G-U-A-R, just like in GUARD…

I used to give spelling tests all day. Every Friday, I’d give five spelling tests to five groups of thirty eighth graders. Then we would grade them in class, after I passed out red pens to everyone. My system was to randomly draw 20 words from a bucket of 100 – the same 100 all year – so we had many repeated words. Let’s just say I got really good at spelling “definitely”, which had always given me trouble.

Now, I give two spelling tests on Fridays. One to Leah, in fourth grade, which is pretty straight-forward. I give the words, she writes them down & then checks her paper. She’s a girl (generally better at language), and a big reader, so she usually does very well.

The other test is for Ben, in second grade. Words are not quite so fun for him. He is a good reader, but it hasn’t quite translated to being a good speller.  Here is how his spelling tests go:

Me: Breeze. The breeze blew my hair around. Breeze.

Ben: (scribbles something)

Me: Um, not quite. You have a letter wrong.

Ben: (erases a letter)

Me: No, not THAT letter!

Ben: (grimaces and rewrites the letter, starts erasing another letter)

Me: Ben, you had this word a couple weeks ago, and we just spelled it yesterday with Bananagrams. Remember?

Ben: Yes, I remember! But I don’t remember how we spelled it!

Me: Breezzzze. Breezzzzze.

Ben: Oh yeah! (writes it correctly)

On to the next word. Repeat a similar conversation, but this time maybe he’ll say instead, “Just go on to the next one!”, knowing he’ll have to rewrite his misspelled words three times each.

These spelling tests for a second grader are MUCH more gut-wrenching for me than when I was a “real” teacher. The objectivity of standing in front of the class obviously saved my sanity.


What word do you continue to misspell? I canNOT spell “guarantee” without looking it up.

Dine and Dash

This weekend we happened to be out of town at dinner time (or supper, if you grew up the way I did!).  Our restaurant of choice was a pizza buffet. It doesn’t really matter which one – we’ve been to this chain before and always have been happy…at least as happy as you can be at a pizza buffet with three kids, one of them being a four year old who insists on cheese pizza, NOT cheesy breadsticks. Because there is obviously a difference.

Anyway. This story actually has nothing to do with my own family. It DOES have to do with my instincts as a mom.

As I sat down at our round table, situated almost in the buffet area (the only available seating large enough for us when we arrived), I noticed a young man seated at a 2-person booth across from us. Aaron was across our table from me, with his back to this young man.

I noticed the young man because he had his head bowed into his hands, the plate of pizza untouched in front of him. I thought, “Wow, I think he’s praying…that’s kinda awesome and unexpected.”

Then his friend sat down opposite him and started eating. And still, the young man kept his head bowed.

Definitely not praying. I continued watching him (while getting food for that four year old and myself) and he remained in the same position.  Momma-knowledge kicked in. He obviously wasn’t feeling well, and for a split second I wanted to go put my hand on his forehead to take his temperature. I resisted that urge.

I also briefly considered going over and asking if he was all right, but didn’t because I was afraid that he would be embarrassed, and also that my concern may trigger a shower of vomit.

The dude was suffering.

Finally, I watched him put his hands down, stand up, walk towards the bathrooms, do one of those half-retches, with his hand over his mouth, and then bee-lined it for the bathrooms.

I had to share. “Aaron, that guy is 3 seconds from ralphing. He almost puked all over the salad bar.” Don’t you wish you got to have dinner with me?!

As badly as I felt for the young man, it was the actions of his friend that completely bewildered me. (Although my brother, when told the story, accurately predicted this next part, which makes me think it’s a male/female difference…)  While his friend was obviously ill, his friend continued eating with no change of expression, and went back for refills several times. There was no interaction between the two at all. As the young man left for the bathroom and nearly blew chunks over half the buffet, his friend actually half-chuckled – in between bites of pizza. He continued eating for several minutes. At some point I noticed that both had left, and the one had never come back to the table. “Maybe he went out the back door, ” Aaron speculated. I could barely eat having watched this whole thing go down – I can’t imagine putting away the pizza as the friend had done, with that greenish face directly opposite me!

A bit later, Ben and I went to the bathroom. The whole hallway was freshly and enthusiastically mopped. Something tells me that he didn’t make it to the bathroom.

Lest you think that the pizza had caused his regretful situation, I’ll remind you that his plate was untouched…and there was only the one plate. Which leads to the question: who on EARTH would agree to go to a pizza buffet if they felt that ill?! Paying nine dollars to puke in a public bathroom doesn’t seem like the best plan for a Saturday evening.

Something tells me a sugar pill wouldn’t help.

I’m not sure how it first entered our happy home. Maybe Aaron brought it home from work, or maybe visiting family brought it with them. I’d seen on Facebook that lots of other people – friends, even – were dealing with similar symptoms. Maybe I was naive to think we wouldn’t be affected.  But we are.

The name of this rampant illness? Candy Crush.

It’s a game on Facebook. Apparently it’s highly contagious. Fortunately, as has been demonstrated in the past with other illnesses, I have a strong immune system. But this game has already taken down at least two of my family members.

Aaron, the Handy Husband, has found it especially enthralling. After he kept complaining that I wasn’t playing, and so couldn’t give him these much-needed “extra lives” so that he could “pass the level”, I finally caved and let him sign me up.

Which lead avid read Noel to comment, “Hey Liz, whydontcha write a blog post instead of rotting your brain playing that mind-numbing game?” Or something like that.

I’m here to tell you all, that if you see reports of my “levels passed” or “requests for help”, please know that they are coming straight from the diminutive hands of the second victim in the house, lovely daughter Leah.

Not that I’ve been completely immune to all Facebook games. I’ve gone through bouts of Family Feud, Scrabble (in various forms), and Song Pop. For a while I even thought of listening to “regular” radio (instead of Christian station Air1, our usual) as “studying for Song Pop”.  Those have lasted for varying amounts of time, but in this area I have a short attention span. I prefer to use Facebook to – gasp! – communicate with friends.  My extrovertism rears its head once again!

Is there a game that has sucked you in? Is there a game you’ve flat-out refused to try, regardless of how many of your friends are playing it? Is there a game that you’ve given up to allowed your kid to play instead of you?


Today was our last day of homeschool. FINALLY. I am not the only mom thinking that (Jen Hatmaker speaks for those who send their kids off to school) and I’m not even the only HOMESCHOOL mom thinking, “Praise God, we’re done!”

Due to my few years in the classroom before becoming a parent, I felt like the last day had to be special somehow. Different. Not business as usual.

So we played computer games. ALL. MORNING. I had one kid at the desktop, one on the laptop, and another using Dad’s iPad.  I found some great websites that had a lots of games on a variety of subjects (This one, especially!) and set the kids to work. Meanwhile, I put away the random clutter that’s been slowly taking over our kitchen & living room. And bounced between those screens trying to help explain games and keep Adam from clicking on the side ads.

It was fun, different, and I think it was actually beneficial. Also, it was raining. Just in case I needed more justification.

Oh yeah, and in the afternoon when the sun came out, we had lots of friends over for root beer floats.

How do/did you celebrate the last day of school?

If I could wave a magic wand, I would.

You know, life was getting boring.  I mean, other than homeschooling, dance AND piano recitals, teeth falling out, and birthday parties every thirty days, our lives had just gotten SOOOO predictable.

What is a mom to do? Start a major remodeling project? SURE! Why not.

It started with deciding to finally convert our wood-burning fireplace to gas. We have used our fireplace about twice in the four+ years we’ve lived in this house, and I just finally HAD IT with this big unused thing taking up visual real estate in our living room.  We went to the fireplace showroom and looked around, and then Aaron spoke the fatal words, “You know, why are we putting in a nice fireplace if the rest of that wall is junky?  We should just knock out the whole wall and start over.”

Now, friends, some wives might be in seventh heaven if their husband gave a green light to this kind of project. But not me. Oh, don’t get me wrong. After I picked myself up off the floor (my Handy Husband usually takes about three years to make this kind of financial commitment to a non-urgent purchase) I was impressed with his cooperativeness.

I, however, am not the kind of woman who relishes these big scale projects. I can choose a paint color (witness our multi-hued home) or a carpet, but ask me about more than 3 features that need to coordinate – fireplace surround, cabinets, trim color – and it’s like you asked me about calculus. My mind draws a blank.

Thankfully I have lots of friends who are better at this sort of thing than I am, AND a little website called Houzz.com which is pretty awesome if you are looking for any house ideas. Search “stone fireplace dark built ins” and get about 3,000 results. I’ve been looking at photos of fireplaces until my eyeballs bleed.

And this project is morphing as we go. The path is a twisted one, so beware a simple thing like “convert wood fireplace to gas”. You will find yourself choosing a new surround, cabinets, paint colors for ceiling beams, and where to put new lighting. It’s enough to make me want to gag, folks.

So you know what we are working with, here is a photo of The Wall, after the very teensiest bit of demo…Aaron couldn’t resist.

We are for sure taking the wood off the wall behind the shelves – and as demonstrated on the left, there is textured drywall behind them! Yay! We are going to paint those sections the same color as the current walls, keeping in mind that later on we may do a slightly darker color if it all looks goofy.

Aaron is dead set on painting those ceiling beams white. Who am I to say no? He’s doing all the labor, and offered to repaint them dark if we didn’t like it.  Decisions remain to made on the color of the lower cabinets and the fireplace surround… and whether to go with the fake logs inside the fireplace, or glass or stones. (I mean, everyone knows those logs are fake, so why persist with the illusion?!)

I can’t even picture what this room will look like with all the changes made. Can you?!

Let me also say that I realize how incredibly blessed we are to have this “problem”. If you want to spiritualize this project, you could say that we are trying to be good stewards of what God has given us, in improving the house’s resale value…even though that is probably 15 years down the road.

Ever gotten in too deep with a redecorating/remodeling project? When did you come up for air?!


Garage Sales (+kids) Survival Guide

It is well-known that one of my favorite warm-weather activities is hitting a few garage sales. I am choosier now than in the past when I had babies outgrowing clothes every few months, but it is still fun to see what “treasures” I might find.  There is nothing like a garage sale to make you feel rich with that 10 bucks in your pocket!

In this area, it seems that the “best” sales are beginning on Friday or even Thursday. This means that if I want to get to them, I need to bring my three shopping buddies. These buddies are starting to get old enough to be pretty good shoppers, but this has not always been the case. Here are my tips for taking kids to garage sales:

1) Plan your route. Have an idea of where you are going, and choose sales that are larger, in case you don’t get to all the ones you want. 

2) Be realistic about how long your kids can make it. And be prepared to change your plans if needed. (This is pretty much standard parenting advice no matter the situation.)

3) Bring food, and plan for a treat. When my kids were littler, I’d pack some sliced fruit to eat in the van, and go through the McDonald’s drive-thro for pancakes. What a hit! I’d throw them back to the kids, who’d gobble them up even without syrup (because I’m not insane.)

4) Bribes. Again, this is standard parenting advice. I’d try to go to a “kids” sale first, and usually a new book or Hot Wheels car right away would keep them happy for quite a while.

5) Leave them in their carseats. Those seats are most of the hassle for moms of little ones at garage sales – the in and out gets pretty old. If I could get a close parking spot, I’d leave them in the van, belted in, with either the heat or AC running as needed, and some tunes on the radio.  This works best after food and a bribe. This is not the time to leisurely look through stacks of onesies. If it’s a busy sale, lock your doors. And if your kids have a habit of getting out of their seats and messing around, it might be best to skip this altogether.  Use your best judgement!

6) Let them bring their own cash. Ben and Leah now have their own money (from birthdays, etc) to burn. Before heading out to sales last weekend, Ben told me he was bringing $18 with him.  Um, NO, buddy. MOM didn’t even have that much cash!  I have a $2 limit for the kids, and I have to approve their purchases. If there is whining about my decision, that is the end of purchases for the day. Oh, and Daddy says “No stuffed animals!”

7) State the rules. Adam doesn’t have that kind of dough to sling around, but I usually buy him something anyway. Twice now it has been a toy in the $3-4 range, which is pretty spendy for me at garage sales. He has gotten several reminders of, “This is the only toy we are buying you,” and so far, he has been great. No whining or anything. Crossing my fingers here.

8) Remind them that the sales are an adventure. Whenever a kid starts whining that they haven’t found anything yet, I have to remind them that the whole nature of the sales is an adventure – we never know what we are going to find! Or not find. Regardless, IT’S NOT MY FAULT.  And we can always just NOT GO to garage sales.

Ben recently bought a Hungry Hungry Hippos game (which he had mentioned wanting only a few days earlier) for $1, a Flat Stanley book, a Nerf gun (without the darts, but ours fit it), and was given a Bakugan toy.

Leah bought a Klutz book on making friendship bracelets – perfect, since a babysitter had just taught her the basics.

Adam has come out with a remote control Lightning McQueen, and an Imaginext pirate whale.

I got two mornings at my favorite hobby, with my favorite kids as company.

Do you have any advice for taking kids to garage sales – or any other kind of shopping?

No tears? Take a step back.

My daughter has a couple of friends over to play. These friends are sisters, about the ages of Leah and Ben. They live nearby, so this type of playdate is a regular occurrence. The girls are sweet and polite, and we are friends with their parents. So the following comments are not meant as a criticism of either, but more of an observation on how kids play together.

Because we have the perfect set up for playing school (because it’s our REAL school!) that is the “game” the girls start out playing most often. Usually girl A  is the teacher, and today the subject was geometry. Leah was learning about angles and vertices and surface…I may hire A to come teach every day! Then girl B took over, teaching art.

At this point I was wondering, “When is Leah going to teach something?” But I kept my mouth shut. Their playing was going just fine, no one was upset, and it was only my pride being bruised.

My daughter is confident and smart, and I know she is learning a ton this year. Why did I feel the need for her to prove it to her friends? What did *I* have to do with this anyway?! Am I that insecure about my teaching of homeschool that I feel threatened by an 8 year old spouting geometrical terms?

Yes. Apparently I AM that insecure. But I am still objective enough to keep out of the way when friends are over. Let them play. I’m quite sure that Leah will let her friends know when she’s tired of being the student. Until then, maybe she’ll have a head start on her math.

Have you ever found yourself wanting to intervene in your kids’ interactions with peers? What was the result? Do you wish you HAD stepped in, or should you have stayed out of it?

This is only a test.

This has been an unusual week for us. Instead of staying at home mornings to “do school”, I have been driving the kids to the school Leah attended for kindergarten and 1st grade. This has been “testing week” there, and that has included my kids. I should also clarify that this has been totally voluntary on our part – the state does not require testing this year, and we will not be reporting the scores to anyone. Mostly, it’s a test of MY teaching!  It will also let us track their progress as they will take this same test every year when they return to regular school.

Instead of getting up when they feel like it and generally starting school around 9am, they’ve been getting up at 7am. Leah has been awesome. Ben has been slightly less than awesome.  A crowbar would probably be helpful in getting him out of bed, but Adam just flicks the light on, and that helps too.

We need to be getting ready to head out the door at 7:30am, because even though it’s about a 15 minute drive and school doesn’t start until 8am, you KNOW that getting 3 kids into shoes, jackets, and backpacks in going to take more than no time.

Monday we got a reprieve. A lovely April snowstorm resulted in a 2-hour delay of start time for the schools in the area.  The plan had been for Ben to spend half a day at school Monday through Wednesday, and for Leah to stay the full day those same days. Instead, Ben also got to spend a full day on Monday.

Tuesday, we were all in the van and ready to go as planned. As I drove down our street, my van was making a very loud odd noise. “Could it be the frozen slush on the road?” I thought.  “Do I have ice in a wheel well?” I pulled over shortly to check, and found that a tire was as flat as a tire could be.  So flat that I was concerned that driving back home would damage the rim – but didn’t know what else to do.  At home, Aaron put air in the tire, we swapped vehicles, and he dropped the van at the shop. “Unrepairable,” they told us a few hours later.  A new tire was put on, we picked it up, and were home for lunch.

Today, thankfully, has gone as planned.

Keep in mind that school gets out at 3pm and on Monday the kids have swimming lessons at 4pm, and Leah has dance at 4pm on Tuesdays.  Aaron asked me yesterday, “So, how are you liking this full time school thing?” and I said, “It sucks!”  I’m so glad that we have another year of less driving and less schedule. When the kids DO go back, they will all have the same schedule – none of this mid-day pick up junk.  I don’t know how you “real school” parents do it!

This hasn’t been an ideal testing week for the school, either. In addition to Monday’s late start (which teachers -former and current- know means death to the peacefulness of a known schedule), there were THREE fire drills Tuesday afternoon thanks to a rogue sensor.  I can’t wait to hear what happens today! Maybe someone will let a puppy loose in the halls or something.  Not that I want to give anyone ideas!

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened while you were taking a test?

I know what we’re gonna do today!

We had Ben’s birthday party Saturday morning. Seven 7-year old boys were able to come, and I was amazed at how well they played all the games! If you are new to my little world, you should know that I like birthday parties to run like a machine. Craft-games-cake-presents, that is my formula.  Keep everything moving so there is not enough time for arguments to break out…or kids to break out.

Our theme was Phineas & Ferb. In fact, those two crazy brothers have kind of been our theme for the year, after we received tickets to the stage show Phineas & Ferb Live: The Best LIVE Tour Ever! from aunts & uncles as an early Christmas present.  Then we went to Disneyland in January and saw them a bit there, too.  And since the kids watch the show (via Netflix) any chance they get, it seemed like a great party idea.  I didn’t mind too much either.

Activity #1 – The craft. This is becoming more of a challenge as Ben gets older. Trying to find something that is cool enough for the boys to be interested in, but still be simple enough for my minimalistic tastes can be a little difficult. Thankfully, Pinterest now exists!   (You can follow me there – www.pinterest.com/ModernDayJane)  There I found this cute project, but then of course I simplified it.

The original instructions say to cut 2 of all the head, hair, and eyeball pieces, glue them together, and then sandwich between two popsicle sticks.  Since I had Leah do all the tracing of the templates, and we had hours until the party, I decided that the boy could color the sticks instead of painting them (no dry time!) and they could just do a single thickness of everything.  It worked out great, and the boys sat and worked on them so nicely! The last time I had a party with a craft for boys, it devolved into a running-chasing-wrestling game, so I was very pleasantly surprised. I think it helped that I had them sit down right away with no craziness to distract them.

Then, I had a game for each of the major characters. The kids got to pick, and they chose Phineas & Ferb’s game – constructing towers out of mini marshmallows, toothpicks, and coffee stir straws.  The original goal of “who can make the tallest tower” was quickly thrown out the window and the boys just had fun building.

Perry the Platypus/Agent P’s game was a laser tunnel.  My Handy Husband set up the tunnel in the stairwell so he could wrap the yarn around the banisters on each side.  The goal was for the kids to get through without touching the lasers, and get to the remote for the evil Dr. Doofenschmirtz’s latest “‘-inator” at the top.

It was easier for the littler guys than for the taller ones, like C above! But they all had fun with it, and it was kind of nice to have a game where brawn wasn’t necessarily an advantage. (Although another Mr. C said that he had been a spy in The Promised Land play at school – about Joshua & Jericho – so he was good at sneaking.)

The next game was ALL ABOUT brawn.  Leah drew the Dr. Doofenschmirtz head to put on our “pinata”, another Pinterest idea.  It’s just a paper bag that we roughly decorated.  Again, the Handy Husband rigged it up in the “big room”.

We had each of the kids take a whack at the “pinata” while blindfolded, and since no progress was made on the destruction, had them take turns with full vision. It still took a while!  The “pinata” was stuffed with Phineas & Ferb fruit snacks, splash balls & parachute guys for the goodie bags, and some random candy.  We divided it up among the goodie bags (labeled with the names of guests) and moved to the last game.  By this time we only had about 20 minutes until parents were supposed to return, and we still had cake & presents left!

Instead of having the kids do a relay to pop balloons, I had them all sit down (cause I was starting to panic at all of them rushing us) and then Aaron and I dumped 2 garbage bags of balloons all over. The goal? Pop them as fast as you can. The name of the game? “You’re So Busted!”, in honor of Phineas & Ferb’s big sister Candace.

Leah informed me that we hadn’t filled the balloons enough – they didn’t pop right away. Aaron even had to assist a bit!

FINALLY we had cake. Isn’t this the cutest teal platypus cake you’ve ever seen?!

I made copious amounts of orange fondant, half of which is leftover.  The cake is a 9×13, cut in half and stacked. The eyes are marshmallows cut in half with an M&M stuck to them.

Ben ate his lunch while reading a new book, one of his presents. He is very studiously avoiding looking at the camera. But now you get a good photo of the cast of Phineas & Ferb.  I got this set from the Disney Store, which has surprisingly good prices on this kind of toy, if you catch a sale. These guys were $10.  They were originally going to go on the cake until I talked myself into making fondant again!

The boys all had fun, and as much as Aaron teases me about my “structured” birthday parties, he was the first to admit that as soon as there were 30 seconds of down time, there was a pile of boys trying to seriously injure each other.  We probably could have cut out one of the activities and had a more leisurely pace, but reports from one guest was that it was “the best birthday party ever”.  I’m counting it as a win!

Our other birthday traditions that I didn’t share here are a photo of the birthday kid and their cake with mom and dad – no siblings allowed! I get a balloon bouquet to match the theme, and that’s usually in the photo, too. (Bouquet: one mylar, 3 regular balloons.)

I also write a birthday quiz for the honoree. This year, since there weren’t any extra adults at the party – sometimes we have a family party the same day, but it didn’t work out this time – we decided to wait and do quizzes for both Leah and Ben when we celebrate her birthday in about a month.

Do you have a birthday tradition in your home?

Are you eating? Finish before reading.

I have two stories for you, and poo plays a starring role in both. So go ahead and finish that snack. I’ll wait.

Adam has been a potty-training rock star. The only time he even pooped a little in his undies is when he had a stomach bug, so I don’t even count that. 

The other day he was in the bathroom and yelled, “Mommy! I pooped on the floor!” and I was rather surprised. Not that he called for me – oh no, THAT was not shocking at all. Kids never call for DADDY when there is poo involved. 

And neither was I very surprised that there was poo on the floor. After a Ben took a leisurely two years to be fully potty trained, that was not an unusual situation. (Ben’s issues have a lot to do with his body running regularly constipated.)

What shocked me about this situation is that when I got into the bathroom, there was only a small streak on the floor. No poo.  I wiped it up, wiped the kid’s bottom, and did some inquiring about the alleged “poop on the floor”, especially since the undies, pants, and socks were all clean.

But this mom hasn’t watched hours and hours of detective shows for no reason.  A glance at the roll of toilet paper showed a familiar-hued streak there also. I asked Adam about it, and he said, “The poop was on my hand. I picked it up and flushed it.”

THERE. There is where I was shocked.  If this kid had been Ben instead of Adam, instead of calling for me (relatively calmly, in fact!)  there would have been much wailing and gnashing of teeth, accompanied by a few screams and possibly crying. And picking up poo WITH A BARE HAND would simply never have happened.

I told Adam that next time he should leave it and let Mommy or Daddy clean it up, and he said, “But then you’ll have poop on YOUR hand?”


Speaking of. As I was doing laundry this afternoon, I opened the washing machine and started to put stuff into the dryer. All of a sudden, a lump of something flew out and landed on the floor in front of me. I probably don’t have to tell you what it was.  And yes, I rewashed the whole load with hot water. And washed my hands. Twice.

Have you ever had to rewash a load of laundry?