Tips for Traveling With Kids

20160805_173516It’s no secret that I am a paranoid parent. I like to have a plan. I like to have a handle on things. And I like to keep my kids safe by my side whenever possible. So when we decided to take our family to a foreign country to live for a month this summer it nearly sent my controlling, OCD nature into a stressed-out frenzy.

I did a lot of research before we went left and found tons and tons tips for traveling with kids. Here are a few things that put my mind at ease and helped all of us better enjoy our trip.

1. Tag them – The thought of losing my kids was probably the thing that made me the most anxious about our trip.

If you have ever been near the Trevi Fountain during the heat of July or August you’ll know it’s absolute chaos. There are swarms and swarms of people all trying to get to the center of the monument to toss a coin in over their shoulder. There are vendors thrusting goods in your face and groups snapping pics with giant selfie sticks. And everyone seems to be speaking a different language.

20160816_111909I didn’t know how I’d keep my kids from getting lost in places like that and felt really stressed about it until I stumbled across this idea. I tagged each of them on a regular basis. I ordered some of these wristbands and a couple of sharpie markers. I wrote some personal information on the back of the wristbands in Italian before strapping one onto each of them. They said: “Help I am lost. Please call my parents Travis and Natalie at XXXXXXXX.”

Then we practiced a couple of scenarios with our kids on what to do and who to talk to if they got separated from us. It wasn’t a perfect plan – luckily we never had to put it to the test – but it was a plan.

The wristbands seemed to last a few days before the writing blurred together or they started to fray. When that happened we’d strap on a new one. Luckily my kids LOVE wearing these type of bracelets. They always have contests whenever we go to the fun park or the school carnival, to see who can keep theirs on the longest. They wore them proudly and that made this mama sleep better at night.

2. Pack light – What does a month’s worth of luggage look like for a family of six?

20160719_112330No matter how light I thought I packed, it still seemed like a lot. Especially when we were towing it along cobblestone streets while looking for our apartment the first day.

My suggestion to anyone traveling with kids is TRAVEL LIGHTLY. Bring outfits that can mix and max. Bring jeans that you can wear a few times before washing. Only bring one swimsuit per person. Don’t bring towels or blankets. Bring two sets of pajamas per kid – then have them wear them several nights in a row. Take one jacket per person. Only bring one, maybe two pairs of shoes each. This will really reduce the amount you have to tote around.

One of my friends gave me the best advice when she gave me this tip. She told me that she has resigned herself to the fact that when she travels she and her family will be in the same few outfits in all their pictures. It’s worth it not having to worry about extra bags.

We had access to a washer and dryer where we were staying in Rome, so we only took a week worth of clothes for each person and it still felt like we had too much.

But I was proud of myself. I stuck to the bare essentials and rolled all of our clothing into gallon Ziploc bags. I usually pack WAY too much. I always think I need to have extras in case someone has an accident or someone spills gelato all over everything – which happened to us more than once. But in all honesty with the exception of someone having an accident, we didn’t change clothes while we were out sightseeing. So what if my baby girl is wearing her red sauce on her sleeves? At least we knew she liked it!

3. Fi20160726_184213nd Some Comfort Food – We were living in the pizza, pasta and panini capitol of the world. Luckily our kids have grown up eating Italian food so they were pretty good eaters.

But there was the occasional melt down where one or all of our kids were crying for a cheeseburger or fries. Thank heavens for McDonalds. We ate there several times. And although it probably nearly killed my husband to do so, it helped them feel like they were at home.

20160805_203944 4. Allow Electronics – Finally, we allowed our kids to use their electronics more than we ever would have at home.

We gave our kids Kindle Fires for Christmas. We got a really good deal when they were on sale for Black Friday last year. At home they can play on them for 30 minutes a day. We set the parental controls to automatically lock them out when they have reached their limit – unless they are reading.

But that 30-minute limit went right out the window on our trip. We let them use their electronics unlimited while traveling. They could watch movies, play games or read books for hours while we flew in airplanes or rode on trains and buses.

They were in heaven. Which made traveling even easier on all of us.

20160805_203959Like I said earlier, we didn’t want to pack a lot of extra things. So rather than bring a giant toy bag, we invested in our electronics. Right before the trip we bought some new games and videos that they played and watched over and over. They were new and exciting and definitely worth the extra money.

But our kids didn’t just use them when we were on the go, they used them in our Rome apartment. They played them a lot while their dad was working.

And as much as it goes against everything I would normally do, it was one of the best things for us.

I am sure there are many, many more worthwhile ideas that help parents enjoy vacationing with little kids, but most of all I would say that being patient and realizing that a family vacation is very different than a couples or solo vacation is key.

When we took the time to look at things through the eyes of our kids and help them learn about what we were doing and seeing we all benefited. It was so fun to watch them listen to a tour at the Colosseum or try to pretend they were tipping over the leaning tower of Pisa. I’ll never forget my four-year-old running through the streets of Pompeii pretending lava was going to come down.

Those were things I would never have experienced without having them along. We had an amazing time. Traveling with kids can be a great experience.


How Learning a Second Language Has Made Me a Better Mom

I have always wanted to learn a second language. I dabbled in Spanish in junior high school but the only things that I can remember are how to count to ten and sing “La Cucaracha.”

When I very first met my husband I found out he was fluent in Italian. Fluent! I was enchanted.

I asked him to go with me to an Italian opera for one of our first dates. It was so cute how he translated the play for me. I let him do it for the first act before I pointed out the English supertitles.

His talent for Italian only spurred my desire to learn.

But I couldn’t hack it. I bought Italian language books. I listened to free Italian podcasts. I even bought several Disney movies in Italian when he took me to Italy eleven years ago.

But sadly they didn’t work.

Nothing worked – until this year. I found a free language learning app. I started studying Italian on Duolingo.

At first it was hit or miss.

But with a month-long vacation with my family to Italy this summer I knew I would have to get serious. I needed to help myself and my children navigate the streets of Rome.

So I started studying every day. I made it a priority.

Which is probably no big deal for a lot of people but there are very few things I do for myself every day. I barely get dress and brush my teeth every day.

My kids always come first. There are always chores and meals and games and homework and diaper changes and so on and so on.

This time I put some of that aside for 30 minutes each day and I studied my Italian.

And it made me a better mother.

I had to tell my children to wait sometimes. I had to focus on my computer or iPad instead of all of them for half an hour. I had to sit on my couch and do something by myself.

At first I felt guilty. But I knew it would help all of us in the end so I pressed on.
Not only did I learn enough Italian to be able to ask where the bathroom was or how much something cost, I learned how good it felt to do something for myself for once.

I showed my kids that mom gets to do something for herself and the world will keep turning. I showed them that it is important to stick with something we enjoy. I showed them that hard work pays off.

And I reminded myself how much I love to learn.

It felt so good. Sure I’m not 100 percent fluent like my husband, but my 58 percent fluency really paid off this past month while we were living in Rome.

I was able to understand so much more than the last time I visited Italy. I could help my kids order from menus and find train stops. I could ask for directions and apologize to people when my kids were acting crazy. I could buy my own clothes at the market!

All of that felt so good. Putting myself first for thirty minutes a day made me happy and that made me a better mom in many, many ways.

My studying has dropped off since we got back in America last week. But only because I have a hundred things to do to get back in a groove here. When we get settled back into the U.S. I will restart my online learning.

I think it’s good for every mom to find something they do for themselves every day. It might be hard at first. You may feel guilty. But you deserve it. And your kids deserve to see you make time for something you enjoy.

Fidati di me.

I Stink at Summer

Its summer. Which means I can’t find our scissors and tape, our sliding glass door is always left open, tiny ants are eating sticky otter-pop droppings on our floor and I am NEVER EVER ALONE.

Ahh summer. Every spring I long for it. I can’t wait to spend more time with my kids. Then every year two weeks into summer break I’m in tears.

I’m stressed. I’m tired. And I’m depressed.

It’s harder than I think it’s going to be. Every. Single. Year.

This year I was really sick the month before summer break. Not runny nose and sore throat kind of sick, but Lortab, Zofran and Benadryl taking kind of sick. I started feeling better the first week of vacation but I was a lot less prepared than I wanted to be.

So it’s felt even harder this time.

Why is it hard for me?

Because I like order and routine – two things that don’t happen in summer.

There’s no schedule. No order. No break.

And there’s never anything we ALL want to do. (Unless it includes watching Netflix or playing Kindles – two things I’m opposed to doing all day, all summer.)

I daydream about hanging out with my kids playing board games or watching movies. I picture us happily helping each other fold and put away the laundry or making fairy houses for our new flower garden.


We fight over the rules to every game, can’t pick a show everyone wants to see, laundry is “mom’s job” and we haven’t even attempted to start a fairy house.

I have resigned myself to going three months without having an adult conversation. Why? Because my children are ALWAYS near. They want to hear, see and be a part of everything I do.

I used to have a little down time in the afternoons while my younger kids were resting. During the school year I used that time to get dinner ready, pick up the house or catch up on Facebook, emails or my Italian studying.

With no afternoon down time these days I try to get those things done at night but bedtime is also thrown out the window with summer. My kids cry because they want to have “late nights” with their friends. If I let them stay up late they are grumpy the next day because they refuse to sleep in. They will stay up until 11 or 12 and still get up at 7.

Sometimes we get them in bed at the usual time, and then I feel guilty.

I stay up after I’ve sent them to bed “early” and I see videos and comments on Facebook about how amazing summer is and how I need to let my kids live it up and I start crying because I don’t think I let them live it up enough that day.

Sigh. I can’t win.

We are three weeks into summer and I’m barely starting to adjust. I don’t know if it’s getting easier or if I have just let down my expectations.

I’ve given up hope that my children will play outside on by themselves sometimes and give me a moment of peace.

I’ve given up on keeping my house clean. Bring on the ants.

I’ve given up on pinning activities to Pinterest – I can spend a couple hours getting supplies and setting them up for about 5 minutes of fun.

Finally I’ve given up on comparing my summer to other moms’. I’ve decided I stink at summer and that’s just how it’s going to be.

I’m going to keep taking deep breaths to stay calm as I referee my kids throughout these hot summer months. And I’m going to do it all while exhausted.


Ways to Help a Grieving Child


funeral 086

My oldest son reaches in to kiss his baby brother before we close his casket and bury him.

What’s harder than living with a broken heart? Watching one of your children try to live with one.

Earlier this week my son was sobbing before school. He didn’t want to go. He has always hated school. In fact I wrote a few weeks ago about him trying to stay home after a class election didn’t go in his favor.

But this time I couldn’t figure why he wanted to stay home. I asked him if something had happened or if kids were being mean. No.

He couldn’t come up with a reason.

All day long I stewed over what it could be. Is he nervous about his science class? Does he worry about kids sitting by him at lunch? Are they teasing him at recess?

Then it dawned on me. We visited the cemetery Sunday – the cemetery where his baby brother is buried. We took a water bottle and a kitchen knife. We cleaned off his head stone and cut back the overgrown grass from its edges.

My second son wipes away dirt and grass from his little brother's headstone.

My second son wipes away dirt and grass from his little brother’s headstone.

It was a beautiful sunny day. But that trip brought back rain clouds for my 9-year-old son. The flood of emotions resurfaced as we spent time thinking of our lost family member.

This time of year is always hard for our family. Six years ago it was a hopeful, exciting time. We were waiting for our third baby boy to join our family. Then our joy quickly turned to sorrow as we discovered he had died. I delivered him stillborn at 37 weeks.

Since then our family has learned a lot about grief. More than we ever wanted to know.

I sat down with my oldest son Monday afternoon and we had a heart-to-heart talk about missing his brother. He confessed that he was overwhelmingly sad about not having him in our family.

Uggh. I hate that. More than hating the fact that I can’t get over the loss of my baby boy. I wish no one else had to feel the same way. I wish no one felt hurt, anger or sorrow because of his death. I wish I could place a giant happy bubble around the ones I love and cocoon them from sadness.

Regretfully I cannot.

So I gave him a grief journal. I told him he could use it to write to his little brother. Part of our grief (because our child died before he was born) has been mourning the fact that we never got to spend time with our baby boy.

I my son that he could write to his brother about things he wished he could do with him. Tell him what makes him sad, happy, scared or excited. Tell him what he remembers about the day he was born. Tell him how much he can’t wait to spend time with him.

We all know writing is therapeutic for me, why wouldn’t it be for my child?

I’m hoping he can pour his heart into the pages of that colorful notebook. And that it will serve as a positive outlet for his sorrow.

There are a few other things I have found that help my children when they are consumed by sadness.

I am in no way an expert. I have no professional education or training on loss. I acknowledge that every person grieves differently. But the following things have helped my children mourn and internalize the loss of the brother they never got to know.

And since I can’t create that happy bubble cocoon, I thought that the least I could do is pass on some of these ideas in case it may help another mother help her grieving child.

First, speak openly – Right after our son passed away I knew in my heart that I had to be honest with my two living children. One of them was nearly three years old, the other nearly two. They were really young. But I felt like they could handle the truth.

I told them that their baby brother died.

I refused to use phrases like, “he is sleeping,” “he is in a better place,” or “he passed away.”

I didn’t want them to be afraid to go to sleep. I didn’t want them to think that our place wasn’t good enough for their brother and I don’t even know what “passed away” is supposed to mean. If I can’t figure that one out, then how can my two young children?

There are so many phrases associated with death that are meant to lighten the blow. Words like “deceased” or “slipped away” are often used in place of “dead” or “died.”

But nothing could lighten my blow. No matter how you said it my son had died.

Being open and honest with my children allowed me to eliminate confusion for them. I still speak freely and openly about his death. And they can as well. I answer all of their questions no matter how strange they seem.

We have had many, many conversations about what happened. And while I don’t know that this is the right tactic for every family, it has worked wonders for ours. My children feel safe talking about their brother’s death.

Let Them Cry and Let Them See You Cry


Crying is healthy. Crying is natural. Yet sometimes we feel ashamed to show others that we are sad. It’s like there is something wrong with us.

Well there is something wrong. Something terrible sad and terribly difficult happened. We buried one of our family members.

That is huge.

I tell my kids that there’s no reason to pretend that we don’t get down about it sometimes. They have seen me sob over my son. We have all hugged and cried as we have watched his memorial video or the home video we have of his time in the hospital or visited the cemetery.

Letting my kids show emotion about the loss of their brother has allowed them to work through it when it comes. It has minimized them bottling up their sadness.

Give Them Something to Hold on to – My oldest son has a wallet-sized picture of his brother that he keeps in a protective plastic sleeve. He sometimes puts it in his backpack or hoodie pocket and carries it to school.

It reminds him that his brother was real. It keeps him close to his thoughts.

He will put it on his bedpost or inside his wallet. He will show it proudly to others.

I think having a tangible object to hold close to his heart helps with the pain.

Start some traditions – I mentioned earlier that this time of year is difficult for our family. All around us the world is awakening from its slumber. New life is forming as winter melts into spring. While this brings a lot of hope and excitement, it also brings us memories from a darker time. The day that our baby died – April 22 – is particularly rough.

So we have started to do some special traditions to honor his memory – things that we can look forward to when we are feeling sad. (You can read about what we did a couple years ago here)

About one week before his death/birthday I create an online Facebook event for friends and family. I call it “Serve in Luca’s Memory.”

People did so many great things for us after Luca died. It brought us peace and comfort to see the service of others. So, we thought, why not help others? It can be a way to give back and keep his memory alive.

Friends and family members post pictures and comments of things that they do for friends or strangers. From helping a friend move, to donating clothing to others to sending someone flowers. It’s so nice to see what people do for each other in his memory.

We spend Luca’s “angelversary” together as a family. We visit the cemetery and take him small gifts. Sometimes we invite friends and family together to do a service project for Utah Share. Last year we planted a tree together at a local park.

luca's tree 2

DSCF7689Each year we end the night by sending lanterns to our baby boy. We light wish lanterns, watch them fill with hot air and then float off to the heavens.

Those are some of the things we do to celebrate our little Luca’s birthday. They give us something to look forward to on our day of dread.

We do other things throughout the year as well. One thing we have grown to love is donating gifts to a child that would be Luca’s age at Christmas time. We contact a local shelter for a name of a little boy in need. Then we buy him presents and deliver them to the shelter.

There is nothing we can do to bring back our baby boy. But helping and serving helps us feel like we are giving back to others who are having a difficult time. It softens our sad hearts and gives us things to look forward to.

I am sure there are many, many more ways to help children cope with tragic loss. But these are a few things that have worked for us. While I hope no one else has to see their children grieve the loss of a close loved one, I know that it happens to far too many.

If you know of any other great ideas – for children or adults – I’d love to hear them. Because grief is always changing and different things may work better at different times. I am always looking for more ways to work through the sorrows of my heart.

Tooth Troubles

DSC_0409Twist, pull, yank. Wiggle with tongue. Then pull, yank, twist.

I remember fiddling with my baby teeth until I ripped each of them out.

I would get them to where they were hanging by a single root then twist them completely around when “pop” they’d sever.

Wahoo! I had lost another one.

I liked pulling out my teeth. It was fun.

But my kids are terrified of it.

My oldest boys have both thrown giant fits when getting rid of their really loose pearly whites.

DSC_0411Just this week my second oldest son had a tooth hanging by a thread. It was turning reddish black as it filled up with blood while wobbling in this mouth.

It had been ready to pull out for weeks. He could flick it from side to side with his tongue. I’m pretty sure it had lost all its feeling and I was afraid he was going to swallow it in his sleep.

So we sat as a family in the bathroom Tuesday night cheering him on while he cried. We cheered, “Pull it, pull it, pull it,” until he finally caved and twisted it out.


This is just the most recent episode. We’ve sat in the bathroom with nearly lost teeth begging our kids to rip them out several times now. And they won’t let us touch them. They want to do it themselves. But they don’t want to do it. I can neither understand nor explain.

It’s crazy!

And what’s even crazier is that they want to KEEP their teeth. They have written the tooth fairy notes each time they have lost their teeth begging her to let them keep it.

I think it stems from a Super Why! episode where one of the main characters does the same. He doesn’t want to give his tooth away so he writes the tooth fairy begging to keep it.

That inspired my pack-rat natured offspring into doing the same.

So they set the tooth under their pillow with a note and cross their fingers that it – and a monetary prize – will be there in the morning.

Why you would want to keep a tiny, bloody, dead piece of yourself is beyond me. But the tooth fairy has obliged and so we have several baby teeth floating around in plastic sandwich bags in their keepsake drawers.

It’s weird. It’s just another thing I am going to have to get rid of during one of my dreaded de-cluttering rampages.

I think I am going to threaten to put the teeth into a homemade version of a Fuggler. Never heard of them? They are hilarious tooth-filled stuffed animal dolls. Sure they are made from FAKE teeth, but I am sure I could use my sons’ real teeth for the same affect.

Maybe if they see their own teeth in a creepy stuffed animal, it will inspire them to toss the other teeth when they are yanked.

Then again maybe that will keep them from ever wanting to pull out another tooth again!

I’ll be back in the bathroom begging on of them to, “Pull it, pull it pull it.”

Kids these days.

Big Boy Bed

Big Boy BedIt was bound to happen. I mean he was three-and-a-half already. But that doesn’t mean I was ready for my little boy to come waltzing out of his room after he was tucked safely into his crib.

He finally did it. He figured out how to climb up out of the side while using his neighboring dresser as a makeshift ladder.

There he stood in our darkened living room well after bedtime grinning from ear to ear. He had escaped. And he was thrilled.

It’s the first time he’s ever really wanted to come out. He’s never really tried to get out on his own before that.

But that night a month ago was the first of many, many nights (and afternoons for naps) that he helped himself out of his confinement. He claimed that he was “done sleeping,” but part of me knew he was too proud of his newfound freedom to stay caged any longer.

He was growing up.

So we took down the side rail of his crib and transformed it into his brand new big-boy bed. Aside from being a little disappointed that he hasn’t grown into a T-Rex yet (something he’s always wanted to be when he grows up) he has been completely elated with his new sleeping arrangements.

I was less than elated.

My boy. My perfect little rainbow baby. The child who brought more smiles to my face and love to my heart after Luca died than anything else. How can it be that he is growing up so fast? How is he big enough for a crib-less bed?

I was surprised at how hard it was for me to make up his new bed. I tucked the sheets in carefully while pondering how quickly things can change.

A couple weeks later I held this same son’s hand as we walked down the steps to registration at his new preschool.

Again my heart was heavy as I began to internalize what that registration symbolized. Is he really old enough for preschool? Am I really going to have to let him go, without me, twice a week? Can’t I swaddle him close and keep him with me for the rest of his life?

I can’t help but feel like time is racing by for my fourth little baby boy. Sure we’ve made it through the difficult nighttime feedings and I’m more than beyond ecstatic that we survived his potty training days. But that doesn’t mean I am ready for him to “grow up.”

When I sit back and truly think about it, thoughts of inadequacy and doubt creep into my mind. Have I played with him enough? Have we read enough stories together? Did I rock him to sleep as many times as I could have? Sing him enough lullabies? Have we played PJ Masks as many times as possible?

Then I reassure myself that I could waste away asking myself these questions. I know I have done my best. We have built a blanket “HQ” in my room every day for weeks. I can’t tell you how many Lego dinosaurs I have made. And I have found my puzzle piecing soul mate. We have cuddled and snuggled away many, many afternoons. I have loved him to the best of my ability every day of his life.

And when I start to get teary eyed and can’t bear for him to get any older, I close my eyes and picture that grin on his face. The one he wore when he figured out how to get out of his crib and came to find me. That same grin flashed across his face when he met his new preschool teacher and got to play with the T-Rex she had in her toy box.

He’s ready. I can’t hold him back. Nor should I.

Mad Scientist

science projectMy son signed up to do an unrequired, ungraded, extra science fair project this month.

He’s in the fourth grade. Fourth graders aren’t required to do a project. They save that special experience for the fifth and sixth graders. But they can sign up to do a project if they want.

So why…did…my…son…sign…up?

He’s a really smart kid and loves science, but sometimes he gets bored doing projects. He doesn’t like doing homework (what kid does?) and I have to keep on him to get his reading time in.

So when I found out he signed up to do something extra, something that would be incredibly time intensive, I was frustrated.

Not a great motherly response, I’ll admit, but it’s the truth. His father was thrilled and excited that his oldest wanted to learn more. I knew that this “science project” would be a hands-on mother-and-son project. And I don’t even really like science.

I helped him brainstorm projects that related to his fishing passion. He decided to test different fishhooks to see if they would dissolve.

He loved picking out different hooks at the store and concocting different liquids for them to sit in. We set up a tray and let them soak for several weeks.

That was the fun part.

Four weeks later it was time for the not-so-fun part. And I suddenly turned into a mad scientist.

There ended up being a mix-up with the project’s due date. I had a paper saying that the projects were due on Jan. 20. He had a paper that said Jan. 14. I thought we had plenty of time to work but then he came to me really late one night after I thought he was sleeping. He was stressed and anxious that he wasn’t going to be able to get everything done in time.

That’s when I reminded him that this project was his choice. (After reassuring him I’d help him get it done. That we were in this together.)

Of course he was right and we were out of time this week. We had to hustle and pull the project together last minute.

So we spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon and evening typing up his results. If you’ve ever seen my 9-year-old type, you would know that it is a difficult task. You would know that he absolutely hates it.

I took pity on him and helped him type. We had a bargain. I’d type a sentence then he’d type one. Then I’d type one, then he’d type one, etc. But it still took forever.

DSC_0141 1

I was frustrated with him. I was frustrated that it was taking so long. And I was frustrated that elementary school science projects had to be so scientific.

I think elementary school science fair projects are a joke. I think that they were created by teachers who don’t think moms have enough on their plate.

Because there is absolutely NO way that a traditional fourth grader could do all that is required of them for the project on their own. They are judged on typed reports, charts, graphs, illustrations, presentation boards, etc.

They haven’t ever typed a report that long. They haven’t ever set up a colorful giant tri-fold poster board. They haven’t ever set up a table in a word document. They haven’t created a bibliography. And this is just the paper portion.

Let’s talk about the experiment itself. They don’t know how to measure based on the metric system. They don’t know how to create things like “salt water.” They don’t know how to measure results.

It’s not their fault. They are just too young. They haven’t experienced any of this yet.

So let’s have them dive in and figure it all out while playing scientist and crafting an interesting experiment that they have to parade around the elementary school gym while answering difficult questions about their methods – all while in competition with one another.

Sounds fun to me.

I don’t know why teachers don’t let the kids dream up different experiments that they can perform together in class. Wouldn’t it be more fun for them to get to do the projects together? Who needs the detailed reports and tri-fold posters? Hands-on learning together sounds more ideal to me.

I should have taken the time to teach my son as we went. I should have calmly explained how to gather and type up his data. It would have been the perfect situation to nicely show him how a project is done.

But I was a crazy person. I was stressed that he wasn’t helping. I was stressed that he didn’t know what to do. And I was stressed that his three siblings were making a giant mess all over the place while I was working on the project with him.

There was weeping and wailing and some major complaining – by my son and myself. I am ashamed to say that it has not been one of my best parenting weeks.

Of course our printer didn’t have any ink (it never has ink when we need it) so we typed up all that we needed to print off, loaded it to my thumb drive, and made it to the copy store five minutes before it closed.

We cut out and glued on our illustrations, charts and results. And it turned out amazing.

It was frustrating, it was hard and I yelled at my son way more than I should have. But in the end we did it together. I told him that I was proud of his hard work. I told him I was sorry for losing my patience with him. I told him that I blew it and that I should have used this as a teaching opportunity, not a let’s-hurry-and-get-this-done activity.

Then I made sure to follow up by telling him that I’m OK with him not signing up for any extra projects … at least not for a while.

Shred It

Shred it

This is the load of scraps my boys and I shredded. It was stressful and crazy but the boys had the time of their lives.

What day is nearly as exciting as Christmas around here? Shredding day.

Yep. You guessed it. Whenever I get out our small, black, at-home shredder, my kids go crazy like it’s Christmas morning.

To them it’s thrilling and exciting.

To me it’s stressful and terrifying.

Each time I “shred” stuff my boys are like moths to the flame. They can’t get away. They love to watch it. They love to help.

My 18-month-old is the worst. I have to use one hand to swat and scoot him away while using the other hand to regulate the shredder. I’m worried about his cute little chubby fingers and he can’t resist checking out the metal grinding gears.

It scares me to death.

My oldest two are pretty good at helping shred stuff. It’s their favorite chore. But my heart still skips a beat whenever I think their tiny fingers are getting a little too close. I go crazy when they try to shred small receipts.

For me shredding papers is an athletic sport. I’m constantly going back and forth chasing the baby while grabbing more papers to hand to the oldest two, then checking for paper jams and dumping the bin. It’s exhausting.

The worst part (for them) is when the machine overheats and we have to take a break. I’m grateful for the break. It’s a chance to gather up more papers and regroup for the next round.

We have had some good times shredding. We usually end up with tiny paper flecks scattered all throughout the house.

But we’ll never forget the first time we used our shredder. We were shredding hundreds of papers last fall that I had sorted out from my old junior high and high school days. We were on a roll when all of a sudden the machine made a horrible grinding, screeching sound.

Something was jammed.

Apparently there was a penny left in the bottom corner of an envelope and we didn’t notice it until it had been partially “eaten” by the shredder. I’d like to blame it on the fact that I was trying to keep an eye on my little ones’ fingers and that’s how it got through, but who knows.

Our brand-new day-after-Thanksgiving-deal shredder was toast. It took half a dozen screwdrivers and a couple of hours to get that stupid metal coin dislodged. It was cross-cut into the metal.

The boys were so sad that our new “toy” was ruined.

But we got it fixed and have had several shredding parties since.

It may be crazy, I may get nervous and we may end up with a floor filled with paper confetti but I guess at least my boys are excited to help with something. I better take it while I can get it. One paper shredded at a time.


What’s in a Name?

Jayden ClemensWhat’s in a name? Well if you ask my five-year-old he’d tell you everything. Especially since he thinks I gave him the wrong one.

Last week I got some papers ready for my boys to go with their school art contest entries. I was hurrying to get to a meeting and asked them to sign the papers while I got my shoes on.

When I looked at the papers while rushing out the door, my kindergartner had written “Jayden Clemens” on his paper. What?

Now I don’t post the names of my living children on my blog, but you can guess that my second son’s birth certificate does not say “Jayden.”

I was so frustrated. It took me a long time to get the documents ready, only to have him mess them up by signing the wrong John Hancock.

I lectured him about why he should write his right name. I talked to him about how I loved his name and gave it to him for a reason.

Then I told him that his teacher wouldn’t know whose paper she was grading if he wrote the wrong name on things. The very next day I found a backpack full of papers with “Jayden Clemens” written on the top.

He had been using the wrong name at school!

Why does he hate his name?

Because deep down he is the Red Power Ranger from the Power Rangers Samurai – aka Jayden.

How did I not know this?

I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m ruining his life by not rushing to the courthouse to legally change his name.

Now most kids my son’s age are just learning to spell their first given name. Let alone their last name, or the name they wished they had. I should be grateful that he’s smart, witty and capable.

But I love his name. It may not be fit for an aspiring power ranger wannabe but to me it’s fitting for him.

Dutch Oven Bug-Cooking Disaster


A slug roasting on our Dutch oven lid.

It’s a miracle any of my children survived to eat the Dutch oven lasagna we cooked last week. Cooking outside in the wild ended up being just that – wild.

By the time we were ready to eat it I was ready to throw in the towel on motherhood. I swear I’m not cut out for most of these things.

I was cleaning up inside while my husband set up the Dutch oven in our cooking pit outside.

When I made it outside to check on our meal I was greeted by my two oldest boys who were so excited to show me something in a bubble bottle they couldn’t hardly contain themselves.

What was it?

A drowned Black Widow Spider. I’m not kidding. I’ve lectured them about touching them. I’ve tried to scare them to death with stories of how they will infect them with poison. But they just don’t seem to get the fact that spiders are dangerous. And Black Widows are number one or two on the danger list.

They assured me that they didn’t “touch” it. They used a set of pliers to pluck it from our backyard window well. Then they drowned it in the water.


What was even more repulsive was when my husband dumped the stupid spider out of the bottle and it started wriggling around on the ground. The “drowned” spider was still alive and kicking.

I’m going to have to bug bomb my entire house to keep from having spider-fang-piercing-my-skin nightmares.

After the spider episode I went to the backyard to look for some cantaloupe from our garden. I was so stoked about a yellow-orange melon that fell off our vine that I forgot to keep an eye on our one-year-old. Where was he headed? You guessed it, straight for the fire-hot Dutch Oven.

The next thing I knew he was screaming and crying. He had burned two of his cute, chubby fingertips on the hot metal oven. I was horrified.

I can’t believe I forgot to keep him safe. Worst. Mother. Ever.

It took forever to calm him down. I kept running his hand under the cold water in our bathroom wishing it were my fingers that were burned not his.

To make me feel even better, my oldest son pointed out at dinner that it could have been much worse. Our baby could have fallen into the Dutch oven pit and burned his face.

Nice. Thank you for the mental image. At that point I couldn’t have felt worse.

We all went back outside and my two oldest got in a fistfight over a toy. My oldest ended up punching my five-year-old in the mouth several times.

I carried swollen mouth boy into the house and made him sit on one couch while the aggressor was forced onto the other couch. They sat in timeout for several minutes. Those were the calmest minutes of the night.

Then they were let off time out and back outside.

Just before our meal was done cooking, I heard my oldest shouting next to the Dutch Oven. Seriously? I thought he was burned too. But no, it was only his slug that was burned. And he wasn’t mad that it was roasting on the Dutch oven. He was mad that he dropped it prematurely.

Turns out that while my husband and I were cooking lasagna on the inside of our Dutch oven, our oldest two boys were cooking up a bug buffet on the outside.


They were grilling insects on the lid of the oven. I nearly threw up.

In one hour my children had handled a wickedly dangerous venomous spider, boxed their brother’s face swollen, burned blisters to the tips of their fingers and roasted a delicious dinner of grasshopper and slug.

They were out of control and I was ready to give up.

The only thing that made me feel better was eating two giant slices of the homemade Dutch oven lasagna.


It was delicious.

Then I went to bed, pulled the covers over my head and prayed that the next day would be more serene.

Luckily it was. Otherwise I may have quit.

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