consider ‘special’ but the fact of the matter is that we live in a society where we’re constantly faced with distractions. Many of us take the world with us wherever we go in our pocket or purse. We’re so constantly connected to everything around us that it’s hard to step away and just be connected with the little person who matters most. My favorite “Mommy and Me Dates” are the ones where I’m giving my child my full attention. Even better is that she gets to pick the activity. Sometimes we paint nails together, sometimes I do her ‘makeup’, and sometimes we just play puzzles or have a dance party. I know that whatever we end up doing on these dates is going to leave a lasting impact on her memories of me from childhood and those are moments I hope we can still share together whens she’s an adult.

What’s your favorite thing to do with your child? 

The Graham Cracker Death Trap (A Gingerbread House FAIL)

Gingerbread House Fail

I’ve been dreaming about this day for years.  

The day we would sit together as a family, creating beautiful gingerbread houses that would make any Pinterest goer green with envy.  Oh, yeah. I got this.  Except not.

Gingerbread House

I was so excited to be able to share this special time with my toddler, making gingerbread houses for the first time.  Something I hoped we would be able to turn into an annual tradition. But now, my hopes and dreams have been forever ruined because I realize that I suck at making gingerbread houses.  I mean, I’m terrible at it.  I mean, it’s pretty bad. Like really bad.

Gingerbread House decorating

Let’s backtrack to earlier in the weekend when I  braved the crowds in hell at our local Walmart for some wine and gingerbread house making materials.  Somewhere in the store, nowhere near the candy and graham cracker aisles (because, you know, it’s Walmart and nothing makes sense), I saw actual gingerbread house decorating kits. “Pffft! PAH-LEESE,” I said to myself, “That’s for idiots who don’t know how to decorate their own houses. Not me!” And so I spent more than I care to admit on candy, frosting, graham crackers (which I used, instead of making gingerbread, to save time), and various other little treats that we could adorn our lovely homes with.

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As we sat down at the table to start decorating our homes, I was thrilled.  Mostly at the idea of documenting our awesome journey in gingerbread house making to gloat about on Facebook (yeah, I’m awesome) but also because it’s our first year doing this.  I actually cannot remember the last time I decorated a gingerbread house.  It may have been never.  I consider myself to be a relatively crafty person so I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to rock that shit.

Gingerbread House Decorating

My toddler lovingly placed rainbow sprinkles across her rooftop.

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She was so careful and meticulous about placing the decorations on her house.  I was so proud.

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My husband’s craftsmanship.  He is, perhaps, one of the least artistic people that I know and in this particular case, it worked to his advantage.  He was extremely proud that he created something that looked somewhat like a house and actually remained intact as he completed the project.  HOORAY lowered expectations.

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Pretty quickly after I started constructing my gingerbread mansion, I realized that I’m not cut out to be a contractor.  I have no idea what it means to create vaulted ceilings and it’s safe to say that no gingerbread men will be hiring me to play a part in the construction of their homes.  I opted for a flat roof with Kit Kat solar panels on the roof (because, you know, being environmentally conscious is important to me and it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was incapable of making a structurally sound roof).  It looks more or less like a safe house that would harbor a wanted terrorist for interrogation rather than a comfortable environment for any loving gingerbread family.

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At some point, through no fault of her own, my daughter’s house came crashing to the ground. Presumably crushing all of its gummy bear residents under mounds of sweet, sweet rubble.

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Here they stand…our condemned gingerbread neighborhood.

Next year we’re buying a kit.