Let’s Plan a 4th of July Neighborhood Parade!

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I know it’s August, but it’s taken me a while to put words to paper (or screen, as you’d have it).

In past years, I’d see friends post pictures of their neighborhood bike parade on 4th of July, and kept wishing our neighborhood did something similar. As happens in life, sometimes YOU have to be the one to make things happen rather than waiting to be invited. SO, this year I told the boys we were organizing our own neighborhood bike parade, and they were all for it!

Quick Pre-Cap:

  1. Plan time, route, and post-parade activity
  2. Create a flyer
  3. Distribute flyer
  4. Check RSVP’s obsessively
  5. Purchase decor items or ice cream
  6. Pre-set up for grand finale
  7. Have fun!

1. Plan time, route, and post-parade activity

I started by figuring out the timing and the parade route. We have an actual parade sponsored by the city every year around 10:00 a.m., so I didn’t want it to conflict with that, and figured most people have BBQ’s later in the evening, so I settled on a 2:00 p.m. meet up time, with a 2:30 p.m. take off time. I thought it would be nice to provide some time for kids to decorate their bikes together and maybe pool resources together for decorations. Figuring out the parade route was tricky: being our inaugural year, I didn’t want to make it too long. The starting point was also tricky: I wanted to make sure we could meet up somewhere safe, where cars driving by wouldn’t be an issue. We have a park near by, but we’d have to cross through a couple intersections and it was generally outside of the range I was hoping to stay within. There’s a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill that I thought could work, but wasn’t sure that having a bunch of kids barreling down a pretty steep street at the get-go was a great idea either. Jeff suggested a green belt area near out house, which was a perfect gathering location.

I also wanted something at the end of the parade so people could hang out for a little bit. Again, being an inaugural year I didn’t want to assume that complete strangers would want to spend the rest of the evening together, so instead of doing a potluck BBQ, I thought ice cream would be a safe alternative.

2. Create a flyer

I did’t want to post on social media, so I went old-school and created half sheet flyers, printed, copied, and cut them in half. The flyer itself had pretty basic information, but I used a QR code to link it to the Google Form that had all the details. The Google Form collected basic information to get a sense of how many people would show up, and also for neighbors to pitch in with decorations and ice cream. It also gave details on the route, in case neighbors wanted to come out and cheer.

So, really, an old school but new school flyer!

3. Distribute flyer

The next step was getting the word out. I knew we could tell our immediate neighbors by word of mouth, but I really wanted this to be a full neighborhood event, including those that don’t live near us and those that we’ve never talked to or seen before. I know the neighborhood app is pretty popular, but I also didn’t want to post something online and have people from beyond our neighborhood. Not because I don’t like to include others (I’m usually a “the more the merrier” type), but because I really wanted this to be an opportunity where we got to meet and interact with the people that live around us.

The whole family helped put the fliers in each mailbox around our neighborhood. Jeff actually attached one of the boys’ lunch bags to a bike, and put the fliers in the lunch box so they could bike around and put the fliers in the mailboxes. I walked around with Josh at one point and had a system where he rode his razor ahead and opened the mailbox for me to walk up and put the flyer in and close the mailbox.

4. Check RSVP’s obsessively

Ok, maybe obsessively isn’t healthy, but I’ll be honest with you – I was excited and nervous to see how this little experiment would go. It was pretty great to get a notification every time someone filled out the Google form. It was nice to see that almost everyone that RSVP’d also signed up to contribute something, so I figured we would have plenty of decorations and ice cream.

5. Purchase decor items and/or ice cream

You really can’t go wrong with the Dollar Tree for these types of decorations. I bought a bunch of random things, including themed ribbon, and they all came in handy. I made sure to take twist ties, scissors, and tape to the meet up.

6. Pre-set up for the grand finale

I wanted to have as much take care of as possible so that when we finished our parade everything was ready to go. We set up our canopy on the driveway for shade, and a couple folding tables to set out the ice cream and decorations. A neighbor brought over some really cool inflatable trays so we could put ice and the ice cream in them, and that worked out really well. I think next year I’ll skip the parade or cut home a little early just so I can set everything out before the melee arrives.

7. Have fun!

It was so great to see the community come together and have a great time! The decorating together before departure worked really well, but I think it could be improved a bit next year. It was a bit much to keep track of where the tape and scissors were, and the decorations were scattered among bags and baskets on the grass (some apparently got placed over dog poop…that was fun). Next year I might set up a table there to set things out, and have multiple sets of scissors and tape.

BUT, I loved seeing the pride each kid took in preparing their bike or razor, and how they got to pick and choose what they wanted to decorate it with. Totally worth it!

Once we took off, these kids TOOK. OFF. Being that it was our first parade, I think they confused “parade” with “race” and really took off pretty fast. We’ve discussed next year having a couple parents at the front to keep the pace, and give it more of a parade feel for the neighbors.

Once the biking was done, it was ice cream time! We had popsicles but also ice cream buckets and every topping imaginable. I was very thankful a couple moms stepped up to be designated ice scream scoopers – I think this will be something we plan for next time, and maybe have one table for ice cream scooping, and another for toppings, just to move the line along a little more quickly. I also just remembered this idea that I first saw on Pinterest about pre-scooping on muffin tins – could work!

I think next year we might go big and throw in a potluck…but for this year, it was great!

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Reducing screen time, by reading more

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I mentioned a while back that I was trying to shift my screen time to books, and thought I’d share how that’s working out.

For starters, I realized that as much as I don’t want to be on my phone, it’s something I always have with me, so to be truly effective in avoiding social media, reading books on my phone is the easiest way to really avoid the Facebook or Instagram button. Otherwise I have to find a book or my actual Kindle before I hit the toilet or when I go to bed, or whatever activity gives me five minutes to myself. “What about leaving a book in the bathroom?” I have some stocked in there, but the continuity suffers: this may be TMI but I’m usually fairly quick in the bathroom, so I literally get through a page or two at a time. It’s a lot of stop and go for a story.

So, on the Pro side of using my phone to avoid social media: using my phone to read books ensures that I’m reading and not scrolling through social media on those down times.

On the Con side: I realized I don’t want my kids to see me on my phone all the time, even if it IS reading. They don’t do e-books yet, so I think to them it’s still a screen, which we really try to regulate with them, albeit unsuccessfully. So I’m trying to shift to actual books when I can, or my Kindle.

A note on physical books: after I depleted my Christmas Barnes & Noble gift card, I realized buying physical books could get pricey (not to mention paying for Audible and Kindle books…). This set me back a few months while I debated what to do. Then it hit me: THE LIBRARY! Not the gentlemen’s club (doubt anyone could get much reading done there), but the actual brick and mortar library that I take my kids to every now and then. I could check out books for ME. It was a ridiculously obvious revelation.

Then I realized I could also check out books electronically from the library (ding, ding!). I tried Hoopla, a free app, for digital library downloads but I found it to be a bit difficult to read through it and the book selection available was a bit sparse. It also wouldn’t save my spot, and the font wasn’t as easy to read as Kindle.

Someone recommended Libby and I found that to be much better. I haven’t read directly on the app yet because you can filter through Kindle only books available…AND CHECK OUT A BOOK TO READ ON KINDLE! *mind. blown.*

So I’m back on the reading band wagon and happy to share that my last three reads have been completely free. I did recently purchase Bomb Shelter with a gift card (I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, and have a feeling I’ll want to hold on to it), and I do want to to continue to buy and support authors as often as I can, but it’s so nice to be able to read a plenty without the financial burden of paying for a book every time.

So for now, I’m hoping to hop back and forth between hard copy books from the library, and reading books through Libby on my Kindle and, hopefully not as frequently on my phone.

What medium do you use to read books and what do you like/dislike about it?

Literate Lushes: June 2021 to March 2022

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Well this has become an annual literary post, so here we go. (If you decide to purchase any of these books, in any format, through Amazon, please consider purchasing through Amazon Smile and selecting Haiti Scholarships as your nonprofit.)

June 2021: The Vanishing Half, by Britt Bennett. I remember enjoying this book (it’s been a long time!), but in reading the reviews on Amazon I can understand some of the low ratings: there was A LOT going on in this book. But I appreciated the insight it gave and it provided great topics for discussion on race and society.

July 2021: Miracle Workers, by Simon Rich. I REALLY enjoyed this book. It was light hearted and funny, and I enjoyed the small innuendos and hidden stabs at religion. This book is about angels saving the world, but really turns our idea of heaven a little sideways.

August 2021: Anxious People, by Fredrik Bachman. It is well known that I love Fredrik Bachman. I was so excited when someone else in our book club picked this book. I don’t think it was an unanimous hit with our Literate Lushes, but I, of course, loved it. It revolves around a group of strangers that are held hostage in an apartment. Random side note: I decided to make my own calendar for 2022 with book quotes that I love, and many of them are from this book (or other Fredrik Bachman books). So many lines that just hit all the feels.

October 2021: The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig. Another book I really, really enjoyed. It goes through many of the different outcomes in life that one person can have (make one choice and become a rockstar, make a different choice and become a bar owner). I have thought of this book often since I read it, and tried to remind myself that this one life I have is pretty great and the choices are mine to make to decide where it goes (to some degrees, I will argue that to other degrees generational wealth, luck, determination and drive – that I lack – are just as crucial).

November 2021: This Must be the Place, by Maggie O’Farrell. This was my pick, after A LOT of internal debate. I usually pick something in the non-fiction realm that creates social awareness about important topics (gross, right?), but doubted myself and whether the Lushes were sick of my idealistic picks, so I went with a recommendation I saw on a book blog. It was okaaaaaay. It’s about a marriage with lots of complications. I enjoyed reading it, but like The Vanishing Half, there was a lot going on that made it feel a little over the top.

January 2022: The Upstairs House, by Julia Fine. I’m realizing now that I have a pattern of skipping over books that are in the murder/thriller arena. This book was not an exception. It was also technically a December pick, which is just a crazy month with holidays and kids, so it was easy for me to say “no thanks.” But I will make an effort to give the genre a try next time one gets picked ;)

February 2022: It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini. I tried to get into this book because I think it would be super insightful, but I just couldn’t. I was also reading a couple other books that I was enjoying more, and decided to let this one go unfinished *gasp* BUT, I think it was interesting to get a very personal perspective on what someone with suicidal tendencies is feeling and going through.

March 2022: The Giver of Stars, by JoJo Moyes. I loved this one and couldn’t put it down. Yes, it’s a bit of a romance novel, but I really love the historical portion of it too. It’s about a group of women that begin a mobile library, riding donkeys out into the mountains of Kentucky to deliver books to people that are initially not so keen on books (or you know, women working). Now I want to go to Kentucky!

Extra Audible listens

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, by Dolly Parton. This wasn’t a page turner, but it WAS interesting to learn the background to certain songs and follow along the rise of Dolly, and to learn more about who she is. She narrates the book, which is great!

Half Light, by Tayari Jones. This was an extended short story, which I don’t think I realized when I started reading it, so it seemed to go by a little too fast for me. It explored some interesting dynamics, but given the length of it, it was pretty superficial and didn’t cover much ground.

The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller. I have such mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed the storyline that dips between the past and present, but hate the choice the main character has to make between the man she’s made her life, and had her children with, and a man she’s obviously passionately in love with.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman. This was another easy, pleasant read. I’ll confess I have a soft spot for books about books or about people who love books.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel, by J. Ryan Stradal. I really enjoyed this book, as unrealistic as some parts were. I loved the journey of the main character, and happy endings are always pretty great.

The Four Winds: A Novel, by Kristin Hannah. This was LONG but I really, really enjoyed it. I am a big fan of historical fiction and the insight it provides into a specific time-period. This book provided such a vivid picture of what the dust bowl was like: it was insightful and heartbreaking, and definitely made me super thankful I didn’t have to live through that. I also loved that the timeline was LINEAR! I feel like modern writing is all about flashbacks and storylines that constantly intertwine different characters and timelines. This one started at point A and finished at point B – it was honestly refreshing.

Fates and Furies: A Novel, by Lauren Groff. I don’t say this often since my book standards are pretty low, but I DID NOT LIKE THIS BOOK. But also: I couldn’t quit it. It went on and on and on, and I just couldn’t NOT finish reading it, just to find out HOW fucked up the characters were. The book is divided into two, and told from the perspectives of the two main characters. I didn’t like either of the characters. The first half I found so boring with all of the retelling of operas and plays, and the second half was just disturbing. But what do I know compared to 3500 Amazon reviews…

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, by Dave Grohl. I LOVED this book, and definitely needs to be listened to since Dave Grohl is the narrator. My favorite is the passion he uses when ever he uses the f word, which is very, very often. I felt like it was a lesson in the music industry and culture, and entertaining insight into a pretty amazing person. I don’t think the passing of Taylor Hawkins would have affected me as much if I hadn’t read this book – you almost have to grieve with Dave Grohl after reading this book and learning of their relationship.

In progress:

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The idealist in me really, REALLY wants to listen to this book, but I’ll confess it’s been difficult for me to get hooked. I’ll have to give it another go after my next round of podcasts…

Extra Kindle reads

A Bramble House Christmas, by CJ Marmichael. This was or will be a Hallmark movie, so take it for what it is! It was sweet and cute and romantic, and perfect to read around Christmas!

Dying to Read, by Lorena McCourtney. This was another “filler” book – it was cheap and an easy read. Not my favorite, but I didn’t hate it like others I’ve mentioned previously, and it was entertaining.

Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel, by Anthony Doerr. Another book that I LOVED. This book is set in three different time periods, but it really does it well! At first I was super confused because I couldn’t figure out the relation between the three different stories, but then once they connected, I couldn’t wait to see how each of the stories overlapped and fit together. It all surrounds one book: from its rescue during the fall of Constantinople, its translation in our modern day, and its resurrection in the long distant future. This is easily my next pick for Literate Lushes.

West with Giraffes: A Novel, a Novel, by Lynda Rutledge. I wasn’t sure there would be much to write about with a story surrounding two giraffes, but I quite enjoyed reading their journey from NYC to San Diego. This novel is based on a true story: the survival of two giraffes from a historic hurricane in NYC, to their cross country trip to the San Diego Zoo. This is another flashback style story, but I enjoyed reminiscing with the old man as he told the story of his journey as the driver of the two giraffes.

Extra book reads

The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune. Yes, LOVED it. It’s magical and mystical and tears at the heart strings. And I love characters that do the right thing. Unlike Fates and Furies, I loved ALL of the characters in this book (except the ones you’re supposed to hate, obviously).

Friends We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry. Another little romance read, which I really enjoyed, but also found very frustrating. I hate when romance plots include tiny miscommunications that get blown way out of proportion.

In progress:

How To Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question, by Michael Schur. Another book I really want to fall in love with because I love so many things Michael Schur has created (The Good Place, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine Nine, etc.), and I also love the general gist of it (just be nice), but it is VERY philosophical. I’m not super far into it, so maybe it’s just laying the groundwork. I’m hopefully I’ll be able to get back into it and enjoy it.

What are you reading lately?

What’s in a name

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I’m going in two different directions with this post.

(Also: hello! It’s been so long! Thanks for sticking around!)

Direction 1 regarding names

Alexandra Armstrong. That’s my name. A.L.E.X.A.N.D.R.A-A.R.M.S.T.R.O.N.G (yes, I triple checked that last one to make sure I didn’t misspell my own name in my effort to be dramatic). And you know what I get all the time? AMANDA. Consistently. From complete strangers. That don’t know each other. I find it fascinating, and I want to know the science behind it, but haven’t found the right combination of words to Google.

Here’s what really gets me: I will email someone for a work-related issue, so they don’t know me, but my name is on the signature block AND the email address, and they’ll TYPE back: “Hi Amanda…” WHAAAAAAT. My only rationale is that our human brains are pretty amazing, and they just look at all those letters that spell out Alexandra Armstrong, and for some reason re-string them together to something that maybe they’re more familiar with, which apparently is consistently Amanda.

For the record, I’ve also gotten Allison, Victoria, and some other random ones, but Amanda is the consistent one.

But I prefer Alex.

Anyhow, if any of you know or are super smart science people and are just better at Googling things, please let me know if you find a scientific answer for this phenomena!

Direction 2 regarding names

My work had a speaker for our management team back around August, Trudy Arriaga, and in her presentation she talked about the importance of knowing someone’s name, how knowing that you are known by name by others can be so fundamentally important to that person recognizing their own worth.

She quoted Darlene Price:

 “The most important word in any language is one’s own name. Your name carries a potent amount of emotion. When you make the effort to learn, remember and use another person’s name appropriately, you not only convey to that person that he or she is important to you, you instill self-worth within them.” 

And it struck me how true that is, and how much it reflects my lack of self confidence because I always assume no one remembers my name (maybe it’s because I’m always being called “Amanda”). Whenever someone higher up in management called me by name, I’d be so surprised, “they know MY name?!” I’ve never really felt that I’m important enough to be remembered – but I guess the truth of the matter is that we’re all important enough to be remembered, right? (This is me giving myself a pep talk and giving myself the positive reinforcement that I would typically give to someone else, but never myself).

So I completely related with that quote and completely agree with how much of an impact simply remembering someone’s name can make. Which also made me realize that I’m terrible at remembering people’s names and I should really make more of an effort, because it DOES matter.

Our Summer Calendar

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I used to have a few weeks off during the summer when I worked at a middle school and Jake was a baby. The first few summers being home with him were H-A-R-D. But 2017 turned a corner and it was glorious. The main reasons being that Jake was getting older and we could do more stuff, but I also realized that my summers had to be dedicated to the boys, and not my personal projects. Once I jumped on board, I realized I could PLAN my summer out and have something, no matter how small, planned for each day. So that was great for 2017, and then 2018 came and I started a new job that was year-round, so that was my last summer of adventure with the boys.

The years in between we’ve been lucky enough to have them spend time with grandparents, but this year they get to spend it with daddy! I realized that Jeff would also need to have some stuff planned to get him out of the house with THREE boys, or he might very well leave and never come back, haha

And, obviously, I jumped at the opportunity to research, plan, calendar, and color code things.

So, here’s our summer plan, generally:

  • Monday’s are for exploring new trails/hikes
  • Tuesday’s are for crafts
  • Wednesday’s are for exploring a new park/playground near by
  • Thursday’s are for science experiments
  • Friday’s are for the beach or…doing nothing after a busy week!

First I printed out a blank google calendar for the summer months, then marked it up with the things we already had planned (camping trip, chess and golf camp, etc.). Then I researched a bunch of family friends trails/hikes, new playgrounds, and reviewed my Pinterest kid activity board for crafts and science experiments. I assigned them to available dates, and then I added each of the planned activities on the Google calendar I share with Jeff. I know it seems redundant to write it out on a paper copy and then transfer to a digital one, but I love the visual of the paper copy when I’m starting things out, and the usefulness of sharing the digital one. I included the Pinterest link and the list of supplies for each activity on the Google calendar so Jeff could easily locate what was needed for that activity and how to do it. I also included links for locations for trail and park days.

The super fun part once activities were decided on: making a list of supplies to buy, heeeeyoooooo! I tried to support our local school supply store, but they really didn’t have as many of the items as I hoped, so we ended up resorting to Amazon and our local grocery store for most stuff. This may be showing my OCD too much, but here is the list I created in case it’s helpful. And yes, I DO sort it by date, or activity, or supply location…and yes, it makes me so so happy. And yes, I do have various versions printed…Anywho, purchased the supplies and placed them all in a big plastic bin in the garage so they’re all in one location, but also out of the way.

Here’s what I came up with:

TRAILS AND HIKES

  • Aliso Summit Trail
  • Buck Gully Trail
  • Thomas Riley Wilderness
  • Santiago Oaks Regional
  • Peters Canyon
  • Fullerton Panorama Trail

CRAFTS

PARKS AND PLAYGROUNDS

SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS

While at the teacher supply store I also purchased a couple different achievement certificates. We’ve decided when they earn five of them, they get the prize they convinced me to get them when I took them shopping for supplies…

What does your summer with kids typically look like? Any wonderful links to share with ideas?

When something sticks…

One evening last month we were planning on ordering Chinese food along with Jeff’s parents. I got a text from Jeff that went like this:

The fried duck was really a reference to A Christmas Story (fa, ra, ra, ra, ra…). And I’ve never ordered duck-anything in my life, so I was surprised Jeff considered this a serious request at all. But between the moments I texted that and then clarified it, he had already mentioned it to his dad, who was more than happy to oblige (even if it WAS a joke).

Once I get to my in-laws, Jeff informs me that the duck has indeed been orders. I vehemently express that I will not be touching it, but that it’s super funny.

Comes along: duck. My father-in-law (whom I like to just call dad, so we’ll keep that going from here on out) LOVES it, and Josh LOVES it! They gobbled it up!

We’ve ordered Chinese once since the initial duck request, and dad ordered the duck again and I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing he ate. With Josh’s help. AND Jake’s help. Jake. My super picky eater who won’t eat Mac n cheese with the cheese, or a hot dog with ketchup (mustard only), or BLT’s for lunch (they’re only a dinner things…), or a SINGLE vegetable that’s not in a salad. He doesn’t really like anything we order on Chinese food nights, so he was surprisingly willing to try the duck, and LOVED it.

Randomness of a wrong order gone right.

Our Family Vacation to the Sequoias and Yosemite!

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Ladies and gents: IT CAN BE DONE! I know other people have done it…but WE did it. We took a trailer and did a road trip with three kids (ages 7, 5, and 1.5) and survived to tell the tale!

I did a lot of research and planning for our trip, so thought I’d share what worked for us in case it’s helpful for anyone else.

Our first destination was Sequoia RV Ranch, in Three Rivers. It’s a short 15-minute drive to the Sequoia National Park Foothills entrance, and maybe an hour to the Giant Forest Museum.

SATURDAY. The temperature at the Ranch was 108 degrees when we arrived a little after 4:30 p.m. – yikes! The great thing about this campsite is FULL HOOK UPS. We got to use all of the trailers amenities, including A/C. Honestly, with that kind of heat (and a low of mid-70’s at night), we were checking out surrounding hotels on our way there in case the A/C didn’t work. Thankfully it did, and we left that going while we went to check out the local swimming hole. I highly recommend getting a site closest to the swimming hole, or even a site that has the river next to it – the river was our salvation for that heat! After heading back to our site for a quick dinner (see below for our meals), we went back to the river a little better prepared: camping chairs for Jeff and I and the 1 year old (Jonny), water shoes for everyone, and most importantly: beers (no glass allowed, so we poured into cups and took down).

SUNDAY. We headed out as early was we could with three kids to get ready. I packed a quick lunch and put that in a small cooler I took specifically for days like this one. My oldest is super picky, so I write everyone’s name on a paper towel, wrap their sandwich in it, and then place all the sandwiches in a large ziplock. I sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and placed in a separate ziplock to add to our sandwiches later. I also know us well, so packed plenty of bars, chips, and snacks. And water, of course. We bought these canteens for the boys, which not only got lots of attention from everyone, they also allowed the boys to carry their own water without complaining ;) We also waited until 9:00 a.m. for the office to open so we could check in, since it was already closed when we drove in on Saturday. Office employee was very nice and pointed out a kids scavenger hunt and treasure chest. They also had a bunch of board games in the office – I imagine you can hang out there to get out of the heat, if needed.

Sadly the Giant Forest Museum was still closed due to COVID, but we took the Big Trees Trail which was just passed it, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. We took the stroller with us which worked out great for Jonny: the entire trail is paved, although there are some stairs from and to the parking lot on either end of the loop of the trail, so definitely need a couple people to carry up and down the stairs. After we crossed the street on the trail to the meadow, we found some people climbing on a giant log, and I’m so glad we saw them, otherwise we would have walked right by it! A little sketchy, but beautiful view from the top!

Oh Joshy…

The meadow itself was absolutely breathtaking, we even saw a black bear sprint through it! I highly recommend taking the full loop around the meadow – it’s not very long and every angle of this meadow is stunning. We were quite hungry at this point, so we found a log and some shade in the parking lot to scarf down our sandwiches before heading to Crescent Meadow.

The beginning of this road is super narrow and a little sketchy, but widens a bit later on. This meadow also has a fully paved path, so again great for strollers (or for using the stroller to carry all your waters when your one-year old doesn’t want to sit in it). We saw a buck on this trail, which was pretty exciting! We were trying to make it to Thorps Log on this trail, but we turned out right before we got there – everyone was getting tired and grumpy. I later found out the log we climbed in the first meadow was probably more impressive, although less kid friendly, than Thorps Log.

We ended our day by waiting in line for a ridiculous amount of time to get our photo under the Tunnel Log. A couple notes: you have to pass this in order to get to Crescent Meadow and there was quite a back up when we got there – we had to wait in what is supposed to be the bypass lane, in order to turn off left to keep going to Crescent Meadow. We decided to wait on the way back for the photo op. A note to future travelers: please be considerate if there’s a line and make it quick! People were taking forever and doing full photo shoots while 20+ cars waited in line.

I really wanted to check out the General Sherman tree, but Josh and Jon were both asleep by the time we got there, so Jeff and Jake literally ran down and back. My request for photos was forgotten during the quick sprint, ha! Next time!

We stopped for ice cream at Reimers Candies & Gifts on our way back to camp. This was a win-win: the kids love ice cream, and it killed some time on getting back to our hot campsite. We turned on the A/C as soon as we got back to camp, and repeated our schedule from the day before: dip in the river, then head back to camp for dinner. Since everyone was pretty tired and we could use the trailer TV, we opted for a movie night instead of going back to the river.

MONDAY. We had a quick breakfast and tried to pack up before the heat really got in. We were still sweating by the time we headed out. Our next stop was Cedar Bluff Campground, next to Bass Lake (I used the recreation.gov app for two of our reservations and was really impressed with the app). We stopped at a Wal-Mart in Fresno to stock up on some food and other supplies, and found a local pizza place for lunch. I figured eating out for lunch on travel days would break up the monotony of sandwich lunches. We rolled in late in the afternoon and did just the basics, then headed to the lake with our fishing poles, since Josh (our 5 year old), had been dying to fish since we left the house. We tried fishing by the dam, as was recommended by a couple people, but had no luck. Easy night of dinner, campfire, and s’mores.

TUESDAY. Again, we TRIED to head out early, but it’s hard to wake up sleeping kids. The drive from our campsite to the Yosemite National Park entrance was only 21 miles, but there was already a line of cars to get in that took an extra 30 minutes or so. I will say – there are worse places you could be stuck in: the trees were just beautiful! We played some hangman, built some legos (I bought two giant pencil boxes and had the boys pack legos before we left the house), and tried to keep a one year old entertained. This is COVID-era specific, but you had to purchase your pass ahead of time, as they only sell a certain amount per day. The passes are valid for three days, so although they didn’t have any available for Tuesday when I was purchasing it, they had one available for Monday, that was valid for Tuesday and Wednesday also (phew).

The drive in to the valley was…you guessed it…beautiful. We pulled over after the tunnel for the classic look out photo, and then pulled over a little further down the road where we could scramble down to the Merced River and drop in the boys fishing lines. We decided to eat our packed lunch here, which was a bit of a challenge with a one-year old, but it was beautiful. No dice with the fish, so we continued on.

I had to use the bathroom at this point, so Jeff turned off at the Swinging Bridge. I used the loo, then we walked over the bridge, and let the boys get their feet in the river. We realized the paved walking/bike trail was right there as well, and decided to bike around rather than try to find parking deeper in the valley. Best. Decision. Ever.

We biked to the Lower Falls Trail, locked up our bikes and headed to the falls. Scrambled over some rocks to dip our feet in again, and then Jeff had to carry all three boys back over the rocks to the trail. I’m excited to hike up closer to the water fall when the boys are a little older.

Is Jeff wearing a Pokemon backpack, you ask? Yes, yes he is. #bestdadever

We continued around the trail and ended up at Degnan’s kitchen/cafe, where we filled up our canteens and water bottles with fresh water, picked up some ice cream, and a beer for Jeff and I. We sat outside and relaxed a bit before biking back to the truck. On our bike back, a little alcove caught Jeff’s eye, so we all turned back to explore it – wow!

We toured the rest of the valley in the truck, and decided to head home. We were hoping to check out the Mariposa Grove on our way out, but everyone was pooped.

Back at camp, the boys made friends with neighboring campers and stayed up late throwing around a glow in the dark football I bought at the Dollar Tree. It was a HUGE hit. Dollar Tree for the win!

WEDNESDAY. I had originally planned to drive into Yosemite Tuesday and Wednesday, but as the week took shape and we realized how beautiful Bass Lake is, we decided for a “staycation” on Wednesday, and just spent the day around the lake. We headed to The Forks to check out their boat rentals (the original plan was for Jeff to take the older boys on a small fishing boat, while Jonny and I went into town to do laundry, gas up, and…maybe do some antique shopping…?). The woman at the counter was incredibly friendly, and upon seeing the age of our boys suggested we take a larger boat out, as the smaller fishing ones can be pretty scary with that age group. Unfortunately their boat fleet was a little limited and out of our price range, so she recommended we check out Miller’s Landing, which had a little more variety in size and pricing. The staff at Miller’s Landing was equally helpful – the cashier even gave the older boys each a quarter for a gum ball machine, and gave Jonny his first lollipop. We did a two-hour rental of their cheapest patio boat available. It still was more than we’d hope to spend, but figured it would be worth the experience. The staff there did mention that the cheaper boats (less horsepower, cheaper boat) are reserved way in advance, so next time to call at least a week ahead to reserve it, or even A MONTH ahead for holiday weekends! (Noted.)

I’ll just say: it was worth every penny! Even though, again, we caught no fish. Also, kids are funny…they want to fish, but really, they just want to cast their line over and over again. Which is understandable – what kind of fun is leaving your line in and WAITING? Josh had again but asking to fish all morning, but as soon as we stopped somewhere on the lake he was ready to head back to camp to find his new friends, ha!

We fixed hot dogs for lunch, then packed up and headed out to find a little beach spot on the lake. Bass Lake has a bunch of little turn offs where you can park and walk/hike down to the lake, so as you drive around the lake you’ll find canopy’s and chairs lining the edges of the water. You can also pay $10 at the ranger station for a day use permit and park in the parking lots they have around the lake. We found a nice little turn off that even had shade, so we didn’t have to lug our canopy down. We all enjoyed staying out of the heat and by the water for a few hours, although I will say the smell of that water is something else…we all got wash cloth nature baths when we got back to camp.

The boys enjoyed another night of playing with their friends, and we enjoyed getting to know all the parents. I do think camping folks are the happiest folks!

THURSDAY. We started packing up early since we had a long drive to our next site. The boys spent most of the morning playing with their friends while all the parents worked frantically to clean everything up (we decided it will be nice when they are all teenagers and can pull their own weight, haha). Us parents exchanged contact information at the insistence of all the kids – I do hope we get to see them again!

Our next and last stop was Reyes Creek Campground. This was another 4+ hour drive. We stopped at a WalMart again for some basic supplies, including a lot of water since this last site has NO water, and grabbed some El Pollo Loco for lunch. The drive from Bass Lake to Reyes Creek was…interesting. Has anyone driven through Taft, CA before? Weird, desolate, oil lands. This was the campsite I was the most worried about, since it has no water and only vaulted toilets. But I picked it because it broke up our drive home, and technically was only 2.5 hour from home…

Again, I think our site was the best around: we had shade and the creek ran at the end of our site. But, it’s dirt camping which is not our favorite, and there were ants EVERYWHERE. We took a very quick bike ride around the grounds, and decided one night here would be enough. Our site was right across from the bathrooms and wow…that smell was something special when the wind kicked up! Jonny was too tired for the campfire, but Jeff and the older boys had a great time being silly and spitting kernels into the fire (the result of a failed Jiffy Pop attempt).

FRIDAY. We made one last ditch effort to catch some fish by hiking through the creek to a little waterfall area, and dipping our feet in the water. We packed it in after a late pancake breakfast, and hit the road around noon. There was no service when we left, so we couldn’t map our way home, and assumed we’d keep going down the road that brought us to the site…which actually took us through the entire Los Padres National Forest. As scenic as the drive was, it was a little longer than we’d hoped. We also didn’t take into account Friday afternoon traffic in LA – we’ve now learned this lesson the hard way, as our 2.5 hour drive home turned into 5 hours. We even considered staying at a hotel near Malibu just to break up the dreaded drive, but it was hard to find something reasonably priced that wasn’t a shit hole, and therefore trucking on to our comfortable home and beds was more appealing.

Although the final leg of our trip was a little disappointing, the trip overall was AMAZING. The kids, and us, had such a great time, and I’m so thankful for all the memories we made on this trip. We can’t wait to travel again! We’re thinking our next trip will be to Zion, with an overnight in Vegas on the way there. As much as we love camping, I think our next trip will involve hotels ;)

MEALS.

We stuck to easy meals. The Friday before we left we made pulled pork in the slow cooker, which we had for dinner and knew we’d have lots leftover, so we packed that up for Saturday nights dinner. I also prepped teriyaki meat skewers on Friday and packed those in a ziplock back for Sunday’s dinner. I prepped the veggies and packed those in a separate ziplock, and threw them in with meat to marinate on Sunday morning. Monday night we fixed pork loin with boiled corn and leftover Suddenly Salad from our lunch, and Tuesday we ate at a local restaurant since we got back late to camp from Yosemite. Wednesday we did burgers for lunch, and Thursday we fixed breakfast burritos for dinner. Lunches were sandwiches, hot dogs, or stopping somewhere during our drive. Breakfast was mainly cereal, yogurt parfaits, or packaged pastries. I also took bagels and cream cheese, but we only had access to our toaster the first two days when we had full electrical hook ups. I also pre-made ranch and onion dips before we left, and those were great to pack up with our to-go lunches or when we needed an afternoon snack at our site. We also double down on all things snacks: bars, cookies, chips, cuties, apples. You can imagine which snacks the kids prefer.

Cooking with a one-year old was…fun?

PACKING. You may know I love lists. Going camping gives me the opportunity to use a list that’s been perfected throughout the years for our family. Every trip there’s something that gets added or updated as the kids get older and the items I need for them shift. I have a master packing list on Etsy in case it’s helpful to work off of and personalize for your family (there are different tabs for different destinations).

RESEARCHING CAMP SITES. I did a LOT of research to find out where to stay and which sites to choose (that were available). Aside from our last stop, I think it paid off! Things I looked for where: location and driving times between sites and places we wanted to see, amenities (hook ups, water, bathrooms), and with the trailer, the size of the site was important. On the Recreation.gov app, each site tells you the max size of a trailer/RV recommended for the site. I also checked Yelp and Google reviews for each site, especially if there were particular sites recommended. General Google searches also helped with locating campground maps to see where the sites were located and to find random sites that have campground reviews. It’s definitely a rabbit hole that at some point you have to pull yourself out of, and just pull the trigger on a site!

And now…the good photos from the professional! All credit to Jeff Armstrong Photography ;)

I hope some of this was helpful, or at least entertaining! What are you favorite places to visit with kids? Any tips or advice to add?

Literate Lushes: May 2020 to April 2021

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It’s been a busy literary year! I was finally able to start reading more than just my selected monthly book club each month, so lots to share!

May 2020: The Witches Are Coming, by Lindy West. It’s been so long that I can’t remember exactly how I felt about this read. I think I enjoyed it for the most part, but it didn’t blow me away.

June 2020: The Winner, by David Baldachi. I’m not a fan of murder/mystery/thrillers, and to be honest, I think I was already in a fragile place mentally in June after being in quarantine with three kids for three months, so I chose to skip this one.

July 2020: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. This was a nice and easy read. I liked the intrigue in the story although I couldn’t quite figure out the motivations for some of the characters. I enjoyed the contrast of two very different households in totally opposite socioeconomic stratas.

August 2020: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Marcia Semple. It took me looking back at my reading list for this post to realize I purchased this book on Audible but never listened to it! Again, I blame COVID and quarantine and children…but now I’m excited to listen to it!

September 2020: Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust. I really liked that this book took place somewhere completely foreign to me. I enjoyed the exposure to a different culture and traditions that I’ve never learned about. The plot itself had some challenges, but generally an enjoyable read.

October 2020: Hocus Pocus: the All New Sequel, by A.W. Jantha. This was a nice seasonal read around Halloween, but the beginning was super frustrating to get through. It retells the entire original Hocus Pocus, which at that point my boys had been watching on repeat for a while. It didn’t seem necessary to retell the entire story just to get to the sequel. Once I got past that, it was a good enough YA book to enjoy during Halloween.

November 2020: Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson. I really liked this book. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. As a mother of three, I just can’t quite comprehend the decision’s that Melody’s mom made or how she acted towards Melody, but it is beautifully told.

January 2021: The Flight Attendant, by Chris Bohjalian. The Literate Lushes had fun poking through all the plot holes in this one, but I really enjoyed that it was such a light and easy read.

February 2021: Maid, by Stephanie Land. I love the awareness this book brings: it provided so many different topics to discuss during book club, mostly revolving around how a country like the United States can still be so behind on providing basic necessities to all of its inhabitants.

March 2021: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker. This book was impressive in its subject matter: following the lives of a family with twelve children, six of whom suffered from mental illness, and following the developments of how schizophrenia was diagnosed and treated. The story wasn’t exactly captivating to me, but I did enjoy learning about the scientific developments and how the family got a long. It’s another book that makes me want to tell my children: “You’re so lucky! You have great parents!” Jeff and I have our shortcomings, as we all do, but generally I think our children are safe and happy and know they’re loved. I thought the end of the book dragged on a little – I felt like every paragraph could have been the last, but it kept going!

April 2021: The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. Although the Audible version was challenging for me at first, I was quickly swept away by this memoir. Holy shit, the things some people put their children through. I still find it hard to believe that Jeannette Walls’ parents were intelligent enough to raise incredibly smart children (outside of the traditional school system, for the most part), but lazy and maybe mentally disturbed enough to put them through such a difficult childhood. I also found it amazing that most of the children could have a relationship with their parents as adults. Kudos to you, Jeannette (and siblings)!

A quick note on my extra reads: I picked up my reading last year, but starting in January I decided to not check Facebook and Instagram as much, but realized I still gravitate to my phone. I’m trying to make it a point to open Kindle instead…or you know…put the phone down.

Extra “reads” on Audible

All Adults Here, by Emma Straub. I really enjoyed this book, although along with The Most Fun We Ever Had (below), it makes me think that no matter how we raise our children, we’ll still be able to fuck them up somehow. You love them too much, or not enough. You pay too much attention to them or not enough. Someone tell me where the balance is! Anyhow, great read…great read.

Green Lights, by Matthew McConaughey. I think this book HAS to be listened to on Audible – Matthew McConaughey (“MMC”) reads it himself, and it’s just hilarious. It’s filled with random, and sometimes unbelievable anecdotes of his life and childhood, but hearing them read them by MMC is pretty great. It’s also exactly what I expected from someone whom I think is a bit quirky and off the beaten path. Something that really struck me with this book (and many others, to be sure), is just how different all of our lives are. I know…duh. Just read me out. For one, I can’t relate to someone that is talking about lounging outside the cabana on his privately rented beach (I might be exaggerating a little) and taking leisurely walks with the woman he’s trying to woo. Someone that can wake up from a crazy dream and go to Brazil to figure out what it was all about. But also, there’s a scene where he talks about the first time he met his wife, and I can’t stop wondering what HER trajectory was to be in that place. This is obviously personal since she’s only a year older than me, and I just can’t imagine having her confidence at the age that she met MMC – I can see why he fell for her! I mean, I feel like I’d still be a fumbling idiot next to her even at 37. I’m sure part of it is jealousy: not that she snagged MMC (nothing personal MMC), but that they have such a rich and affluent lifestyle. But I also just find it amazing that all of our lives have such varied, yet “set”, trajectories, if that makes any sense? Meh, I’m rambling now – maybe this should be a flushed out, separate post…but I’ll leave as is for now…

I Miss You When I Blink, by Mary Laura Philpott. I really enjoyed this book. Quite the opposite of Green Lights, I found this book very relatable. It’s books like these that really make me want to write a book – about what and who would read it…who knows!

The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo. This one was a long read, but a good read. As I mentioned above, it makes me think about whether I can raise my boys without saying or doing something that will have a long-term and negative impact on their lives; maybe it’s unavoidable to some extent? It’s also a good reminder that we’re not perfect, but we can still be good people.

The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power. This was my current read when I wrote my last Literate Lushes post. And I gotta say I was right: it was an intimidating read, but wow, what an amazing woman! It was great to get insight into how she got to be who she is, how she handled international situations, and some wonderful anecdotes about Barack Obama and her time in the White House.

Extra reads on Kindle

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. This book was HIGHLY recommended on a book blog I follow, and I was not disappointed. I found it be surprisingly lighthearted given that it recounts events from WWII, although it also had it’s fair share of emotional moments. Funny side note on this one: I often talk to Jeff about what I’m reading, and often he’ll ask if I think he’ll enjoy it, to which I almost always say “no,” even if I’ve just declared the book is amazing and I couldn’t put it down. I just know we have very different taste in literature…but he pointed out before that he likes genres other than sci fi or…I don’t know…dark/heavy fiction? So when he asked me if I thought he’d like this book, I said “sure,” even though I really didn’t think he would. Given that he’s with the kids all day, Audible is an easier format for him, so even though I had already purchased this book on Kindle, I graciously gave up my Audible credit for him to listen to it on Audible (by gracious, it sounded something like “you better like this book…”). I don’t think he made it past the first ten pages….he wont’ stop making fun of the fact that it’s an epistolary novel (aka, all letters back and forth). MEN!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab. Oh ma gawd. One of my new favorites. I LOVED this book (and I very clearly told Jeff he would NOT like it). I loved how Addie’s relation with the devil/demon shifted across the centuries, and of course the historical events that were referenced throughout.

Raising Good Humans, by Hunter Clarke-Fields. I never finished reading this book, but it really did help us through a particularly rough parenting patch we were having with Josh a few months ago. And yes, I made flashcards. And posted them on our fridge.

The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell. It took me a while to finish this one – it was not necessarily a page turner for me, but I really, REALLY enjoyed reading it and learning about the differences in the United States and Denmark. Basically, I want to move to Denmark and be a happier person. I mean…I probably won’t move to Denmark….but I was constantly frustrated by how much better Denmark is at A LOT of stuff (which also coincides with some of the conversations the Literate Lushes had about Maid). But I know their population size and homogeneity are a big part of why they can do what they do…I just wish there was a way to make incremental improvements here.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop, by Rebecca Raisin. This book is literally 99 cents…it was an impulse buy but a nice read if you’re looking for something light and semi-romantic.

Wow – if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a gold star! Do you have any recent favorite reads to share?

I also just saw that our local library is having a 100 Book Challenge to celebrate its centennial. I’m thinking of signing up the family. Join me?

Donut update: it still works like a charm

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I know some of you were wondering (ok, maybe one of you, but I’ll take it), so I wanted to do a quick check-in from my last post.

I’m not going to lie…I was a little anxious to see whether Kyle was working the meat counter this morning…I’d have no feedback for another week if he wasn’t! But regardless of that, I hit the produce section first, as is my yush (phonetic for the short hand of “usual”? which when you have to explain it, obviously loses the “short hand”). I was greeted with a very warm hello by the employee stocking the produce, who had received the first pink box last week. So: a win there!

After circling through a couple dry good aisles, I approached the meat counter and was pretty thankful when Kyle was the one to approach me. When he saw me he said “Ohhhh, my donut girl!” (I wrote this down on my grocery list so I wouldn’t forget…I was pretty excited!) and he had a genuine smile on his face. I’ll confess that I’m most proud of this in particular because Kyle has seemed like one of the hardest employees to get to smile…and I do take that as a personal challenge. I’ve converted no less than three non-huggers into huggers (pre-COVID, obvies), and I’ve been known to win over some difficult personalities. I have one hold over at work, and I’ll confess, I’ve lost faith in that one ever working out…

But I digress…he remembered me, he smiled, and he did not seem the least bit put off when I was very choosy about my chuck roast. Happy Sunday y’all – go buy some donuts tomorrow!

P.S. Have you watched Sweet Magnolias on Netflix? I binged it post-kids bedtime for a week or two, and I loved it. It was the exact light-hearted drama I needed for this time in my life. And it’s inspired me to make margaritas…or at least to WANT to make margaritas. Let me know if you have a good recipe, and any suggestions on shows that are similar.

P.P.S. Have a great week!

The good ol’ donut trick

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There’s just something about donuts.

I still remember going to coffee and donuts in the Large Hall after mass on Sundays. I also remember feeling guilty about whether our family was “donating” the right amount to account for all the donuts my cousins and I ate, ha!

But there’s some kind of pull that donuts have, whether free, paid for, or under the pretense of “free.” As guilty as people may feel about eating them, they’re almost always worth the guilt. They make people happy, they bring people together, and they make a good impression.

I started “using” donuts when I was a new secretary for an intermediate school. I interacted on a daily basis with so many people at the District Office that I never actually met face to face. And I relied on them and their kindness – whether to be responsive to my 100th question as a newbie or to expedite something I needed done or approved right away. And somehow donuts came in to the equation. Every now and then (not often because let’s be real, they’re not THAT cheap and I was pretty fucking broke) I’d drop off a dozen donuts to various departments. At first it was just the maintenance department since I put in a million facility requests…but once I saw the positive effect, it quickly expanded to Ed Services, Fiscal, and HR (a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do).

Although I usually put my school name on the box of donuts rather than my own (it felt selfish and too transparent, ha!), I interacted with people in those departments when I dropped them off. And they were appreciative: it was a kind act that didn’t go unnoticed. And they always remembered who dropped them off. So they remembered me. So my emails were replied to quickly…my work orders were addressed when I called to check up, and usually with a kind word.

Fast forward a few years, and I now work at the District Office. I truly believe my easy transition into that work place was because of the familiarity those donuts gave me with a lot of individuals. I had already established connections beyond the emails back and forth.

Pre-COVID, donuts worked with my new co-workers as well. It’s something so small, but a little donut breaks up the monotony of one morning running into all the others. And I love being the person that gets to provide that moment of happiness, or distraction.

And they obviously work on my kids, too.

But I have to confess I’ve taken my donut scheme to a whole new level: my grocery store.

I love Stater Brothers. It’s my go-to grocery store every week (although our boys are quickly moving us toward Costco size grocery purchases…): I love that it’s kind of old-timey and not super modern, I know where to find everything, their produce is always great (no brown stem lettuce here…I’m looking at you, Ralph’s!), and….the meat counter. I mean…it’s a thing of beauty and wonder.

Recently I’ve been regaling Jeff with stories of my gradual conquest of the older gentleman that is most frequently attending the meat counter. It’s taken years, but recently I’ve gotten past the simple “can I get you anything else?” He’s used some terms of endearment (sweet, not creepy), and gone the extra mile to get me the cuts I wanted. So last week I thought I’d seal the deal…with donuts. I decided to split the dozen with the produce crew that also deserves and receives my gratitude, but that I don’t usually interact with directly. But it seemed like the right thing to do. So a small pink box with six donuts went to one of the produce stockers that I recognized, and another small pink box with six donuts went to Kyle behind the meat counter.

(Don’t worry everyone – I don’t call him by his name (not yet!), but there’s a name badge and how can I just ignore the fact that I now know his name?!)

We’ll see on Saturday morning if they did the trick: if my face will be more memorable because of the donuts I delivered. But on delivery day Kyle did go out of his way to thank me a couple times for the donuts. And I’m not gonna lie…I was nervous enough about my whole scheme that I forgot the ground beef.