Small Changes Make all the Difference {Earth Day}

 

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When I heard that this month’s #NWARKCares focus would be on the environment, I immediately thought of Heifer International’s mission to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. I told my fellow Northwest Arkansas bloggers that even though they are based in Central Arkansas, I didn’t feel I could write about the environment without talking about Heifer. And here’s the reason–through volunteering for Heifer I learned so much more about how what we do in our everyday lives impacts the environment.

Yes, I grew up with the mantra recycle, reduce, reuse, and I was raised by parents who put that into action and taught us to recycle. That was pretty much the extent of it though. I continued to recycle throughout college and I even began a recycling program at a business I worked at in Northeast Arkansas, but it wasn’t until I began volunteering with Heifer Village in 2009 that my idea of caring for the Earth expanded. The exhibit that really brought it all home was the “Make a Difference Lab.” This was an interactive exhibit where visitors could declare their intention to make changes in their life that would impact the Earth and the world at large for the better. By typing their commitment to recycle, volunteer, compost, save energy or reduce pollution, visitors were able to connect all of what they learned in the learning center’s exhibits to their very own lives. It also impacted me as a volunteer. Seeing all of the commitments visitors made every day created in me a desire to do those things as well…all of them! Right NOW!

I got it into my head that I wanted to start an organic farm, raise chickens, some goats, maybe llamas or alpaca, and grow our own food, simplify our life. I still hope that we can realize that dream in some way in the future, but I realize that I have little if any experience with any of those things so I need to start small. Like, with a garden. It’s not that I have never planted something in the soil myself, but I haven’t ever had a garden of my own. This spring and summer I hope to help out in my friend’s garden to get my feet wet, plus I am going to start out with a small herb garden of my own. I am also looking into growing some lettuce and possibly tomatoes hydroponically in our sun room. I recently visited Ozark Hydroponics and it sounds like something that I could easily manage and use as a tool to teach Young Master Gray about growing your own food.

Something else that I have recently committed to is reducing the amount of non-recyclable or reusable items that we bring into our home. I was feeling really good about all of the things that I was recycling through the city’s recycling program and TerraCycle. Then, a friend recently pointed out that a lot of packaging we had been saving to send in to TerraCycle’s mail-in recycling program was not actually recyclable. Not even by TerraCycle’s standards. This brought me back down to Earth and made me start to rethink the way we conduct ourselves as consumers. Taking a reusable bag to the grocery store is great (if you actually remember to take it inside), but have you ever thought about the packaging around the items you purchase? Is it recyclable? Is there an alternative product with recyclable packaging or, better yet, no packaging? Can you make that product at home? Can you take in your own jars and fill them up in the bulk section at Whole Foods or, locally, Ozark Natural Foods?

It will require some planning and some re-evaluating, and I realize that we won’t be able to eliminate all non-recyclable packaging at once. (Note: This is me telling myself that it’s a process and it is okay to not do it all right away.) I remember reading about a family that had taken on a no-waste challenge and they even took in their own glass containers to the butcher to carry their meat home. I admit, I draw the line at recycling the packaging around raw meat. It always goes in the trash because of the gross factor. I never even considered taking in my own container to the butcher.

So, if I were standing in the “Make A Difference Lab” right now (unfortunately, I recently discovered it is no longer there), my commitments would be:

  • Start growing our own food,
  • Be a more conscious consumer including shopping more from the bulk section and farmer’s markets, and
  • Get my clothesline put up so I can start drying all of our laundry on the line, not just what will fit on the drying racks, makeshift clothesline, and backs of chairs.

Baby steps. Lllamas will just have to wait. What about you? Treat the comment section as our virtual “Make a Difference Lab” and share your own commitments!

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Easter Egg Shakers & Sensory Play for Toddlers

Repurpose your plastic Easter Eggs for toddler sensory play by making egg shakers! Let toddlers fill the eggs with rice, beans or both and then shake, shake, shake! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #healthytoddlersnacks juliannegray.com

I was hired by The Women Bloggers to participate in this campaign led by Kendal King Group on behalf of Nestle. All words and opinions are my own.

Now that Easter is over, you may be looking for something to do with all of those eggs, both the hard boiled variety and the plastic. I am sure there are plenty of recipes to enjoy with the former (avocado egg salad, anyone?), but I am here to talk about what to do with the plastic ones. We are all about reusing and repurposing around here so I put together a fun, sensory activity that also involves making a little music. And, even if you don’t allow many sweets, you may have let your little one indulge in some sugary treats over the weekend as well. I am thinking you may be looking for a healthy snack to balance things out after the sugar rush (hey, same here). I have just the thing for that too!

Repurpose your plastic Easter Eggs for toddler sensory play by making egg shakers! Let toddlers fill the eggs with rice, beans or both and then shake, shake, shake! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #healthytoddlersnacks juliannegray.com

While Young Master Gray was napping, I set out an invitation to play with dried rice, dried white beans and empty plastic Easter eggs. The object was for him to fill the eggs with the rice and beans to make shakers, but also to touch and experience all of the different textures. I also set out a snack for him to munch on as we played.

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a great new toddler snack made from navy beans and rice flour. Free of GMOs, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. #healthysnack #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack juliannegray.com

Gerber Lil’ Beanies are a brand new snack for toddlers made from navy beans and rice flour, so there was an added element of talking about what our snack was made of as we played with the main ingredients! There are only seven ingredients listed on the can of the original flavor with sea salt which makes thislabel-reading mama happy! If you or your kids have food allergies like we do (or if you are just health conscious), you know that what is left out is just as important as what is in the food you give your kids. I was thrilled to learn that Lil’ Beanies are not made with GMOs, and do not contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

A fun toddler sensory experience using items from your pantry and leftover Easter eggs! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #toddler snacks juliannegray.com

Because Young Master Gray cannot have dairy, I left the White Cheddar and Broccoli flavored Lil’ Beanies in the can. Just out of curiosity, I had a taste of them for myself. They were really good! I may or may not have finished off a whole can (hey, he can’t eat them anyway). They reminded me of cheese puffs, but they didn’t leave a whole lot of messy cheese and powder on my fingers, a big plus for a toddler snack!

When Young Master Gray woke up, he dove right into the activity!

Fill empty Easter Eggs with rice, beans or both for a fun toddler sensory play activity! #toddleractivity #sensoryplay #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnacks juliannegray.com

Fill empty Easter Eggs with rice, beans or both for a fun toddler sensory play activity! #toddleractivity #sensoryplay #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnacks juliannegray.com

And he dove right into the Lil’ Beanies as well!

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a great new toddler snack made from navy beans and rice flour. Free of GMOs, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. #healthysnack #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack juliannegray.com

We experimented with filling the eggs with rice and then beans to see how different they sounded when we shook them. It didn’t take long for the beans and rice to get mixed together, so we filled some eggs with both rice and beans.

Rice & Bean Easter Egg Shakers

Overall, it was a really fun activity that kept him interested for quite a while (major win!). He is still talking about it today. I taped up some of the eggs afterwards so that we could continue using them as shakers in our everyday play. I am sure that I will still be finding rice in my rug for weeks to come, but all the fun we had outweighed the inconvenience of a little mess. Luckily the Lil’ Beanies didn’t add to the mess at all.

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a yummy, mess-free snack for toddlers. Just don't expect your toddler to share them with you! #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack #healthysnack juliannegray.com

Young Master Gray says, “Sorry! I didn’t save any Lil’ Beanies for you!” However, you should be able to find them in the baby and toddler snack section at Walmart!

Let me know if you try the activity or the snacks! I would love to hear how your toddlers like them!

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6 Reasons Why My Birthday With the Flu Didn’t Suck

I will admit that when I started getting the first symptoms of the flu I was pretty grim about the whole thing. “How am I going to take care of a sick toddler when I’m sick myself?” “Great, now my birthday is going to suck.” And, of course, “Waahhhh, I’m sick.” Then, I joked with my sister that I was due for a birthday with the flu since my birthday last year was so epic. It’s really hard to top a birthday in Hawaii. After that I tried to change my whole perspective on the day and it really helped. So without further ado…

Reasons why my birthday didn’t suck even though I had the flu:

1. While my 2-year-old has more energy with the flu than I do on a normal day, we were still able to get a lot of extra snuggle time in. I hate that it’s because he is feeling bad, but I can’t be mad about snuggles!

So. Much. Energy.

2. My long-distance, we-met-on-the-internet-but-so-what-we-are-still-close friend had her baby boy yesterday and I was able to keep up to date on her labor and cheer her on via Facebook. Her oldest has the same birthday as Young Master Gray, so it’s pretty cool that this new sweet bundle shares my birthday now! Plus, what a way to put things in perspective. Having body aches and not being able to rest pales in comparison to trying to push a human baby out of you and not being able rest.

3. While refreshing and refreshing my browser to be sure and stay updated on the birth of that wee lil babe, I was inundated with sweet messages posted on my Facebook wall in real time. Each message, text, comment and call brought a smile to my face. They really and truly made my day.

4. I actually laid down during naptime. Now, I was not able to sleep because my brain wouldn’t stop going through to-do lists, but I also wasn’t running around trying to get everything done in that one small window of time as usual. I didn’t pick up the toys strewn across the floor. I didn’t clean. I didn’t cook. I didn’t work (okay, I did do some writing, but it didn’t feel like work). I didn’t worry about posting to any of my social media channels. I didn’t do much other than REST.

5. When Jeremy got home from work I was able to spend time with my little family. There wasn’t a big dinner or cake (I didn’t feel like eating anyway), but we had a quiet night in and we were together. I can’t really ask for more than that. As a bonus, Jeremy cleaned up while I took a hot epsom salt bath. He may or may not have suggested I go rest to get rid of the crazy lady who kept telling him he was putting everything away wrong.

6. While it wasn’t on my birthday (and thank goodness), I can’t leave out our little escape to Eureka Springs earlier this week. Jeremy surprised me with a plan to get away and camp for the night. He didn’t know it, but I had been hoping for a getaway. Of course, in my mind we were going to the beach, but I really love to camp so this was perfect. We talked about going to the Buffalo River, my favorite place to camp, but with limited time we decided to go somewhere close. After our anniversary trip to Eureka Springs in January, we were itching to get back and see some of the things that had been closed during that trip. There was a lot more to be seen, but unfortunately, a lot of places are still closed early in the week even during their travel season. I was so mad at myself for not remembering my camera, but Jeremy said that meant that I would just have to enjoy myself and not worry about my camera. Touche. However, I did take some photos with my phone. Here are a few highlights from our early birthday adventure.

Our lodgings for the night.
Our lodgings for the night.
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In our haste we forgot matches, but we still managed to get a fire going.
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The Overlook Trail at Lake Leatherwood
The Point at Lake Leatherwood
The Point at Lake Leatherwood
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It was a great place to rest and take in all that beauty.

That trip was so necessary. Before our hike Wednesday morning, I got a message saying that Young Master Gray was not feeling so well. He had a fever and I immediately felt guilty for taking that time away. I wondered, “Should we skip our hike and just head home?” We decided to go on our hike and then head home, and I’m really glad that we did. I needed that time to be out in nature and think about heavy things. Of course, when I got home Young Master Gray only wanted mama, but I knew he was taken care of and fine with his grandparents until we made it back. The next day I took him to the doctor and, well, you know the rest.

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Staring down the unknown

This morning I keep staring at my to-do list. I have two days a week where Young Master Gray goes to school and those two days I try to do all the things. However, this morning I cannot seem to focus on any of the tasks I wrote out earlier this week. Two days ago I went in for an ultrasound on my remaining ovary. It was a follow up after a cyst was discovered in December. I have been feeling bloated and nauseated since December, off and on. That coupled with pelvic pain was enough to put me on high alert. My doctors did not seem to be as concerned so I tried to tamp down my anxiety as much as possible. This was easier on some days than on others. They had said that they wanted me to come back for a follow up in six weeks to make sure the cyst wasn’t growing and nothing abnormal was occurring. Right around the six week mark, I started making calls to put the follow up ultrasound in motion. It took three weeks of me constantly calling to get where we are today. Advocating for myself is not something that comes naturally. In fact, there were many days during that period that I wanted to give up and just “see what happens.” However, I am lucky enough to have people in my corner who know that I am not the squeaky wheel, and they lovingly pushed me to keep at it. These same people also saw how sick I was feeling and threatened to make calls for me if I didn’t do it for myself. Again, I am so grateful to them.

Once my ultrasound was done and the results were sent to my doctor, all of a sudden they were acting with urgency. An MRI is in the works and an appointment with an oncologist was made immediately. That appointment is today. I am grateful that I do not have to wait with the unknown for long, but the fact that now they are rushing and getting things done after dragging their feet for so long definitely makes me uneasy. Of course, I am holding on to the idea that all of this is being done “out of an abundance of caution” because of my history of ovarian cancer. No one has said that to me, but that is my life preserver at the moment.

Psalm 25

This verse also serves as a life preserver, as it has before. It is the verse that I was journaling when I got the call that my cancer was gone, nearly 13 years ago. I found this verse to be true and a comfort then, and in many other times in my life. The Lord was loving and faithful when my cancer was all contained in the tumor and completely removed with no need for treatment. He was loving and faithful when He gave me a son though I had thought I would never have children of my own. There are many, many more instances that I could list, and today I choose to dwell in them. Instead of letting my mind wander down the road of what ifs, I will think of all the ways that the Lord has shown Himself to be loving and faithful.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I am not sick to my stomach and still anxious as the time for my appointment approaches. I am still feeling both of those things.

I’m sharing all of this even though it is against my nature because I have really appreciated the transparency of others recently. I want to become better at being transparent in my troubles and anxiety as well as in my triumphs. So, I am not sharing this for your sympathy, but because I want to have you all along with me praying, sending good vibes and all of your positive thoughts. Forgive the dorkiness, but I can’t get the image of a virtual Care Bear stare out of my head!

Care Bear Stare

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Kansas City & Go Blog Social

Yesterday, I returned home from Kansas City and the first thing I did was take a picture of the tree across the street. While I was gone the buds had opened up and it was so striking that I couldn’t not take a photo (or ten).

tulip tree, magnolia tree, japanese magnolia, magnolia, bloom, flowering tree

tulip tree, magnolia tree, japanese magnolia, tulip, flowering tree, bloom

See what I mean?

Afterwards I hurried inside because I couldn’t wait to see Young Master Gray. He was all I could think about on the way home. My sweet boy looked up and said hi when I came in, but continued to play. I was not as heartbroken over this as I thought I might be. In fact, I had prepared myself for this kind of welcome. After a fun weekend playing with his cousins, I figured I would not be all he had thought about. He did finally put down his trucks long enough to come give me a hug and a kiss and then went right back to playing. Seeing him happy and enjoying himself made me happier than if he had come running right to me because he clearly was in good hands and had a good time while I was away.

cousins, crystal bridges, Young Master Gray

Once Jeremy’s sister, brother-in-law and their boys headed home, I was able to get down to business–unpacking. Usually unpacking is first thing I do when I return home from a trip. It doesn’t matter how long of a trip it was, how tired I am or how much there is to put away, it has to be done right then. I just cannot sleep without it being done. In the past, there has always been one exception to this though. Whenever I return from a conference as I did yesterday, I tend to leave all of the handouts, swag and business cards I gathered throughout the event sitting there, unpacked. I used to think I was doing this for safekeeping, to keep all of the information together. However, since I rarely reference that information once it comes home, I think it has more to do with me getting overwhelmed by taking in so much information over a short period of time. Like any conference I’ve been to, the speakers at Go Blog Social covered a lot of ground and spoke on varying topics that I truly wanted to learn more about. I am so grateful that I was able to go and to learn, grow and connect. Instead of keeping everything I took away from the conference packed away, I am determined to take all of the info out and put it to use this time. As I begin to unpack and process it all, I hope to share the what I have learned here.

Until then, here are a few highlights from my weekend in Kansas City!

The bed I had all to myself for two nights!

bed, hotel room, AC Hotels

And the shower that I was able to use without interruption!

shower

The clean, modern feeling of the AC Hotels Kansas City.

AC Hotels Westport lobby

Getting together with friends, new and old, and eating yummy food at Lidia’s Italy and First Watch.

KC meetup

Everything about the Go Blog Social conference!

GBSxKC Collage

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Go Blog Social Kansas City

This weekend I am headed to Go Blog Social conference in Kansas City. I am excited to learn more about how to make my blog successful and to meet other bloggers. Looking over the schedule for tomorrow, I have to say I am most excited about the photography workshop with Allison Corrin, and the session on influencer campaigns with Acorn Influence. All of the sessions sound amazing and I know I will come away with new inspiration and insights that I can apply here.

I am just as excited (if not more) about getting to catch up with some college friends and meeting a mom from my online mom’s group for the first time in real life. One of these friends I saw just a few weeks ago, and it has been years since I have seen the others.

Lastly, I am really more excited than I should be about spending the weekend in a hotel room all to myself. I will certainly miss my husband and Young Master Gray, but I am not going to lie–this is something I dream about on a daily basis!

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I am taking my little leprechaun along for the trip and will be posting his adventures on Instagram all this month until March 18. Why March 18 when St. Patrick’s Day is the day before? Well, I’m so glad you asked! March 18 is my birthday and the day that Lucky the Leprechaun first came into my life many, many years ago as a birthday cake topper. I have kept him with my spring decorations for far too long, and I think it’s high time he sees more than the inside of a box for a change!

Have a great weekend!

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Take your health to heart

Heart disease month

Some things seem to creep up on us. Here you are going along with your life, and BAM–it’s already time to renew my tags again? Or, you know, past due as it usually happens in my world. Other examples of sneaky, sneaky annual obligations include holidays, tax season, and the well-woman visit. Listed in ascending order of which induces the greatest amount of dread, of course. Maybe it’s just me, but I dread this appointment more than any other because it’s that extra appointment on top of all of the other doctor appointments I have all year long. However, dread or not, I always make sure I make that appointment.

That wasn’t always the case though. Before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 21, I had never scheduled a well-woman visit. I was young, healthy, active and frankly, I just didn’t see the need. Even when there were signs all around me to remind me of the need to value my health and be proactive, regardless of my age. My brother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only 11, a friend the same age as me with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol, my grandfather who suffered a heart attack, just to name a few. Do I think that a well woman visit would have helped catch my cancer earlier? Absolutely. By the time I finally gave in to my friends imploring me to be seen, I had a tumor the size of a basketball on my ovary. So yes, I do believe that had I scheduled a well-woman visit beforehand they would have noticed that something was off. I was so incredibly fortunate in that while my tumor grew very large, my cancer was still only Stage 1 by the time I had my surgery. In every way, my story is so very different than that of other women who face ovarian cancer. It is usually not detected until late stages when it is often too late. For this reason they call it the silent killer.

I didn’t intend to talk about cancer today, though. I only bring it up to drive home the point that a yearly well-woman visit is incredibly important, no matter your age or how healthy you feel. What I really want to talk about is heart disease, another silent killer of women. In fact, heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, killing more women than all types of cancer combined. The good news is that the American Heart Association estimates that 80% of all cardiovascular disease may be preventable. For women, that means–you guessed it–going for a well-woman visit every year to check blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels and more. If you haven’t had a well woman visit before, know what to expect and be prepared with these tips from Go Red for Women. In addition to scheduling your annual checkup, there are other ways to promote heart health including:

  • Learning the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Did you know that there are many symptoms women suffer that are different than a typical man’s symptoms?
  • Knowing your risk for cardiovascular disease. There are many factors to consider, from family history and age, to diet and exercise.
  • Get trained in CPR. Don’t want to wait? Watch this video to learn how to perform hands-only CPR. Then, find a CPR course offered near you.
  • Become an advocate for heart health in your family, school, workplace or community. Encourage your friends to get checked, teach your kids to eat healthy and exercise, advocate for more woman-related research.
  • Own your lifestyle. Eat right, exercise and don’t smoke.

Don’t let heart disease creep up on you. Early detection can make all the difference. Plus, it’s worth it to do something for your health and your peace of mind.

With this post, I’m joining other Northwest Arkansas Bloggers in #NWARKCares, an initiative to bring awareness to causes right where we live–using our collective voices on our blogs and social media.

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Here we go! {Friday Refresh}

Well, today just did not go as planned. I had planned to have everything ready and spiffy with a nice introductory post to the new blog, but then Young Master Gray woke up at 10 p.m. throwing up. While I had him in the tub cleaning him up, I noticed some green goop in the corners of his eyes. Great. I washed it off with a wash cloth and prayed it would be better in the morning. Then, instead of situating myself on the couch with a laptop in my lap, I had a sleepy little boy to hold and watch Curious George with until he fell asleep. When we woke up the next morning and he cried and told me to keep the lights off, I knew we were really in trouble. Instead of driving him to school and spending the day working, I drove him to the doctor and spent the day being mama. It wasn’t a horrible day, just not the day I had planned. Those plans included a morning post linking to my new site I have been building up for the last few days. Oh well. We got to snuggle, make cookies (I only let him touch the ones he was eating!), and even play outside for awhile.

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I hope you enjoy the new website. I promise to come back and give it a proper introduction next week. {Knock on wood} A big shout out to my friend, Rebekah Wright for designing my new logo and for getting me all set up on the new blog! After you finish checking out the new site, be sure to look her up at Wright Printing!

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Thinking outside the Valentine’s box

So, confession, I am not really all that into Valentine’s Day. I can’t remember a time that I really was. Jeremy and I do not celebrate the holiday and up until this year, I’ve had no reason to decorate a shoebox and buy a package of valentines for Young Master Gray. As you might guess, I was not exactly thrilled to have this task this year. I did come up with a cute idea for the valentine’s box, but my heart still wasn’t in it. The valentine options at the store were nothing to get excited about either. I didn’t want to spend way too much money on overpriced slips of paper plastered with obnoxious characters that would most likely end up in the recycling bin. (Yes, I know it’s possible that one day Young Master Gray may beg for them and I will most likely have to change my stance.) Then, the other day I was scrolling through my Insta feed and I saw the cutest valentines from Gingiber.

Seriously. Just imagine me with heart eyes.

I have shopped with this small, Arkansas-based business before (see Young Master Gray’s shirt in yesterday’s post, for example) so I did not hesitate to purchase them. I mean, for $2 for the digital download and the cardstock that was already sitting in my printer, it was a no brainer compared to the boxed valentine prices! Not to mention they are super duper cute. Cute enough for me to want to hand them out to my own friends!

Now I cannot wait for Young Master Gray’s Valentine’s Day party! Gotta get started on that shoebox…

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Fools on Parade {Downtown Fayetteville}

Yesterday was a bright and beautiful day. The weather was chilly unless you were standing in the sun, and then it was just right. The perfect day for a parade.

The annual Fayetteville Fat Saturday Parade of Fools was a taste of mardi gras with an Arkansas twist. It was our first time to go and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very family friendly. They talked the laissez bon temps rouler talk (with an accent), but didn’t really walk the walk. At least not during the parade.

 

Since Young Master Gray fell asleep in the car on the way, we ended up making it right on time instead of early like I had planned. Even though we didn’t get a great spot to watch the parade from, I think it turned out to be for the better. As it was, we waited a really long time for the parade to even start. Luckily, we were right by a police car and got to see a firetruck drive by before the parade began. Plus, we were right by the Walton Arts Center where they were in the middle of a construction project (as you can see in the above photo). In other words, we had plenty of trucks to look at while we waited.

Afterwards, we got to go see the “choo-choo” Young Master Gray had been eyeing since the start of the parade.

Such a fun afternoon hanging out in Downtown Fayetteville! It made me wistful for the Crescent City. I can’t believe it’s been four years since I wrote this post about my visit to New Orleans. I definitely want to make it back one day!

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