Category Archives: parenting

Little Bits

None of these necessitate a post of their own, but they are all little tidbits of daily life around here that I want recorded.

-Whether the team is good or bad, the boys never miss an Illini basketball game. Game time looks like this around here:


last week’s fireside pizza picnic at game time


sunday afternoon game


littlest illini fan likes to have something else to do during the game, but still be in the same room as everyone.

I love it. I love that they’ll always share this bond and memory of their childhood. And that Matt is always alongside them for this.

- Bennett and Jack Henry have long had an oil-and-water relationship for the most part. There are glimpses of happy moments like this one…


b can be such a sweet and kind teacher/helper.

…but usually, they’re bickering or picking at each other. Like any time they’re together.

They’ve been sharing a room for 18 months now, and surprisingly, there really aren’t any problems with this arrangement. In fact, bedtime is the one time of day that they seem to actually like each other. Almost every night for the past month now, there is a lot of giggling and whispering coming from their room at bedtime.

I’ve admitted on here before that I am not a patient person when bedtime rolls around. Usually, I’m feeling very much like I just want them to go to bed, so that I can have a little bit of quiet before I want to go to bed (yes, that’s selfish. But it’s also true, which is why I’m saying it.).

Lately though, I’ve fought the urge to shush them as they lay there laughing. It’s the only time of day they’re friends. Even though it kind of makes me crazy, I need them to like each other.

So, future Bennett and Jack Henry: I sincerely hope that this helped your relationship. Know that I decided that it’s worth the 15 minutes of lost sleep.

- I love weekends during our baseball off-season. They’re just so chill and fun and we get stuff done around the house. It’s fabulous. Of course, I love baseball season, too. But managing our calendar during that time just gets more than a little crazy.

I will need to see this in writing in April, when I’m wondering if some sense of calm will ever return to our house.

-I love our church. Being part of a community is so important.

Happy Sunday!

Spelling Bee: Results

After 8 days of prep, today was the big day. The spelling bee.

Luke and 17 other 3rd-5th graders got the chance to participate in the school-wide spelling bee this afternoon. I honestly had no idea what to expect in terms of how well he would do. I mean, he studied his butt off this past week…he couldn’t have done much more in terms of being prepared. But I just didn’t know how he’d cope under pressure, how the other kids would do, etc.

It went so, so much better than I ever could’ve expected!

Matt’s mom and dad joined me for the day, which was so fun. I was really glad they were in the audience with me. When we got there, I could tell Luke was nervous, but he seemed ok.

The first round consisted of very simple words, almost a warm-up for the kids. Over the next couple of rounds, only a few kids misspelled their words, but by round 6, it was down to 7.

4 kids were left by round 8. Including Luke. This was about the time I felt like I may be developing an ulcer.

Round 9. 3 kids. And this is where Luke made an error. On the word isochronous.

Yeah. No shame in losing on a word most people have never heard, right? :) We’d studied more than 3/4 of the list, and this was a word we didn’t get to. Oh well.

spelling bee 1

so i hate the angle i had for pictures. we were the first ones there, and could’ve sat at the back of the room looking straight on at the kids. but, i thought, they’ll turn towards the audience to spell their words, and i’ll have a great side angle. nope. they looked at the judges. obviously. so this is the best i got.

spelling bee 2

quick pic with nana jo and papa ron before they headed home!

Here’s the list of words he got today (minus one none of us can remember):

I’ll finish this up with a little note to my boy.

Dear Luke,

I just want to tell you one more time how proud I am of you. Not just for finishing in the top 3 today; I would’ve been proud no matter what round you exited in. What I want you to know is that I’m so, so proud of the effort you put into studying for this.

And I hope that’s your take-away from this whole experience: evidence that working really hard towards a goal had a big payoff. No, you didn’t win. But I know that you did even better than you’d hoped. Plus, you and I  (and the rest of our family) learned how to spell a lot of words as well as a lot of definitions to the words we just couldn’t resist knowing more about.  Like mugwump. Or leonine.

If that’s what you can carry with you from this, I’ll be happy. That lesson, that hard work is worth it, especially as you enter middle school next year, will take you farther than any spelling bee victory ever would.


From Really Picky to Much Less Picky.

I wish I could say with all sincerity “from really picky to not at all!” in the title, but that would be a lie.

And per rule #5 on the family chalkboard, we don’t tell lies. Also, note to self: learn how to letter in chalk. We’ll go ahead and call that a 2014 goal, since I haven’t set any yet.

photo 3

We still have some fairly picky eaters in this house.

And they come by it honestly; my dad called me “Picky Nikki” for years, and I still have a few food aversions (but really, who doesn’t?). However, I mostly overcame my pickiness by high-school age, and I am SO happy that my kids are overcoming it much earlier than I did. Because life is too short not to eat good food and try new things, right?

Last weekend, I thought of a salad I used to order at a restaurant called Cheddar’s, which we don’t have in the St. Louis area. They make this awesome Grilled Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad that I love. I used to make it years ago for Matt and me for dinner sometimes, but along the way (“the way” being several years of children who don’t eat salad), it was forgotten.

I got all excited, thinking about making it for dinner. I meal-planned on Sunday (the week ALWAYS goes better when this happens), and put it on Monday night. I gave the boys a heads-up that we were having this, and the older two were actually excited. That’s the moment I realized it: we have come really, really far.


Probably 2 years ago, I started introducing very basic Romaine lettuce salads as a side at dinner. It started as a couple of bites loaded with dressing gagged down by the boys (then 8, 6 and 4ish), and turned into a regular part of our weeknight dinners over time. They all eat a side salad with a sensible amount of dressing with absolutely no problem now, but all prefer the salad fairly plain: lettuce, spinach (they do best if it’s chopped up and not whole leaves, but that’s fine), a little cheese, maybe some croutons.

We introduce lots of things like this: alongside other things they really like, with a “try a bite or two” rule. I realize there are some foods they’ll never like (Luke STILL can’t eat green beans without gagging), and that’s fine, but repeated exposure to so many things has meant expanded palates and more dinner choices for us.

Jack Henry is easily still the pickiest, but I have to say, he’ll readily try almost anything new. He doesn’t often get a new “favorite” from those tries, but we press on. Bennett is probably the most adventurous eater and frankly, has the biggest appetite…he tries things and generally likes more new things than the others. Luke isn’t far behind Bennett; a tad less adventurous, but occasionally surprising us, like asking for shrimp while on vacation last summer (I eat exactly 0 seafood; Matt loves it, so Luke ate some of Matt’s dinner a time or two).


Back to Monday night’s dinner salad, which consisted of:
Romaine lettuce
Baby spinach
Shredded parmesan cheese
Rotisserie chicken breast
Cooked rotini pasta (penne or farfalle would be fine, too)

I told the boys that I’d pile everything on their plate but not mix it up, in case they’d prefer the parts of the salad plain. The 2 older boys sampled the Caesar dressing and wanted that; Jack Henry stuck to his favorite, Zia’s. Luke and Bennett promptly mixed their salads on their plates (we have some these from Nana Jo, and we use them ALL the time! Fun, right?) and ate them like grown humans eat a salad: all mixed up. Jack Henry picked at the components of his, which is fine by me, since he ate his chicken, some of the pasta, and a good amount of lettuce/spinach.

do you love the leftover jimmy john's napkins?

do you love the leftover jimmy john’s napkins? classy.

yum. i was so happy that there were leftovers the next day!

yum. i was so happy that there were leftovers the next day!

On to Tuesday night’s dinner: soup in a bread bowl. The boys used to HATE soup, so I’ve always always served it with some kind of bread. I feel like it softens the blow of a food they don’t like, you know? Well, over time, they’ve gotten to the point of liking a couple of different soups, so I thought bread bowls would be fun. The older 2 loved it…Bennett had seconds on the soup! JH still doesn’t like soup, so he picked at the parts of his he liked, and of course, loved the bread bowl. No kid has ever loved carbs like Jack Henry, I tell you.

And Luke made a pronouncement that I’ll not likely forget: “Mom, you’re right about trying things a lot of times. What’s that called? Repeated exposure? Yeah. It really works.”

Sage parenting advice from the 11-year-old, y’all.

Tonight is steak fajita night (smart shoppers: check your grocery’s meat section for meat that needs to be sold that day…Schnucks has a marked-down section, usually 25% off, where the meat still looks great but just needs to be eaten in the next day or two or frozen immediately.). They won’t eat the vegetables on their fajitas, so they’ll have another vegetable on the side. I’m fine with that, provided they try a bite of a onion or pepper. That’s all I ask.

So if you’re out there wondering if your picky toddler will EVER eat anything normal, I tell you:
1. Stay the course. This can get better.
2. Continue to introduce new or not-favorite things. Repeat exposure is the only way this is going to work. (or, seeing a role model eat the food you want them to eat; peer pressure is a powerful thing)
3. Don’t give in just because it’s easy…you’re in charge here! Pick your battles, but your kid isn’t going to starve if he/she chooses not to eat the dinner you’re serving. You aren’t a short-order cook.

Hang in there, friends! You can do this.

Spelling Bee: Prep.

Luke and Bennett took their district’s written spelling bee test on Monday. Luke found out today that he made it into the school-wide oral spelling bee, held next week (Bennett didn’t do too shabby on the pre-test, either; 17 of 25 words, which were the same for 3rd-5th graders. He needed a 21 to move on.).

Needless to say, Luke’s pretty excited!

He brought home the study guide, a list of 450 words of varying difficulty to study. We spent some time this afternoon going over part of the list, and when Matt got home, Luke asked him to quiz him on a row of words, too.

When I quizzed Luke earlier, on one of the words, he asked me for a definition. The word was “ailment.” I answered, “Illness.” He said ok, and spelled it correctly, telling me that he wanted to be sure it wasn’t something to do with beer, and therefore starting with “ale.”

1. It totally reminded me of a real spelling bee.
2. Our kid knows that ale is a type of beer, and that’s what his first thought was. Is this normal?

So when Matt started quizzing him, I retold the story of Luke asking for a definition. Which made Matt chuckle and say, “Yeah, do you want me to use that in a sentence?”

The word was “nigh.”

Matt’s sentence: “See if you can spell the word ‘nigh.’”

Clearly, he’s going to be really helpful with this process.

We’re working from the middle area of the sheet…here are some others as they get harder:

So…yeah. I’m going to take this as seriously as Luke wants to, and wish him the best on Wednesday next week as he competes!

Some Snow Day Thoughts.

So here we are. Snow day #3, coming immediately after the longest Christmas break my kids have ever have. This is day 19 of break. Day 19, people.

I am (dramatically) hanging on by a thread.

Don’t misunderstand me…I love my children so very much. And we have had some really great times over break. For instance, I LOVED that they were off school starting December 21; it gave us several days of relaxing togetherness as we anticipated Christmas. Our time between Christmas and New Year’s Day was fantastic…Matt was off work most of this time, and it was fun. And, also, filled with work, as we rebuilt a closet (pictures coming soon!), but it was good.

Then, last Sunday came, and the snow came in record amounts, and the temperatures fell to record lows, and the wind blew and there was no school.

And then there was no school again. And again.

It’s not them being home that I don’t like…it’s that no one has a routine. That’s fine when it’s the holidays, but the holidays are long over. When we have summer break, we start a new routine immediately (yes, it takes a few days to establish, but at least everyone knows what it is)…right now, we’re in this holding pattern, waiting for our routine to return.

It’s not just me; the boys WANT to go back to school. Jack Henry nearly cried upon hearing the news of snow day #2.

They’ve been outside in doses they can tolerate (and their awesome dad took them sledding during the snowstorm for an hour on Sunday!). They’ve played the iPad in amounts I never could’ve predicted that I’d allow, we’ve played games, watched movies, eaten a lot of food, and they’ve built forts galore in the basement.

BUT IT’S TIME TO GO BACK. The brotherly love wore off days ago, and they need a break from each other that isn’t me putting them in a time out.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day. I know it.

PS…if you’re looking for a fun thing to make, try these soft pretzels (then bonus: serve them for dinner). They were super easy to make and really, really good! This was the first time I’d ever made pretzels…and they were a huge hit. The only thing I’d do differently is divide the dough into 12 pieces instead of 8. 1/8 of that dough is a TON. We did end up cutting most of it up into small sticks.


In Case Your Home Isn’t Full of Boys Like Mine…

…here’s a snippet of a lunchtime conversation from yesterday.

Scene: the boys are all still in pajamas (we’re still on break…a break that’s about to be extended by the big snowstorm we’re getting as I type this. Try to sense my enthusiasm.). I’m recently home from an early-morning kickboxing class and some errand-running, followed by working on putting our closet back together. So the boys have been entertaining themselves for a long time in the basement, playing some sort of game that involves a lot of yelling, a ball, and a fair amount of physical contact.

The boys are now sitting at the bar, eating lunch.

Matt: Bennett, is that blood on your shirt? (referring to a small spot on his sleeve)

Bennett: shrugs

Me: That looks like blood. Where did it come from?

Bennett: I have no idea.

Me: You literally have no idea how blood got on your shirt. Is it from one of your brothers?

Bennett: I really don’t know!

So I know I’m a girly girl (but I grew up a bit of a tomboy, and with brothers, so I’m not a total baby), but how on earth do you get blood on your shirt and not even know if it’s yours or someone else’s?

It reminded me of the first time I can recall that wrestling lead to bleeding. Here’s an excerpt from a really old post:

When Luke (4 at the time) and Bennett (2) were new at sharing a room together, bedtime was difficult. Really, really difficult. For about the first two months or so. One night I went back there for the umpteenth time to calm the horseplay, and noticed that there was something dark on the wall. “Is that blood?” I asked the boys. Luke was like, “Um, no, I don’t think so. No one’s bleeding.”

So I turned on the light, and sure enough, it was blood on the wall. And on Bennett’s lip. Truth was they’d been wrestling, and though Bennett didn’t feel it, he’d busted his lip a little bit (and then somehow smeared blood on the wall? Really?). A minute later I saw it: blood on the new comforters.

It’s funny now. I can remember not being all that amused back then.

Pretending Like This Isn’t Happening.

Bennett threw up on Saturday morning. When we made it to Tuesday morning with no one else getting sick, I’ll admit: I thought it was over.

I fully realize now that was a bit presumptuous of me.

For tonight at dinner, Jack Henry threw up right in his dinner plate. (Mark that down as a first, I’m pretty sure.) This is something I will not soon forget, nor do I think I will be able to eat the meal I was serving tonight again for a long time.

I felt so bad for him…they’re just so sad and scared and grossed out when they’re this young.

Not kidding, though, and this is a true testament to what is important to him, 5 minutes after barfing he asked, “can I still have dessert tonight?”

he's just so cute and lovable.

he’s just so cute and lovable.

Yeah. That’s a no.

Now that he’s sleeping comfortably, I’m going to do what I do best in these situations: pour a glass of wine, sit in front of the fire with the laptop and daydream on about where we might vacation next summer. This seems a totally reasonable response to me.

“A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma…

…but perhaps, there is a key.”

That was originally spoken by Winston Churchill re: World War 2 Russia (thanks, internets, for educating me on that), but I’m referring to Bennett in the title.

Dramatic much? Perhaps.

bennett laughing autumn pics

i adore this picture of him.

Monday morning: I woke him for school. You know the drill, parents of difficult-to-wake children: draaaggg him out of bed, coax him with “how about I get your clothes out for you…see? They’re right here. Ready to go.”, etc.

He got up. Looked at the clothes I’d pulled out. Put away the jeans, looked for a pair of athletic pants (seriously, child, I get it). However, there were none to be found. Monday = laundry day around here, so Monday morning is not the best time to go looking for clean clothes.

You would’ve thought the world was ending. HE HAS PE TODAY! HE CANNOT POSSIBLY WEAR JEANS! Drama, stomping, the whole nine.

Me: “there are 2 solutions to the problem for the future: a) you start doing the laundry yourself or b) you plan better for PE days if athletic pants are so vital to your happiness and existence. Today, however, it’s jeans.”

(Yes, I could’ve let him wear dirty athletic pants to school…however, at this point, it was the principle of the matter and I was not going to lose to a surly 8-year-old who apparently thinks that acting rude will get him clean pants.)

I joked that he was being a South Pole Elf and gladly watched him leave for school that morning.

Today, this same child woke up on his own right on time, and he was an absolute delight to be around from the second I saw him. I was in his room helping Jack Henry move along (seriously…that kid is SLOW in the mornings…a cattle prod would be helpful), and Bennett said to me, “Mom, I think this shirt is too small.” I looked closer, and while it wasn’t ridiculous, the sleeves were a little above his wrists, and the hem even looked a tad short. Knowing that he likes his shirt sleeves a little longer, I told him I’d take that one to the basement for Jack Henry’s grow-into box.

The next shirt was the same story. Too short.

So I sent him over to the wall in his room where there’s a growth chart (thanks, Cardinals, for the life-size Matt Holliday poster), and he’d grown a half-inch since he last measured. He measures himself all the time (Luke will go in and verify it for him), so he thinks that it was about 4 days ago.

He complained of leg pain on Friday night, with no idea why his legs might be sore. (He was sick on Saturday morning with a stomach virus, but that is unrelated:) ) He was an absolute bear of a child on Monday…could he have literally gone through a growth spurt in a couple of days’ time?

Is this the key of which Churchill spoke?

Who knows. But that’s what I’m going with.

Eleven on Twelve Thirteen

(kudos to Nana Jo for figuring that out…Luke is 11 years old on 12/13!)

Dear Luke,

For your birthday this year, we made really fun plans. Like usual, you would get to choose the dinner place. Then, we would head to the Anheuser-Busch brewery to walk through their Christmas light display, and cook s’mores in the firepits they have set up and see the Clydesdales and have this totally fun, memorable family excursion. And in the picture in my head of this lovely event, when I made these plans, it might’ve been snowing a little and that would’ve been pretty and everything.

Well, a couple of days ago, the weather forecast started looking bad, saying rain would turn to sleet and snow by midday, and then it would snow all night long. Boo.

It did start raining around 11am, and kept raining all afternoon, though it didn’t freeze. However, we had to make a decision before dinnertime, and we felt it was best to try to go the brewery a different night, but that we could still go to dinner.

A few years ago, this would’ve been completely devastating news on your birthday…however, at 11, you’re thankfully better at dealing with disappointment than you used to be. You totally rolled with our rescheduling plan*, which is just another example of how grown up you’re getting to be.

It’s not all sunshine and happiness; the last year had its fair share of rough moments, and parenting experiences that left your dad and me scratching our heads (and me realizing just how completely parenting babies-preschoolers is my wheelhouse, and your age, well, is not). Parenting you is just more complicated than before; the issues we have to talk about about and worry about are just bigger and have more impact on real life and who you’ll be when you’re grown.

I know you sometimes think we’re too hard on you…and that might be true. We’re doing the best we can with what we know about parenting a pre-teen, and, as you’re probably aware, it’s not a lot. We just don’t want to screw this (meaning, of course, you) up. So we’re going to err on the side of being too strict. I know you won’t love it. I know we’ll do some things wrong. I also know that your youngest brother will someday probably have more freedom than you do at this age, and you’ll think it’s unfair, but that’s life.

If I sound negative, I don’t mean to…it’s been a GREAT year! I am extremely proud of the responsibility you’ve taken on at school. Your principals view you as a leader, and ask you to do lots of things that show they trust your decision-making. And I love that you’re old enough to watch your brothers for a very short time now and then! That’s a win for everyone :)

Having a birthday so close to Christmas means that we are sometimes crunched for time, but I hope you know how much we love celebrating you being a part of our family. While our plans were altered last night, we still had a great time! Dinner at Dewey’s was a great choice, and I hope you love your presents, too. And even though we completely made up our own rules for Creationary, it was good for a lot of laughter and fun! Also: a big thanks to Jilly’s Cupcakes for having a stand set up, in of all places, Sam’s Club, so that when I realized we might not be having s’mores as a birthday treat, they were available to save the day!

We all love you so much!


*Now likely out the window, since Bennett threw up this morning. And what I know of this stomach bug is this: it is swift and incredibly contagious. I’m bracing us for a long few days of puke.

Saturday Afternoon

Hard at work with a little reading (a nonfiction fish book is providing the topic), writing questions on post-it notes (do you know how happy post-it notes make kindergartners?) and learning about appropriate apostrophe usage (be still my heart) on this chilly Saturday afternoon.