Our Family Favorites: 17 Children’s Books Your Littles Will Love

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Every family has their particular bedtime routine with their kiddos. I mean evenings would be pretty chaotic without them right? They’re pretty chaotic even WITH them. Our routine with our littles has always included a bedtime story. We started incorporating books into our routine with Paislee when she was a brand new baby. It took us a little while to get Noah into reading, but he loves it now. We all like to cuddle up on the couch after bath time with their lovies & read a book they pick out. Sometimes Tommy & I will tag team it & he will read to one kiddo while I read to the other. Other times we will all read together as a family if the kids are into the same book that night.

I recently started thinking about new parents & how sometimes it can be a little overwhelming how many books there are out there. I decided to go through what my family already had on our little bookshelf & share our favorites with y’all. My hope is to help any new parents kinda narrow their search down a bit to ones I know my littles love. Some of these books I’m going to share with you are classics & ones you may already have in your home. I have a few categories I’ll break them up into & tell you our faves & share why they can also be important for developmental reasons.

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Touch & Feel Books

These are amazing! Especially for those really little guys. Using those sensory input skills by touching and exploring their curiosity with the different textures. Seriously, whoever invented these is a genius. There are a plethora of different touch & feel books to chose from. For this one, I’ll give you Paislee’s pick. Because this is her favorite book right now. We read it pretty much every single night.

That’s Not My Princess- Usborne Touchy-Feely Books

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There are many different versions of this books as well if you have a little boy. That’s Not My Monster, That’s Not My Dragon, etc. This one has velvet, faux fur, & silky fabrics inside. Paislee absolutely loves it!

Literally laughing out loud to the pic on the right.

Books About Hard but Meaningful Topics

You might think this category is weird for littles & babies. But our goal as parents is to raise our kiddos up right. In the most loving & intentional ways possible. I have found that teaching our kids manners, coping with their emotions, & following the rules at an early age has really set them apart from others at times. I don’t mean to sound boastful or say in any way that my kids are better or “perfect”, but not only do we teach them these things every day but we read about them too. These next four books are our favorites that our littles enjoy too. The first three are all by the same author. Todd Parr. Who, if you haven’t heard of him, does an amazing job portraying difficult topics into fun & colorful life lessons.

It’s Okay to be Different
The Feelings Book
& Do’s and Dont’s by Todd Parr

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I first was introduced to these books in college when I attended a camp for adopted children & their families. It’s Okay to be Different was one of the books that was read to the children at camp because it talks about being adopted. Some illustrations are so silly & kids really eat it up. There are also a few more “serious” examples of being different in the book as well [i.e. being adopted, being in a wheelchair, saying no to bad things, etc.]. It’s all incorporated in a tasteful way & really educates kids about topics you may not even think to talk with them about.

He leaves it open too. Like saying no to bad things…you can relate that to real life situations with your kiddos. Something they can understand. I just love these books so much. They’re awesome!

The fourth book is Tommy’s (my husband) pick. Growing up he loved the Berenstain Bears books. Their whole collection is great for teaching all kinds of useful life lessons. They also have a lot of Christian based topics & stories. Our favorite right now is this one.

Please & Thank You Book by Mike Berenstain

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This book is a simple illustration of using please & thank you during every life. And it’s great at showing how it makes the other person feel when you use/don’t use them. This is something we started teaching really early on in our kids’ lives. Now Noah, our youngest, will say please & thank you 90% of the time without us having to prompt him. It really helps y’all!

Sing-A-Long Books

Our kids LOVE music. They love to dance around to their favorite song, but lately they have really loved sing-a-long songs. I think because they do a lot of these at school. Baby shark is all Noah sings. Our two favorite sing-a-long books are also by the same author [we’re pretty consistent in this house].

Pete the Cat Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
& Pete the Cat Old MacDonald Had a Farm by James Dean

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I feel like children learn best through songs. Especially at young ages. We have a song for everything. Brushing teeth, going potty, feeling mad. Pete the Cat is just so fun. There are so many other PTC books out there. Some even have CD’s that sing along with the books. I also like the “groovy buttons” one. I used to sing that one with my preschoolers. But these are great for starting out. Paislee used to read these every night too. She would fall asleep singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It was the most precious thing. You could even incorporate instruments into storytime. More sensory input! How fun!

Flap Books

These books were the very first ones we introduced to Paislee when we began to read to her. So many developmental skills can be used with these. Fine motor skills, object permanence, problem solving. And again there are so many different versions depending on what your littles are into. These two were our favorites!

Animals
& Things That Go- Lift-a-Flap Books

A couple of flaps may or may not have been ripped off. The excitement of reading must have gotten a little out of control.

Books about Faith & Jesus

I have a lot of these! Teaching our littles about God’s undenying love & our faith in Him is extremely important in our home. If you share the same values, I have some really precious books to share! The first is a prayer book. It’s a collection of bibles verses, poems, & prayers you can read with your kiddos every night before bed. We usually read through a few because they can go by pretty quickly. Or you can pick out a main book to read & then pick out a prayer to read from the book. Either way it’s a great way to encourage prayer in your child’s life.

Bedtime Bible Promises by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

The next three are all a little different but have important messages that your littles need to hear all the time. You Are Special & God Gave Us You are very alike in their theme. It teaches kids that no matter how sparkly someone else may seem or how much more they have than you, you are special in your own way. God made you special, for a special reason & a special family, because He knew you would do great things. A Very Thankful Prayer is based around the season of fall and Thanksgiving. It encourages kids to give thanks for the things around them. No matter how big or how small. The author is the same who wrote the prayer book above! We have many books similar to these but these are our favorites!

You Are Special by Max Lucado
God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren
& A Very Thankful Prayer by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

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Our last Christian based book is my pick! This book made me cry the first time I read it to the kids. It is so sweet & not only portrays my love for them, but more importantly describes God’s love for them. It is so special to my heart & I will keep it & read it to them until they won’t let me anymore!…& even then I still will.

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman

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Randoms

These two don’t really fall into any of these categories, but are still worth mentioning nonetheless. They really are some big favorites in our house. The first one is a classic. This one we literally read every. single. night. for almost 2 months. No joke. Goodnight Moon might seem like a simple, short & sweet little bedtime story. But you can really turn it into a learning experience. We would have Paislee point to certain things in the “green room”. It’s a great book to learn basic items you might find in a house or bedroom. The black & white contrast has also shown to be very incising & healthy for little eyes.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

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This one is Noah’s pick. He is obsessed with Llama Llama right now. He loves to read these books. We only have a couple versions right now, we need to stock up though because he is just all about them! These are more fun books, but are pretty repetitive. Which can be really great & helpful for speech development. They mostly teach good morals & manners.

Llama Llama Gives Thanks by Anna Dewdney

This last one that I’m going to share with y’all is more of a gift you might give to your littles. We gave this to Paislee for her first Valentines Day. She was only 6 months old & we couldn’t give her candy or anything else really “Valentines-y”. We lived in California at the time & didn’t see our family much. I thought of this idea to make her a book with her family in it. Something that she could look at all the time & know who everyone was. I just started with a blank board book & added each member of our immediate families. They each have their own page with a picture of them & Paislee next to their name [or what she calls them]. It came out so cute & you can tell how much she loves it because it’s really worn out already. It’s great for military families since, most of the time, we are away from our families for long periods of time. I really need to make a new one that has both of the kids in it. Maybe a Christmas gift for this year!

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In case y’all want to order one for your littles, I ordered & created it at http://www.pintsizeproductions.com

I’ll leave picture links below for y’all for all of the books in this post if you’re wanting to purchase any 🙂

Books mentioned in this post:

 

As always, God bless †

& keep reading 🙂

Brittany

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ABA: Why Do It? A Therapist’s Perspective

I always tell people how much I LOVE what I do. And I. DO. But just like any job, there are some really rough days. I have just recently started with a new company & it has been quite an adjustment. New clients, new coworkers. But one thing that stays the same is the therapy that is given. I’m gonna shine a little bit of light on what I do & the amazing outcomes & benefits I have witnessed first hand.

“I LOVE what I do”

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is basically is a therapeutic intervention mainly used with those who have special needs. But the amazing thing about it is that it can be used with literally anyone. More specifically though, it has shown substantial improvement with children who have autism. I have seen it firsthand. I have worked with children & adults ages 3 to 21. Not one person is the same. Autism is such a complex thing. There are so many different behaviors & delays that you would never even think of. That’s where myself & my supervisors step in.

The supervisors, or BCBAs,  on each case [child] create the programs and targets that need improvement basically. The therapist, that’s me, applies those programs & hits those targets during each session with the client. Let me emphasize the importance of this program by saying that EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY. Red flags start to show their color early on in life- as early as the first year of life. Kiddos can be placed in ABA programs as early as 18 months old. The biggest sign that is the most prominent is regression. Parents will say that their child was hitting all of their developmental milestones- crawling, babbling, even talking in 2-3 word sentences. Then all of the sudden they start to lose those skills. Their child will stop making eye contact, seem disengaged, & participate in repetitive movements or sounds. Or others may display some serious social deficits- not picking up on basic social cues, laughing out of context, or making inappropriate comments that don’t fit the current situation. Like I said before, every kiddo is different. To make the diagnosing process a little easier there are very descriptive guidelines & criteria a child must meet in order to receive the diagnosis of autism.

“EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY”

I do not have any personal ties with autism. Which might seem a little weird. I feel that most people I come into contact with in my line of work have some sort of common ground with it. Which inspired them to get more involved with special needs. I’ll save my story of how I became a therapist for another time, but for now I’ll just tell you that it is truly my passion. I become so invested in my clients’ success & watching that “click’ happen is a miraculous thing, y’all. I can’t even begin to explain it to you. I have been an ABA therapist for about 1 year and 9 months now, & here are the three most important things about ABA I can pass along to you.

No. 1 It’s Effective

Now, I’m not going to give you stats [which are pretty high btw], but I will share with you what I have witnessed with this program. At the first center I worked at, I was placed on the case of an adorable little 3 year old. She was mostly nonverbal, meaning she didn’t use words or many sounds to communicate. I started with her after she had been with us for about 6 months or so. I watched her go from making some letter sounds to saying full words requesting things she wanted & random objects around her. It was so awesome! All because of the intensive ABA therapy she was receiving.

No. 2 It’s Positive

This is a HUGE one. the biggest thing that is drilled into our heads & what we are taught in our training is the power of positive & negative reinforcement. I know, I know. “Negative” doesn’t sound positive. But it can be! Sorry, don’t mean to confuse you…let me explain. Positive reinforcement is exactly what it sounds like. Giving a child, or adult, vocal praise or some type of preferred item in order to increase a behavior. Essentially, you’re adding some type of stimulus in order ensure that behavior will happen again in the future. Negative reinforcement would be like washing your hands then drying them off. The action of drying your hands off results in the water being gone, thus increasing the likelihood of you drying your hands off in the future. These types of reinforcements are engraved into every lesson, target, & behavior we come across on a day to day basis. Imagine if you made your hubby his favorite dinner. He got home & was SO happy. He gave you a big smooch & said, “Thank you babe, you’re the best!” Would you be more likely to surprise him with his favorite meal again in the future? Well yeah, most likely.

That’s what I do. Even if it’s the tiniest of goals. Like saying “b” for “ball”. Every time that kiddo reaches for a ball & says “b” you better believe I’m giving them that ball. And providing praise at the same time. “Great job asking for ball!” Then eventually that goal will be shaped into what the client can do. “Ba”, “Ball”, etc. I keep saying this, but y’all it’s amazing to watch these kids grow and see how powerful the impact of positive reinforcement can be! The overall goal is to improve their quality of life by helping mold basic & more complex life skills.

No. 3 It’s Flexible

There is no black & white when it comes to ABA. At least not in my eyes. Any kind of goal can be created for every kiddo. I had an older client who was really into anime, so there were targets created based on anime characters she liked that could also represent her emotional state. It was reinforcing to her & it was a functional way to help her communicate how she was feeling at any given time. You have to be really creative sometimes in this line of work. Actually, a lot of the time. If you make it too structured or too loose, it can be really hard to find what is motivating for that specific client.

So…why do it?

As a therapist we see a lot of these kiddos/adults. Most clients attend ABA 20-40 hours a week. For instance I only have two clients at the moment but I see them 6 hours a day. That’s 12-18 hours with just me. That’s what I love about this job. We get to really build rapport with our clients. Which is the base of all successful outcomes. If you don’t have a strong connection with your client, it’s very hard to have them comply with demands you place on them or to just have fun with them in general.

I work with a lot of challenging behaviors on a daily basis. Tantrums. Aggression- biting, hitting, kicking, scratching, pushing. Spitting. Elopement (running away). Stereotypes (repetitive behaviors). Noncompliance (big one!!). And self-injurious behaviors. Among many, many others. It would take me forever to list them all. But these are the most common I see. When I explain this to others they kinda give me the look like, “Why the heck do you put up with that?” and it’s simple really….because I just love what I do.  Yeah one minute my client may be pushing me in order to obtain a certain item they want, but then, after redirection & many times of practicing, they finally use their words to ask for it. Sounds silly & something that everyone should know how to do. But those with autism don’t know how to regulate their emotions properly. They don’t know how to express their needs in words most of the time. They may need to use an electronic device that talks for them because they just simply can’t get the sounds to come out [another reason why early intervention is essential].

“It challenges me & makes me stronger”

It’s a hard job. I come home, just after 6 hours of working & get back to it with my own little toddlers. My feet hurt. I can feel my arm starting to bruise from my client who got a little too frustrated & I was the closest person to them. I’m tired from waking up before the sun rose because there’s no way I’m going to the gym AFTER work. I’m hungry because I didn’t get to finish my lunch due to having to give my full 110% attention to my client to make sure they ate their food & stayed at the table. Please don’t misconstrue this as complaining, I’m just giving you a small glance into the life of an ABA therapist.

It’s difficult. It’s tiring. It challenges me & makes me stronger. And it’s so rewarding.

As always, God bless †

Brittany

How to Create the Ultimate Kid’s Birthday Party Without Breaking the Bank

This past weekend we threw our little girl the most fun birthday party! We had the family over & it was such a great time. But let me tell ya…planning for & preparing for a kid’s birthday party is so much work. And stress, I’ll add. What’s the number one cause of stress in situations like these [at least for most of us]? Money. After going through a few birthdays with my tiny ones, I’ve learned a few things. Everything from how to decorate, gifts, food, treats, games, you name it. All for a reasonable price. Especially for us. Our kiddos’ birthdays are so close to each other, so it’s important that we try and spread the “wealth” around if ya know what I mean. I am totally not a party planner, but I will share with you what’s worked for us & hopefully they will help y’all have an awesome party for your kiddo too!

Let’s get this party started! 🙂

No. 1 Make a New Best Friend…PINTEREST

I got ALL of my ideas for my daughter’s party from Pinterest. If you have a super creative mind, by all means go for it. But if you want to create less stress & thought on your part, just search what you’re going for on Pinterest. If you don’t have an account it’s super easy to create. Paislee, my daughter, wanted a My Little Pony party. My first thought was, “I’ll just go to Party City & get all the themed plates and such.” Once I started searching on Pinterest though, I found a ton of cute decorations that I knew would cost so much less. It’s your one stop shop for anything & everything you could ever think of! Most things you find you can just make yourself, which is SO much cheaper than going out and buying it all. If you want some cute party ideas and decorations, you can follow my party board 🙂

No. 2 Make your Own Cake

Birthday cakes can be so incredibly expensive. The year Paislee turned two and Noah turned one [so, last year] I started the tradition of baking their cakes myself. I know what you’re thinking…”how does this cause me LESS stress?” Well for starters, it’s much, much cheaper. So you won’t have to worry about the expense of paying someone else to make your cake. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. I even used boxed cake mix. don’t be ashamed. My favorite thing about making the cake myself is that I know it’s baked with love. I pray my kiddos appreciate this gesture I make for them each year & it makes for precious memories. Plus, the theme is usually something my kiddos are already into and they have toys I can use as toppers! Nothing better than using things you already have. Less money out of your pocket. I have never spent more than $20 to make their cakes! And the materials you build up over time making the cakes can be used for years to come, so go you for being proactive! 🙂

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I found this rainbow cake recipe on Pinterest…duh. You can find it here. The only difference from this recipe and the one I made is that I used pre-made frosting. But homemade frosting is so good and super easy/cheap to make too!

No 3. Your Second Best Friend….Dollar Store

All of our decorations came from the dollar store. Serving bowls, scoops, streamers, balloons….E V E R Y T H I N G. You would be amazed at all the decor they have. Granted, our “theme” for Paislee’s party was super easy to create things with. My Little Pony is easy to make into a “rainbow” theme as well. Rainbow Dash all the way! Some decorations were ones you put together yourself, but they were only a dollar so it was totally worth it. And the balloons we got were ones you blow up yourself, so we didn’t have to pay for someone to blow them up with helium. Perfect.

Even all the table clothes were a dollar a piece & made for a great pop of color that went with the theme!

My mom made this adorable little piece for the fireplace where her presents were placed. She got the fabric from Joann’s & the ribbon from Michael’s. Two places that always have coupons available online- you can go to the RetailMeNot website. They also have an app for your smartphone. I use it almost everywhere I go, it’s very convenient.

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No. 4 Use What You Have at Your Disposal

I am always about using what you have. Close family and friends are usually always willing to help out if you’re needing to use something for a big party like this. We borrowed my Nana’s big tables & my cousin’s fold up chairs for everyone to sit on/at while eating. My mom has this beautiful milk glass collection that went really well with our candy bar.

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The less you have to go out and buy or rent, the better. When you’re looking on Pinterest, look for things that you can incorporate with materials you already have. It makes your life so much easier. And cheaper.

No. 5 Make Your Own Games & Activities

This kind of piggy backs off of my previous point. Try to use things you already have & turn it into something fun! We live in Texas, so it is crazy hot right now. Originally we talked about getting a bounce house or some type of blow up water slide for the kids. Those things run anywhere from 100-300 bucks. It gets pretty pricey. When it comes to children, you really don’t have to try so hard. They enjoy the littlest of things. It’s like when you buy them that nice, big electric four wheeler & they’d rather play in the big box it came in. We decided to blow up the kiddie pool, set up the slip n slide & filled the kid’s water table with water beads. The kids LOVED it. They end up making up their own games too. So this is something you really don’t need to stress about! Kids aren’t complicated! Especially little ones.

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If you’re on the artsy side or have someone in your family or friend circle who is willing to help, take advantage of that! My sister is an awesome artist & I had her make this cute little “pin the tail on the pony” game. We used some cheap little thin ribbons as the tails. The kids had fun with it!

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The other thing we decided to do was a candy bar for all the guests! It was such a cute idea that I found on Pinterest. My mom was more than willing to help & totally took it on. Again, use what [and who 🙂] you have! I liked this idea more than giving the kid’s a goodie bag. My Little Pony is a pretty girly theme, so this was a good way for us to let everyone take something home & wasn’t gender specific.

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The recipes for the treats we made can be found here:

Fruity Pebble Rice Crispie Treats

Unicorn Popcorn

Chocolate Dipped Wafers

No. 6 The Gift

Last but not least, don’t stress too much about the gift. Chances are that if you’re throwing your kiddo a party, they will be showered with gifts. Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of money or get them a ton of gifts. Because that will happen anyways. I don’t even remember the gifts I got at my birthday parties growing up, but I do remember the party and people that came to celebrate with me. That’s what matters most! We had Paislee open our gift to her on her actual birthday. It was more intimate for us & she was able to enjoy it before she got her other gifts during her party.

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This was such a fun party & day. I will always remember it! Some of the decorations we used can even be used again! Some are hanging in Paislee’s room because she loved them so much 🙂 A birthday party doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple decor & treats will do the trick, I promise! As long as there’s free food for your guests, they will be happy! I tried to link up all of the recipes & other helpful things you might need, but if I forgot something or if you have any questions just shoot me a comment below!

Items found in this post:

As always, God bless

Brittany

Teriyaki Chicken with Cauliflower Fried Rice

It has been too long since I experimented in the kitchen! I love to cook. I love to try out new recipes & create some of my own. One of my favorite types of food is Chinese. I am a huge rice lover & I could eat spicy food for days. But I also try my best to be healthy in the food choices I make. If you’re like me you will ADORE my newest creation!

This meal is so perfect for meal prepping or just a quick meal for those super busy days. Our kiddos just recently started going to preschool full time [excuse me while I go cry 😭] and I will be working full-time starting next week! Lots of big changes and busy days are ahead. So I need meals just like this. I can still get my cooking fix in & not have to worry about dinner the next few nights!

There are a few foods that I crave intensely. Chinese is one of them. I have taken a little detour on the “traditional” chicken fried rice recipe. I’ve made it healthier & tweeked it a little based on the foods I know my family likes.

The number one thing I like to tell others before they start a new recipe is to get out all of your ingredients & portions BEFORE you even get your pots and/or pans out. Being prepared just creates a more calming atmosphere when cooking.

This is what you’ll need:

1 rotisserie chicken OR 2 large fully cooked chicken breasts, shredded

4 cups organic cauliflower rice

2 large organic carrots, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 14.5 oz can organic green beans OR about 2 cups fresh green beans

2 Tbsp organic coconut oil

1 tsp organic onion powder

1/2 cup low sodium teriyaki sauce/marinade

*optional* 1 tsp red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper to taste [I used about 3/4 tsp of each]

Once you have all of your ingredients prepared, get out a large pan or wok. A wok is the best thing to use because it gets really hot really fast, & that’s what you want.

Put in half of your coconut oil & turn the heat on to about medium high. You want all that oil to melt and get really hot.

Then throw in your carrots. I like to let the carrots cook for about 3 minutes before adding the green beans because they aren’t as tender. If you are using fresh green beans go ahead & throw all the veggies in together. Once the carrots begin to soften, add the green beans & minced garlic. The garlic goes in last to prevent it from burning. I love garlic, but burnt garlic is yuck. And make sure you stir the veggies around at a pretty consistent rate as to avoid any of them sticking to the pan or burning.

The traditional fried rice recipe calls for sweet peas. You can add whatever veggies you prefer. My husband HATES peas, so I altered it a bit so he would actually eat it. Broccoli would be really yummy too. Totally your preference.

The veggies should be completely heated & softened. Then remove them from the wok or pan. Set them aside on a plate. Next you’ll want to melt down the rest of your coconut oil.

Add your cauliflower rice. I bought mine premade, but you can always make your own in a food processor.

Let the rice cook up for about 3-4 minutes or until the tenderness is to your liking, then add your chicken. I bought pre-shredded chicken [its okay to be a lazy cook sometimes]. Our local grocery story has containers with pre-shredded chicken that’s actually cheaper than buying a rotisserie chicken. Less work for me!

Make sure the chicken blends well with the rice. Get it heated up really well then add your spices & teriyaki sauce. This is when you can have the option of adding red pepper flakes to your dish. My kiddos were going to eat from this batch so I decided not to add it in, but I did add some to my own portion later on 🙂

This is the sauce I used…

I like my stuff really saucey so I add a little more to my personal bowl, so that’s always an option. This stuff is so yummy.

Okay so after all that rice & chicken start soaking up all that flavor, you’re finally ready to add those veggies back in & watch the magic happen.

Please restrain the urge to lick your screen right now…I cant even. These pictures have me drooling over here y’all 🤤.

And there you have it! An easy, healthy & delicious dish for the whole fam! Yes, my kiddos even ate it. If my goobers approve, it’s safe to say yours will too!

Items used in this post:

 

God bless & happy eating!

Brittany

The Perfect Romantic Vacay: For Those Young Parents Who Just Need a Minute

Having two toddlers running around can really take a toll on the romantic spark in your marriage. Tommy [my hubby] & I love each other so much, but the daily routine wears us down after awhile. By the time the kids are in bed, we flop down on our mattress, turn on The Office & try to soak up the hour or two of quiet before we finally call it a night. The diary of a toddler parent, right? We have learned the hard way how important it is to take time for ourselves. After the kid’s bedtime, laying in bed half asleep doesn’t count! I’m talkin’ REAL time. Intentional time. Not just dating your spouse but enjoying them, talking & listening to them, & making memories with them. It’s all of those things that made you fall head over heels for them in the first place! Keep the romance alive.

Related: 8 Ways I Show My Husband I Love Him

Being in the military can sometimes be hard to plan that time together. Believe me, we get that. It took us almost 3 years to make the time. We knew that once Tommy became a recruiter, he would not have any leave time. After his graduation he got 30 WHOLE DAYS of leave. So you best believe we were going to take full advantage of them. Especially now since we are so close to family. We are also so incredibly close to our most favorite place in the entire universe.

Gruene, Texas

There are so many fun & romantic things to do there. And places around the area that are super fun too! Gruene Hall [pictured above] is the oldest dance hall in Texas. Tons of country music legends have performed here including George Strait, Pat Green, Lyle Lovett, Tracy Lawrence & Willie Nelson.

It’s just a neat place to be in. So much history & good music.

DAY ONE

We took 5 days for our little getaway. The first day we got there a little late in the day but were able to make it to the Whitewater Amphitheater to see a few of our favorite Texas country artists play. Cory Morrow, Pat Green & Josh Abbott Band. It was amazing! We had such a blast. The amphitheater was so cool too. The river is directly behind it. There is so much room which makes it seem less crowded. We even got to meet Cory Morrow & Pat Green after the show! Tommy was on cloud 9!

I’ll admit, it was hot but it was a darn good time!

 

Pat Green on the left & Cory Morrow on the right

DAY TWO

Just to back track a bit, we actually stayed in New Braunfels the first three nights of our vacay. It’s very close to Gruene & all of the fun things to do around the area. This day we decided to drive just about an hour to Shiner, TX. My husband LOVES Shiner beer & has always wanted to visit their brewery. We figured since we were so close, why the heck not?! It was so fun, ya’ll. They had a ton of yard games set up around the brewery, a gift shop, & FREE BEER. You get these cute little tokens that you exchange for a free beer.

 

 

They assign you a group number & you just wait for your number to be called to go take the tour. This older woman was giving our tour & she had worked there for about 20 years. She was so cute & gave us an awesome tour. I would highly recommend going if you are ever close to the area. We had so much fun!

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After our visit at the brewery, we just couldn’t wait any longer to get to Gruene. We were craving our favorite wine & they only have it at The Grapevine which is a tiny little wine tasting place there in town. We always get a bottle for ourselves & hang out there for a while. It’s called Texas Blackberry wine. If there is one thing to take away from this post, it’s this wine. If you like sweeter tastes. You used to be able to buy it on their website, but now due to TABC laws, they are no longer able to. Sad day. Guess that means you HAVE to go now 😉 Live music, good wine & yummy sides.

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After our little break at The Grapevine, we ended our day with a delicious dinner at The Gruene River Grill. Heads up- you might not wanna read this if you are hungry because I have some mouth watering food pics coming your way!

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DAY THREE

This was our favorite day of the whole trip! Our number one favorite thing to do while in Gruene/ New Braunfels is floating the river. We’ve done the Guadalupe & the Comal. Both are super fun, but the Guadalupe is usually always a little low so you might have to walk a little bit. The only downfall of the Comal is that they have a “can ban” so no cans are allowed in efforts to keep the river more clean. Which is great, just inconvenient for everyone. This time we decided to float with the Gruene River Company. What was supposed to be about a 3 hour float turned into a 6 hour float. We had the best time & even made a friend along the way. That’s what the river is all about! Oh & I got one gnarly sunburn. But it was totally worth it!

 

 

Tommy even went to go jump off of one of the cliffs along the river. It was just a good time all around! I talk it up every time I get a chance to 🙂

DAY FOUR

We tried to take it a bit easy this day. We were extremely worn out from the river & I was even more extremely sunburnt. BUT this was the day that we got to check into The Gruene Mansion Inn. The most romantic place in Texas (in my opinion). We had only stayed there once before after Tommy had graduated from boot camp. So we were long overdue for a nice stay there! I can’t get over how pretty it is y’all. They have so many rooms to choose from. It the sweetest little bed and breakfast. The perfect spot for a couple’s getaway. They also have bigger rooms for families if you’re taking a family vacation. I promise this post is not sponsored, I just love it THAT much.

We stayed in the Pent Haus 14. It was so cozy & romantic. We had a wonderful view of the river too. I’m sad I didn’t get any good pics of our room, but just look at this place! It’s beautiful!

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After we checked in, we just laid in bed for hours. It was so nice. As parents of two toddlers, we never get to do that. A huge piece of advice I can give to parents or any couples that lead busy & stressful lives- when you go on vacation, take at least one day to do absolutely nothing. Lay in bed all day. Watch your favorite shows, a movie you haven’t seen or just sleep. Take advantage of that time, because you both know it won’t happen again for awhile.

That evening we went and walked around a little bit in Gruene and ate at one of our favorite restaurants there, Cantina Del Rio. We ended our day with some tasty margaritas, yummy enchiladas & more lazy time in bed. It was perfect.

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DAY FIVE 

We started our morning with a delightful breakfast. They have the sweetest little lady in the kitchen cooking an amazing spread every morning. Delicious home cooked food to start your day! We decided to add some mimosas to the mix. I mean, why not?!

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Once our tummies were very happy, we spontaneously decided to drive to San Antonio for the day. We were about 40 minutes from the city & really thought it would be fun to walk down the river walk & see The Alamo since we were so close. Our first stop was the river walk. We stopped and had some famous margaritas followed by a river tour on one of their river tour boats. I will say, it was extremely hot. It would be much better to go in the spring time or fall when it’s not scorching out. It didn’t help that my sunburn was killing me. But it was still cool nonetheless to see all of the historical buildings around the river & learn a little something while we were there.

After our nice little tour we went to visit one of the most historical, if not the most historical, building in Texas- The Alamo. We only spent about an hour there. It was so incredibly hot & my sunburn was just too much for me to handle, but it was so cool to see. Neither one of us had been since we were younger & it’s just humbling to stand on that ground where so much was fought for.

After our little tourist-y day, we headed back to Gruene to our room & got ready for dinner. We were starving. We saved the best place for our last night! The Gristmill. They have one of the best chicken fried chicken around. The place is huge, too. They have to coolest decorations & the atmosphere in general is one of a kind.

Oh & you gotta get the onion rings. My mouth is just watering now thinking about them. I told you…tons of food. I’m just a foodie. I’m not sorry.

DAY SIX

This was our last day…we were so sad to leave. But it was the fourth of July, Tommy’s favorite holiday of the year. And we were anxious to get back to our babies. But you best believe we weren’t leaving until we got some more of that delicious breakfast. Their cook outdid herself that morning. Our food was so yummy.

I love pretty food. This was the perfect way to end our stay in Gruene. Sitting on the patio, the fresh smell of morning in the air & freedom all around. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

If you just decided to scroll all the way down here & read through our amazing little getaway, I hope you can take away a very important point- make time to get away. That doesn’t necessarily mean to throw down a bunch of money & go on an expensive vacay somewhere by the ocean. You could literally just stay home. Let your babies go spend time with their grandparents (which is also extremely important) & take time for yourselves. Cuddle. Laugh. SLEEP. Just be. I can’t tell y’all how much we needed that time. I’ll remember every second.

Related: Five Reasons Why Healthy Grandparent-Grandchild Relationships are Important

Until next time…

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As always, God bless

Brittany

 

 

 

 

THE BIG MOVE

Long time no see, friends! Howdy FROM TEXAS!

I have missed writing these past couple of weeks! Needless to say, our little family has been busy busy busy. We have travelled over 2,000 miles, seen majestic national landmarks & made it back to our home state of Texas. And can I just say, “Ahhhhh it feels so good!” We have only been back for a little over a week but it feels great to be home. There’s just no place like it!

I am so excited to take you through our whole moving experience- especially the road trip. It was all a huge whirlwind at first. Let me fill you in a little bit….in case you are just now tuning into the blog, my husband, Tommy, is a Marine and just recently graduated from recruiter’s school. The anticipation of waiting to hear where we would be stationed next was intense. Tommy had put in a special request for Fort Worth, Texas, where we were born and raised. We prayed hard for it and had tons of prayer warriors behind us through it all. I remember Tommy calling me the day he found out and he said, “Are you ready for this?” At this point I had no idea what to expect. The Marine Corps is so incredibly unexpected [my fellow spouses can attest to this]. So, honestly I was expecting the worst. He just sat there for a minute and said, “Killeen, TX baby!” I was sitting at the table eating lunch with the kids & I jumped up so high with pure excitement and joy flowing through my body. I was crying tears of happiness and relief. We were finally going back H O M E.

The next couple of weeks after we found out, we were basically just chillin’. Tommy was finishing up his school & I was constantly looking for houses to rent in the new area we would be living in. The amazing thing about this whole set-up was that we didn’t have to pack or move ourselves. The Marine Corps was going to do that all for us…or so we thought. About a week and a half before our expected move date, all of the Marines in Tommy’s class found out that the movers that were supposed to be scheduled to move all of us were backed up, therefore would not be able to move anyone out until middle or late July. That was just not going to work for us. We had a house lined up, a road trip planned to see all of these awesome places in almost a week & NOW you choose to tell us this?!

IO mad guy

You’d think I would get used to things just not going my way after almost 4 years of being a Marine Corps spouse, but no. I was livid. And extremely stressed out, to say the least. After getting some advice on what to do from a family friend of ours who is also a Marine, we decided to go ahead and move ourselves.

So I had about 5 days to pack up our house. Which in hindsight was not bad at all, but in the moment it was immensely overwhelming to me. All the while, my husband was working on getting the moving truck, towing trailer [for my car] & making sure we had all the funds necessary to make this move of ours happen. If you have ever or plan to ever rent a moving truck out of California to anywhere else in the U.S., I have a little tip for you…don’t do it. It’s so insanely expensive. My husband ended up buying a cheap flight to Vegas, picked up the moving truck there, drove back to our house [about a 5 hour drive] & we packed up and moved out 2 days after. See…whirlwind, I warned ya. It was way more inconvenient on our part, but much less in regards to money [like 3 times as less]. It was definitely the smarter route.

A friend of ours joked that we were proof that Murphy’s Law truly does exist. The journey leading up to our move & even some happenings on our road trip was just one chaotic mess after another!

DAY 1

Then we headed out on our trip. Once we knew we were going to have the moving truck we debated on whether or not we wanted to still make our stops along the way. I was so looking forward to seeing the Hoover Dam & the Grand Canyon. We finally decided, “Why not?!” We had four whole days to kill [what my husband “rates” for this particular move]. The first day, our goal was to make it to the Hoover Dam. Tommy was especially excited about this stop. We were all packed up & ready to head that way!

It took us a good 7-8 hours to get to the Hoover Dam. Another little road trip tip- if you are going to be traveling a long ways with toddlers in a car, just be prepared to stop A LOT. Especially if one or both of those toddlers is potty training. Both of the kids did amazing in the car. We watched Coco maybe 30 times, but they were calm & kept themselves entertained the whole way. Paislee had zero accidents the whole time, too! We were & are still so proud of her for that! Huge milestone in her potty training journey!

Anyways, back to the Hoover Dam…it was a huge heartbreak. TIP- check the websites of any major landmark or stop you plan to make before you go on your road trip. I say this because we failed to do this & we were not able to see the Hoover Dam in result. The Dam closes at 5:30. They are currently doing some construction & they close from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. What really sucks is that we literally pulled up to the gate at 5:30 on the dot. Tommy was so bummed. I felt terrible. So, do your research people. Learn from our mistakes!

We were still super excited about the Grand Canyon the next day, though. We drove a little more to our hotel in Kingman, AZ & called it a day. The kids also slept really well in the hotels. They went to bed a little [sometimes much] later than their usual bedtimes, but that’s just all part of it. We weren’t too concerned about bedtimes & nap times. The kids never have trouble sleeping in the car either. So sleep was not an issue on this trip!

DAY 2

We woke up the next morning & made our way to the Grand Canyon! The kids were in such great moods that morning! And so were we. We got some decent sleep & were very excited to get back on the road again.

This is the day it started to rain. It rained almost the entire day. Except for the time we were actually at the Grand Canyon [we can thank God for that 🙂]. I will try not to spam the next portion of this post with the beautiful pictures we captured, but I can’t make any promises! It was so majestic & serene, y’all. I can’t begin to explain how big it actually is. There are no words to describe it. It was true proof of God’s handy work. We are so blessed to have been able to take the kids [and the dogs] to see this.

It’s like you almost feel like you can touch Heaven. That’s how magical & peaceful it is there.

Tommy went out on this cliff where you could get some awesome shots of the Canyon. I was too much of a chicken to go out there myself, although I did try.

It was a wonderful day. The kids are still so little & couldn’t really appreciate the beauty, but it was still such a memorable moment for us as parents & something we will always remember doing with them!

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But you better believe that Paislee remembers this! It was the highlight of her trip to the Grand Canyon, if you ask her.

And of course we had to get the kids matching shirts! I got the smallest sizes they had…I just couldn’t help myself.

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Day two was our favorite road trip day! It was filled with tons of fun & lifetime memories!

DAY 3

This day was filled with lots & lots of driving. This is the day we made the most time. And it rained all. day. long. This is the day we finally made it to Texas! This was the hardest day for me. I was getting so tired of driving. And although the kids weren’t having any real meltdowns, they were constantly dropping something that I couldn’t get for them. Their snacks, their blankets, the cups, their toys. Everything. And I was driving, so it was hard for me to pick whatever it was up for them.

Something that made the drive so much easier was the walkie talkies that we bought before we left California. So if the kids did drop something, I could let Tommy know immediately & we could both pull over to the shoulder really quick so I could grab it. It was so much easier & safer than picking up the phone & calling each other every time we needed to stop. It was also helpful in just keeping the other person in the loop of cars passing or something coming up that I couldn’t see because the huge moving truck was in front of me the whole drive there. I would highly recommend getting a pair if you have to drive separately on a road trip with someone. The ones we purchased are down at the end of this post 🙂

Then we made it. To Texas. The homeland. The promiseland.

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We were a little excited, could you tell??

We started the day in Albuquerque, NM & ended the day in Abilene, TX. We drove a lot, but it was so worth it. Because the next day would only be a 3ish hour drive to our new home!

DAY 4

The final day had come! We were going to see our new house today! No more driving. We would get to sleep in our own bed. It was going to be a glorious day! Abilene is only about a 3 hour drive from our home in Nolanville. It seemed like the longest 3 hours though. Probably because we were just so darn excited. When we arrived, my dad and one of my younger sisters was there to greet us! A huge sigh of relief & thankfulness came out of me when we saw our home. It was beautiful. And it was in Texas. What could be any better?!

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DAY 13

Jump ahead a little, & today we are just loving our new home & town. It just feels right here. We are still unpacking & trying to get in all of the quality time we can before Tommy starts his new position as a recruiter & I start my new job [which I just accepted last week, yay!]. It is so nice being so close to family. We can spend the big holidays together, & even the weekends that nothing is going on. We are cherishing this time in our lives & love that our kids are finally getting some real Texas time. God has answered our prayers. Like He always does. The road was surely bumpy & stressful along the way [when is it not?], but we got here. Welcome to the next chapter in our life! We hope you keep reading 🙂

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As always, God bless

Brittany

How to Prepare Your First Born for a New Baby

Let me start by saying that there is no “perfect” way of preparing your first born for a new baby. A new baby who will steal away mommy & daddy’s attention. A new baby who will get all of these new clothes, furniture & toys. A new baby who will mostly cry & sleep, but not play with them. It can be a really rough transition not only for the parents, but your little one as well.

It all depends on age! For us, our daughter was just barely 1 year old when we found out we were pregnant with our second. Besides the fact that it was a total & complete shock to us, we had no idea how to prepare her for the changes to come. She was our baby. Our first baby. Our baby who was literally still a baby. She’s not going to understand when we say, “You’re going to have a baby brother or sister!” Although we did tell her this, we are almost 100% positive she most definitely did not understand that. But once my belly started getting bigger, we would point and say, “Mommy has a baby in her belly!” Then she would point to my belly & say, “Baby!”

In our case it was hard to find ways to prepare her for this big change. Little did we know, Noah would be born 3 months early and would make that transition a little more difficult for us. Most people don’t know that if your preemie is born at a certain time of the year, there are very strict rules on who can come into the unit. During “RSV” season (which is when Noah was born) only parents & grandparents were allowed in the unit. So Paislee was only allowed to see her brother two or three times before that rule came into play. And he was in the NICU for 3 months. It was really hard to balance all of our time between the two babies with them not being together. The times she did get to meet and see him, she was so so sweet.

 

The first time Paislee met Noah ♥

Related: The Littlest Warrior: An Inspiring NICU Story

 

I also have to show you this video because it’s just too darn cute. This was when Noah was still in the NICU & Paislee loved to talk to him. She was so sweet & careful around him. She would sometimes touch his head and was so gentle. My heart, y’all.

Given that our case was a bit different, I have collaborated and spoken with a fellow blogger of mine! Krystal Klassen with the Quarter Mile Lane blog has been so gracious to be a guest here on Dogtags, Dolls & Dinosaurs today! Krystal and her four sisters have an amazing blog that they work on together! They have everything from homemaking tips, gardening, recipes, & awesome parenting advice. I am a devoted reader & love their content. They also post some fun & engaging statuses on their facebook page. They are super funny & relatable for all parents!

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Krystal (far right) & her beautiful sisters!

After speaking with Krystal a bit, I asked her some questions about her experience when her & her husband found out about their second baby. Our experiences are different in so many ways, & similar too! So happy to introduce her to everyone & share with all of you!

1. What was your first thought when you found out you were having a second baby?

Our second was planned, so we were so excited to be welcoming another little one to our family. After the excitement of finding out we were pregnant, my thoughts immediately turned to worry of how our firstborn would react to a new baby.

Not only was she our first child but she had spent the first 3 years of her life as the only grandchild on my husband’s side. She was also the only great grandchild during that time. With a lot of nearby family, she was the center of attention at every family event. I was really nervous that becoming a big sister was going to absolutely turn her world upside down!

2. How did you break the news to your first child?

We waited quite a while to tell anyone, including our firstborn. Luckily, I didn’t show very quickly so it was pretty easy to keep it a secret for a few months. Once we found out we were having a boy, we told our firstborn that she was going to be a big sister.  It took a couple weeks for it to really click that there was a baby in mom’s tummy. During that time we kept reminding her how much fun it was going to be to have a brother to play with and what a great helper she would be.

3. Do you have any special advice or tips to help prepare first borns for a new baby?

My biggest advice would be to stay positive (as much as possible during pregnancy). Kids pick up on negative ideas and conversations really easily. The last thing you want is for your firstborn to have negative ideas about the baby before he/she even arrives! Help your firstborn realize all of the things that they will be big enough to help with when they are a big sister or big brother. We got this book called I’m a Big Sister by Joanna Cole and read it frequently. It was so helpful in reminding our daughter how fun it was going to be to be a big sister. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone welcoming a second child. There is also a big brother version.

We also did some fun activities with our daughter during the last few months of my pregnancy. We took a little weekend getaway and did things that she was interested in like going to the zoo. We also took her to a movie with just mom and dad. I think these opportunities for one on one time helped her feel like she was important even with a little brother coming soon.

4. Is there anything you didn’t do that you wish you had?

I wish I would have gotten the nursery put together sooner. Honestly, the nursery never happened! Our son was born 5 weeks early, so there just wasn’t time. I think this would have helped my firstborn realize sooner that there was really a baby coming. I think it would have helped if she was more familiar with these new surroundings sooner and better understand what the different baby items are for. This would have been another way to prepare her to be a “big helper”!

5. Once the baby arrived how did your first adjust? How are they now?

Oh goodness! I can’t say enough how all of my expectations were exceeded when our baby was born! When our son was born early and spent two weeks in the NICU, my concern of how she would react to a new baby escalated. She was shuffled between family and friends while mom and dad were trying to get baby brother out of the NICU. It was a crazy 2 weeks, but the whole time she was so excited to finally meet her baby brother! When we finally brought baby brother home, she was so happy to meet him and didn’t want to leave his side. I gave her plenty of opportunities to help with baby brother by getting diapers, giving him a pacifier, singing him songs, etc.

Fast forward 4 years, and they still get along as well as any 4 and 7 year old would. My firstborn really likes to play mom and tell her brother what to do, which he doesn’t always appreciate. Often, I have to remind her that she isn’t the mom and that mom can take care of the discipline. She loves to protect him and is quick to help him if he is hurt or sad.

Krystal shares some great tips in there, right? We too read a book to our daughter that explained what the role of a big sister was & Paislee loved to read it almost every night! Now when she reads it, she calls the baby “Bubba” (what we call Noah). It’s so cute. Krystal also brought up a good point with putting the baby’s room together beforehand. With a preemie baby, that can be really hard because you don’t know that your little one is coming so early, so I can definitely relate with her there! But that can be a really great way to help your first born transition into sibling-hood.

Some other transitional ideas to get your first born ready for a new baby:

  • Practicing with a baby doll- show them how to help change diapers, go on walks, feed them, give them a bath, etc.
  • Showing them your sonograms & general pictures of babies
  • Taking them to appointments with you when possible (I remember doing this with my mom before she had my sisters & it made me feel very included and important)
  • Watching a tv show or movies that involve a new baby coming into the family (wouldn’t recommend Boss Baby lol- not very realistic)
  • Having a “baby countdown”
  • Putting the new carseat in the car before the baby arrives

If y’all have anymore ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments!

Also, if there’s one piece of advice I can bestow upon you, it’s this- always make time for EACH/ALL of your children. I understand this is sometimes easier said than done, but it is so important for your children to feel individually loved, appreciated & seen. After you’re all settled in, pump some milk or get the formula stocked up, and go out with your first born. Being the first born, I know first hand how much I loved hanging out with either my parents without my little sisters around. DONT’ GET ME WRONG, I love my sisters so, so much. But it’s nice to have all of the attention. Children need it. Babies tend to get most of it, especially when they are brand new. Because they require so much TLC.

Trust me, making time for all of your babies & taking the time to transition them in a healthy way will set everyone up for success in the long run. If you are preparing for this transition, I wish you the best of luck!

May-the-Odds-Be-Ever-In-Your-Favor

Happy Hunger Games!…haha jk

As always, God bless †

Brittany

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