Friday, January 17, 2020

7 Quick Takes about Mantras to Calm Your Nerves, How to Know If Someone Has The Force, and Some Complaining About Home Depot

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


My 13-year-old daughter who plays the violin is auditioning for a big orchestra festival in February (fingers crossed; she's been having some wrist problems so let's hope it can still happen.) This past weekend, her music school sponsored mock auditions to help her get ready for the real thing.

As far as technical skills go, she's really good. Crazily good. The biggest hurdle for her is the nervousness before performing.

"Maybe you could try repeating a mantra to yourself just before you walk on stage," I suggested. "Can you think of one that might work for you?"

She nodded and replied, "Be vigilant. Strike first. Trust no one."

So she's obviously taking my advice very seriously.


My calling at church right now is working with the teenage girls, which means my daughters are often roped into helping me with things because they're the easiest ones to ask.

The presidency decided last minute to buy a case of notebooks for each of the girls to record some of their thoughts about the scriptures, and at the very LAST last minute (i.e: the night before we were handing them out) we had the idea to put an applicable scripture from the Book of Mormon on the cover.

I volunteered my 15- and 13-year-olds to mass produce them, and they were like little Santa's elves churning out 36 of these things in one night.

I helped a little, but not much.

My one regret is that I didn't take more pictures of the individual notebooks, as some of them were really different from each other!


A few years ago, my 3-year-old was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, walnuts, and pecans. We went back to the allergist this week to check if he's grown out of them yet.

The first step was a skin prick test, where they poke his back with a little oil from the allergens, wait 15 minutes, then measure the welts to see how bad his reaction is. He showed negative for walnuts and pecans, so then we went to the lab to get it confirmed wit a blood test.

After the blood draw he narrowed his eyes at the lab tech and told her smugly, "That didn't hurt." (At least he didn't say "you're stupid," which is how he deals with situations he doesn't like at home.)

Pending the results of the bloodwork, we'll be scheduling a food challenge for walnuts and pecans later this month!


It was a beautiful weekend, you guys. Beautiful.

My daughter says she learned in her meteorology class that January is New England's coldest month.

In a weird, irrational way, the beautiful weather almost made me mad, as if it was somehow negating my recent trip to Florida. The entire point of that trip had been escaping the New England winter, so the fact that it was now 63° out was really making the whole thing look rather unnecessary.

Unreasonable emotions aside, I really enjoyed the day. I convinced my husband and daughter to take a walk with me, and then I dropped in to visit a friend who lives within walking distance while they continued on home. It was the nicest day I could have asked for.


Apparently I missed an incident that happened at home one day after school.

My 13-year-old licked her hand, told her 8-year-old sister "I have The Force, I can prove it" and then extended her hand and started walking directly toward her. The idea being that her sister would move out of the way, proving that she did, indeed, have The Force.

While this is a brilliant move I can't believe neither my brother nor I thought of while we were growing up, my 8-year-old triumphantly related to me afterward, "It didn't work, though. I didn't want her to say she had The Force so I didn't move."

"So what happened? She put her licked hand on your face?"


Sometimes even when you win, you still kind of lose.


In the latest episode of Why Did We Think We Could Finish the Basement Ourselves, we ordered a pallet of foam board insulation from Home Depot and were given the super-specific delivery window of 6 AM-8 PM.

I will never again complain about appliance repair people.

Unfortunately, this wasn't a good day for me to sit around looking longingly out the window for 14 hours, so of course when I ran out to do some errands that's when they came.

They left the pallet of building materials sitting in the slush on the driveway, and I'm really mad about it. It was partially shrink wrapped, so maybe it's okay? I told Phillip to deal with it so I guess we'll find out if it's ruined in the morning.

If it is, I'm not paying for it and I will fight that all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to.

Fourteen hours. That's not a delivery window, that's an entire square on the calendar.


Phillip started growing a beard. It's something he says every man should do in a lifetime. I'm pretty sure that's a direct quote from Confucius.

I have mixed feelings about it, but the interesting thing is that for the past week I've been running across articles on how scientific studies show men with beards are judged to be more attractive to women. Yesterday alone, I think I saw three of them.

Which is either a sign that I'll end up liking this beard experiment of Phillip's after all, or more likely, that Google is spying copiously on both of us.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

56 Practical Tips for Raising Independent Kids

As a parent, raising independent kids has always been like the holy grail for me. Of course, I want close relationships with my adult children, but that doesn't mean I want them texting me 20 times a day asking for their social security number or how to cook rice.

As I see it, independence is one part having life skills, and one part having the confidence to figure out unfamiliar challenges.

With those two things in mind, here are some of the ways we're trying to teach our kids independence in our family.

Toddler and Preschooler

Whenever it's safe, kids under 5 should be given every opportunity possible to do things themselves and therefore begin thinking of themselves as capable people. They can:

  • Clean up their own spilled drinks and throw away their own food wrappers
  • Put away their shoes and coat in a designated place
  • Say 'thank you' for suckers at the bank instead of you saying it for them
  • Ask for a cookie at the bakery instead of you asking for them
  • Learn to advocate for themselves in disputes with other kids
  • Make sandwiches and help with simple food prep
  • Pick out their own clothes in the morning and dress themselves
  • Clear their places at the table and pick up their own toys
  • Do regular household chores (specific tasks and ages are discussed here)
  • Learn to identify employees in public places and how to ask for help if they get lost
In addition, things your toddler regularly uses (dishes, clothes, toys) should be stored within his reach so he can take them out and put them away himself.

Elementary Schooler

By kindergarten, most kids are ready for a lot more autonomy than we give them credit for. Elementary-school aged kids can independently: 

  • Pack their own lunches (even kindergartners)
  • Keep track of their own spirit days at school
  • Check the weather to determine how they should dress in the morning
  • Order for themselves at a restaurant when the server comes to them
  • Be in charge of bringing everything they need for sports practices or extracurricular activities (and putting it away afterward!)
  • Look up a friend's number and call them instead of having you text/email their friend's parents to arrange playdates
  • Do their own homework and ask for help if they get stuck
  • Wait at the bus stop alone without an adult
  • Handle transactions at the post office or grocery store while you are standing there
  • Stay home alone at around 8 and babysit younger siblings at around 10
  • Ride bikes around the neighborhood without you
  • Learn to cook simple meals
  • Learn to sew on a button
  • Address and mail envelopes
  • Get a screwdriver and change batteries for you
  • Do their own laundry (ours do their own by age 8, but they can help younger than this)
  • Look at a map and give you directions (even if you already know how to get there)
  • Own a watch and learn to follow instructions like "come home at 6" or "be ready to go at 4:30"
  • Walk in front of you and navigate public spaces (finding the bathroom at the mall or directing you to your gate at the airport)

It's okay once in a while, but if your kid gets in the habit of calling you for forgotten homework or lunch too often it's perfectly acceptable to say, "That stinks! I really wish I could bring it to you today but I'm afraid I can't." They'll be much better about remembering it after that happens a few times, I promise.


The tween years (which I think of as being between the years of 10 and 12) are really exciting ones. It's starting to feel like these little people you made are extremely helpful and capable! At these ages, kids are generally able to:

  • Get themselves up in the morning
  • Check in at their own dentist and doctor appointments
  • Write their events on the family calendar
  • Research things on the Internet for you
  • Fill out their own back-to-school paperwork and tell you where to sign
  • Visit and order from the restaurant of their choice in the mall food court (give them $15 and meet them at a table)
  • Independently go anywhere within walking/biking distance
  • Bike or walk to the library after school
  • Be dropped off at a pizza place or movie theater with friends and no adults
  • Ride public transportation alone, after they've learned how to do it with you
  • Mail a package, pick up your library holds, or buy a gallon of milk while you wait in the car
  • Open a bank account (we go with our kids to open one at age 12)

This is also a fun time for them to consult with you on projects around the house, like redecorating a room or planning a family vacation. Let them take a lead role in researching and budgeting, and you'll find they actually have some pretty good ideas.


By the time kids turn 13 or 14, things get rolling really fast. Your teenager is well over halfway to legal adulthood and it's more important than ever that they're ready to handle those responsibilities by themselves. Teens should be able to:

  • Make their own appointments for haircuts
  • Register themselves online for sports, pay school activity fees, order a yearbook, etc.
  • Email their teachers with questions or issues instead of relying on you to do it
  • Look at medicine bottles to find dosage information
  • Decide their own bedtimes (although it's perfectly acceptable to set house rules about phone use, etc, after a certain hour)
  • Know how to write checks and use a credit card
  • Find a recipe, buy the ingredients, and make a meal from start to finish without help
  • Pay bills by phone that pertain to them (using your credit card, with your permission)
  • Comparison shop for something you need in store or online and buy the better deal
  • Apply for a job and manage their own paychecks
  • Handle their own banking transactions
  • Be in charge of budgeting their own pocket money for non-essential expenses
  • Maintain the car they drive and help pay for gas
  • Manage their own grades, with parents only checking at midterms and the end of the year
  • If going to college, handle most of the application process asking for help when needed

With so much responsibility on their plates, make it clear to your teens that you expect them to recognize when they need help and ask for it. Letting problems snowball because no one was checking up on them is not okay.

If you're not sure your teenager is ready for a new responsibility, let her try it for a little while to see how it goes. You can always scale back if needed, but sometimes she might surprise you!

A Final Word on Independence

I've provided you with a checklist of tasks, but real independence is more than just a list of what your child does and doesn't know how to do.

We all left home with gaps in our set of life skills. If your child somehow reaches adulthood without ever learning how to clean a bathtub, don't worry. The important part is that s/he can look at the dirty bathtub and say "I don't know how to do this, but it's not a big deal; I can figure it out."

By doing the things in this article, I'm hoping to let my kids experience their own competence enough times that they'll one day leave home with confidence in their own abilities to conquer new things. To me, that is real independence.

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Friday, January 10, 2020

7 Quick Takes about Iambic Pentameter, How Video Games are Like Parenting, and Books You've Probably Never Checked Out Of Your Own Free Will and Choice

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


I had a dream this week, probably inspired by my daughter trying out for her school's spring musical, that I was auditioning for a play.

I was going to audition with a memorized recital of the "to be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet, and the only problem was that I couldn't remember it past the fifth line. Somehow, Dream Me wasn't too concerned, and as I waited for my turn to audition I just told myself, "I'll wing it. It'll be fine."


The dream ended then so I guess I'll never know if that would've worked, but here's the really exciting part (to me, at least:) the first five lines of the "to be or not to be" speech were still reverberating through my head when I woke up, and they were totally correct.

Sometimes I feel bad that I don't use most of my college education (for sale: one bachelor's degree in English Literature - like new!) but other times I find myself accurately reciting Shakespeare in my sleep and that feels strangely vindicating.


So my son made me cry.

We're reading this book together called Caleb and Kit. We stopped at a scene where the main character Caleb, who has cystic fibrosis, was hurt to learn that a close relative did genetic testing before getting pregnant to make sure she wouldn't have a baby with CF.

When I asked my 11-year-old why our main character found this upsetting, at first he wasn't sure. But after we talked about it, he summed it up in a way that was so succinct it brought tears to my eyes: "Ohhh... so it's like they're saying that CF is worse than Caleb is good."

Which is exactly why I find it so devastatingly sad to read articles with headlines saying that we're close to "a world without _________ disease," not because we're learning to cure it but because more people are ending their pregnancies when they find out their baby has it.

I guess what I'm saying here is that no illness or handicap will ever be worse than your child is good, and it breaks my heart to think that not everyone out there knows it.

I realize I'm not a special needs parent, so I defer here to someone who is, and I recommend this excellent article on the subject by Kelly Mantoan of This Ain't the Lyceum.


I've had a game called Spaceteam installed on our devices for almost a year, but this week I finally got around to playing it with my older kids.

It was so much fun.

It's billed in the app store as "a co-operative shouting game" which sounds like something I'd absolutely hate, but hear me out.

The premise is that you're all on a spaceship, and the only way to keep it from self-destructing is yelling out on-screen instructions to each other. You're all getting different instructions at the same time, and they're in complete gibberish (with everyone intensely yelling "Set Eigenfunnel to 5!" and "Disable Fusion Deltaclaw!" over each other, I imagine Spaceteam is equally entertaining to watch as it is to play.)

While you're simultaneously trying to read and shout commands and follow other people's instructions, you're also trying to repair the control panel on your screen, which starts falling apart every time a mistake is made.

I think you get the picture. Not a relaxing game you want to play with a cup of warm milk before bed, but still silly and hilarious fun.

Anyway, I'm playing this game and noticing that every once in a while, the game developers slip in a funny command.

"Schedule activities!" my daughter yelled at me as I frantically tried to fix my smoking control panel. "Fold towels!" And that's when it hit me: this game is about parenting.


My 7-year-old started horseback riding lessons in September, which she loves but the barn is terrible about invoicing me.

At the beginning I had to make several emails and talk to the lady in charge, as well as my daughter's teacher, a couple of times before I finally got on the email list.

I got regular invoices for a few months, but now they have just stopped coming.

I've made several emails and talked to all the same people again, and do you know what? Still no invoices.

I've never had to work so hard to pay someone in my life.


In a fit of nostalgia, Phillip and I sat the kids down and watched Cool Runnings over the weekend. You know Cool Runnings. (If you can't chant "Jamaica, we have a bobsled team" in the appropriate rhythm then I don't think we can be friends.)

You know you know the words.

The movie came out when I was a kid and the Internet wasn't really a thing, so watching it again with a smartphone in hand was a different experience.

I always liked that Cool Runnings was a true story, but according to this article the only true thing about it was that there indeed was a bobsled team from Jamaica, but that's about it. The real team wasn't assembled from hopeful Olympic sprinters and their lovable underdog friend, and John Candy wasn't even their real coach. So disappointing.


On the hunt for a non-fiction book to keep beside my bed in case I can't sleep, I checked out a book called Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. I heard it mentioned on an NPR interview a while ago and thought it sounded interesting, which it is.

Maybe a little too interesting. It's actually so fascinating it makes you stay up even later to finish the chapter; not exactly good put-you-to-sleep reading.

Given the subject matter, this could potentially be a depressing, disgusting and/or gruesome read, but the author inserts just the right amount of humor in all the right places. I have laughed out loud several times while reading this book, and given that it's about corpses that's saying something.

Here's how she introduces a facility that researches the process of human decay:

I'm sorry, but I love this book.


Did I mention I have a nasty cold?

I felt it coming on and took some nighttime cold medicine before bed on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning I felt like I was dragging myself through molasses. I thought it was just a medicine hangover until I realized halfway through the day I was just really sick.

When I'm too sick to do anything productive, I read (as much as one can while trying to convince a bored 3-year-old to stay out of her pile of wadded-up tissues and stop climbing on her head,) so I'm already halfway done with my book.

So if you need me, I'll just be on my deathbed reading about cadavers. Nothing weird or anything.

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Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Trip So Perfect, You Can't Believe It Happened

When Phillip first told me he had to attend a conference for work last month, I groaned inwardly as I always do at the idea of him going out of town, especially during busy times like, oh, say, December.

But this time there was a twist: the conference was in Florida, and did I want to come, too?

For years I've dreamed about tunneling out of the Massachusetts snow in the depths of winter for a tropical vacation, but we haven't been able to make it happen. Is Florida tropical? No. But it's close enough.

After we figured out how to keep the kids alive for 4 days and bought my ticket, I could hardly sleep. Four days of not getting stuck in an icy driveway! No static electricity! No dry skin! Nobody running away from me screaming "Don't touch me, your hands are freezing!"

I was so excited I didn't even ask any questions.

I didn't know Phillip's itinerary for the conference or whether I'd even really see him. When a friend said "I used to live in Florida! What city are you staying in?" I had no idea. Wherever it is, it was 75° and that was all I needed to know.

And that is how I went from sledding with the kids to eating cupcakes on a hotel balcony overlooking a courtyard full of palm trees, legitimately getting overheated in a light cardigan. It was heavenly.

This picture makes it look as if I'm in jail, but it was actually lovely.
Also, even if I was in jail, I would still be in Florida.

It was relaxing and restorative beyond imagination, but first I want to tell you that I have never been so seasonally confused in my life.

Having always lived in places that are cold and snowy in the winter, I never even thought about the fact that sunny Florida was also celebrating Christmas.

I mean, I logically knew they used the same calendar, but I was so deep in vacation mode that it wasn't until I got off the plane in Tampa and practically ran into a holiday garland-wrapped pillar that I remembered, "Oh yeahhhh... it's Christmas for them, too."

From there, things got weirder.

The display case at the bakery was full of pumpkin spice donuts and eggnog-flavored cupcakes, which I associate with sweater weather but I guess Floridians, like, eat them by the beach while applying SPF 50.

Christmas carols were playing in the trolley that took us from the resort to the beach walk downtown. We listened to "Little Drummer Boy" with the windows down, something I could never do at home without risking frostbite.

To me, palm trees are the ultimate symbol of the relaxed pace of a summer beach vacation, so seeing them inexplicably wrapped in Christmas lights (which symbolize the hustle and bustle and thermal base layers of winter) was beyond disorienting.

I know it's completely normal to people who live here, but not to me.

Where I live, it's not Christmas until you go outside and the surface layer of your eyeballs freeze.

Everything, from my complete lack of personal responsibilities to the tourists wandering around in their khaki shorts, confirmed that I was indeed on vacation... but then we'd pass a car with a Christmas tree tied to the roof and suddenly I wasn't sure of anything anymore.

Just stick the Christmas tree between the palms and pretend like we didn't have to ship it 1,000 miles here from Cleveland.

I also associate the warm weather with long summer days, so imagine my surprise when it continued to be winter and the sun set at 5:30 every day.

I mean, I did get to watch the sun set from the hot tub at the resort so it's not like I'm complaining.

For the rest of my life,  I think I'll remember how it felt to walk down to the ocean with my sandals in my hand, feeling the sun on my back for the first time in months. 

I just closed my eyes and took the deepest breath ever, like I was trying to literally inhale the moment. I WAS LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF THIS. 

This break from real life would've been welcome at any point during the year, but to abruptly go from the misery of single-digit temperatures to walking barefoot on the beach was like an out-of-body experience in all the right ways.

Phillip and I did have some logistics to discuss (because purportedly, Christmas was still coming) but I insisted that we do it all from the balcony or beside the fire pit on the patio. I didn't want to waste a single second sitting indoors.

It pained me whenever I had to go inside. I would've slept out there if they'd let me.

The view from our balcony, which I probably should've slept on now that I think about it.

This trip was a weird combination of a solo vacation and a couple's trip.

While Phillip was in talks and workshops during the day, I laid at the poolside or walked on the beach or went downtown and ate lunch with a book. After he was finished in the late afternoon, he'd join me and we'd figure out what we wanted to do for the rest of the night.

We took an evening walk along the beach and came across some people singing Christmas carols by the ocean, and strolled a pier where we could browse vendors' booths of overpriced jewelry made from shells.

We had tasty food and milkshakes (flashback to our trip to New York City where we got milkshakes from the same place twice in one day because they were so good, I guess that's how we party hard on vacation.)

We tried not to rely solely on selfies to remember this vacation, but when we asked a random person to take our picture on the beach it just turned out like this:

Not pictured in this crooked shot: the beach or Phillip's head.

So we decided that selfies would have to do.

Four days and three nights came and went, and it was time for me to go home. Though I would've loved to stay longer forever, I did notice that by end I was getting used to the ocean and the sunshine. The Christmas decorations on the palm trees didn't seem noteworthy anymore.

In retrospect, four days was the perfect length of time for me to be there and still appreciate every single second of the trip.

When I woke up the first morning after coming back home to New England, I looked out the window to see it had snowed overnight.

Even though it was colder, every branch was coated in white and I took the same deep breath I had taken that first day in Florida and thought Well, this is ridiculously beautiful, too.

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Friday, January 3, 2020

7 Quick Takes about Graham Crackers, Mixing Business and Pleasure, and Looking for Something Boring to Read

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


I have no idea what day it is. I realized today was 7 Quick Takes Friday when I got in bed last night (so that's why this is a little late.) I'd gone all day thinking it was Wednesday, which doesn't even make sense because the day before I'd told all the kids it was Thursday and made them do their Thursday chores.

It's very disorienting to have everybody home from school and work, and then starting it all back up in the middle of the week.

To add to the confusion, my kindergartner has a cold and stayed home so he hasn't been to class for over two weeks. I worry that by Monday I'll have forgotten he's in school and stop sending him.


When you have a baby, one of the things you don't realize you're signing up for is spending all your New Year's Eve midnights in the car picking them up from a party when they're teenagers.

You get lulled into a sense of security when they're little and you can just do a random countdown at 7:30 PM before you send them to bed and no one is the wiser.

So anyway, after Phillip and I dropped the big kids off at their party and put the little kids down for the night, we celebrated in our own way by getting pints of ice cream from the gas station (convenience store ice cream is practically highway robbery, by the way, buy it ahead of time at the grocery store next time!) and watching a comedy special on YouTube.

It worked for us.


One thing we always do over Christmas vacation is make gingerbread houses. In the past we've bought premade kits, but this year we decided to use graham crackers and make our own frosting. (Mostly because I'm always worried they're going to chip a tooth eating the spiced cardboard that passes as gingerbread in those kits.)

This didn't really save any money, since by the time you buy all the candies and sprinkles separately you've spent about the same. But there was less chance of a dental emergency and definitely more freedom for creativity.

I loved the green gummy bear riding a peppermint swirl bike in the front yard.

This Spanish hacienda designed by my 15-year-old was especially delicious.

Really, the only downside to doing it this way was that by the time we were finished the table looked like this:

The finished product, though, was completely worth it. We all liked this way better than a premade kit.

Like the fancy Ukranian eggs we dye at Eastertime (Take #4 here,) there is definitely a learning curve, so I think we'll get better at it next year. Phillip suggested we push all the platforms together after the houses are built so we can decorate it like a real village with streets and everything.


My kids' favorite part of making gingerbread houses, though, is what happens afterward.

I keep meaning to find out what other people do with gingerbread houses, but what we do is set them on the counter for a few days, admiring them and periodically accusing various children of picking at the candies when no one's looking, and then on New Year's Day we gather 'round the table and watch each child smash theirs with a meat tenderizer. Then they feast.

Right now this is just something we've always done that they take for granted, but I think one day after they're grown, this is one of the traditions that will make them look back and say, "My childhood was so weird and so awesome."


Last Saturday, Phillip and I went on a breakfast date. Well, it was half-date, half-business.

When he and I took an impromptu 4-day trip to Florida last month, it made both of us realize that we've got to build these things into our lives more. It's easy to get caught up in the grind of life and never take time out (because taking time out requires planning ahead, which also requires time you don't feel you have.)

But we agreed that we need to do it more.

So we spent a few hours in a café with our calendars and phones and notepad and pen, sketching out a rough plan for what we're doing for the rest of the year. Things like a backpacking trip Phillip has been wanting to take with the older kids for about 3 years, or an anniversary trip for the two of us in June that I'm really looking forward to.

This is probably the most on top of things that I've ever been in my life.


Our town holds an annual holiday tree hunt, where different corporate sponsors decorate a tree in the woods along various hiking trails for us to find.

It's all very official: a list goes out and your "team" works to find the trees before New Years. If you find all the trees and send in photographic evidence, you're entered to win a prize.

Our team name was Yes, They're All Ours.

Even though we found all the trees, we weren't chosen in the drawing so no prize for us. But it was still fun to get out and go walking in the woods every day.

Playing on a frozen lake next to the trail.

Looking for beaver dams, I think.

We like to hike but it's usually a summer activity only for us; I liked this and would probably never think to do it on my own.


About a year ago, I checked out a book about math from the library called Here's Looking at Euclid. I'll give you a minute to think about the title and give it a groan/laugh.

I've discovered that what I need at all times on my nightstand is a non-fiction book that's just interesting enough for me to want to read it but also boring enough to put me to sleep. Before Euclid it was The Hope Diamond, which also took me about a year to finish.

Now that I'm done with it, I guess I'm in the market for a new sort-of-boring book. Any suggestions? (No novels, please. I can't risk page-turners that will actually keep me awake.)

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Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 in 12 Photos

I feel like I say this every year, but I think my largest accomplishment of 2019 was being even less on top of things than I was last year.

True as it may be, I still can't deny there were plenty of amazing moments along the way. And the ones that were complete fails? Well, they at least make entertaining stories later on.

In 12 photos, here  they are: the Unremarkable Files memorable moments of 2019.

In January, the kids enjoyed our annual gingerbread house smash. We went sledding in -1 degree weather and finally figured out why we can't arrive at church on time. Not that it helps.

I wrote a 6-month update on giving our high schooler a phone (well, it's technically our phone that she's permitted to use as long as she follows the rules) and the best way to stop refereeing your kids' fights.

I also wrote descriptions for TED talks my preschooler could give and a sarcastic post inspired by watching my children picking apart their lunches and realizing they don't know how sandwiches work.

Visiting an ice castle in February was a fun experience for everyone, except for Phillip and the child who threw up on him in the gift shop.

These 7 funny text exchanges between Disney characters were mostly likely prompted by a viewing of the original Little Mermaid, where I had the horrifying realization that Ariel has no fingernails.

My absolute favorite project on the blog this year was working with my kids to create this video Why Moms Can't Practice Mindfulness. (They were total naturals at demonstrating why.)

I also wrote about our family's Valentine's Day traditions and how parenting sometimes means getting woken up at 6AM to look up booger facts online. Parenthood is weird.

The children kept themselves busy by vandalizing the sofa (pictured above) and I was the sickest I have ever been with a stomach bug. When I recovered, I humiliated myself in front of the high school health teacher and attempted to cook vegan meat which went exactly like you imagine.

If you'd like to know more about what I was up to all month, please see this visual representation of all the ways your kids will push your buttons as well as this alphabetical list of reasons my toddler has cried. It may help you to understand.

My children tried (and failed) to be diplomatic when I made disastrous rolls for Easter dinner, we dyed Ukranian Easter eggs, and my teenager proved you can find absolutely anything on the Internet, including someone playing Canon in D on a rubber chicken.

On the blog, I wrote about the top 5 most awkward situations I've been in (believe me, it was hard to narrow them down.)

I also created these 13 hilariously appropriate sympathy cards for parents. Please share one with a friend when the right occasion arises.

For my 36th birthday I was thrilled when Phillip bought me a new set of dishes to replace our broken ones... and even more thrilled when he served me a brownie and ice cream inside them and told me he got them on clearance for $11.

I went to a friend's college graduationdropped my phone in the toilet, and ranted about the Thomas the Train book from hades that my child brought home from the library.

I wrote an article on all the weird food my 3-year-old served me from his play kitchen, unhelpful tips for date nights after you have kids, and some slightly more realistic inclusions for your next Mother's Day coupon book from your kids (save it and send to your husband in 2020.)

School let out and we started our educational summer vacation. By the end of it, my kids had learned all about the countries of New ZealandPolandVietnamPanama, and Rwanda, and I was completely exhausted.

There was a 16th wedding anniversary, bushes that looked like poop emojis, and more poison ivy than I ever want to deal with for the rest of my life. Phillip tricked me into singing a duet in front of everybody and apparently I have nightmares about things like buying a new couch now.

I also have NO IDEA what I'm doing parenting a teenager. None.

A good part of July was dedicated to an epic family vacation to the West Coast. After two weeks, we came home from an Evans family reunion and a tour of the Oregon/Washington coast with a ton of memories and dirty laundry.

I was proud to win the award for World's Meanest Mom for refusing to let my kids eat popsicles for breakfast, and even found the time to write a killer acceptance speech for the honor.

The older went to visit their grandparents for a week and we all drowned in leftovers because I have no clue how to cook for a small group.

The 7-year-old started horseback riding lessons and I was diagnosed with cutaneous lupus after a biopsy where I almost passed out, and the kids were late for swimming lessons every day.

My writing style was described to me as "passively-aggressively funny," which I kind of like and am in the process of trying to fit on a business card, and I wrote this recap of the odd jobs I've worked in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In September the kids started school again, and I may or may not have tried a few of these back-to-school spells and incantations to avoid head lice. Lice is probably my #1 fear as a parent.

I mused at the disappearance of the parenting village and how hard it makes 21st-century parenting, tried to stain the deck while the little kids tried to help, and solved the mystery of a sneaky Wal-Mart delivery guy who left footprints in our newly resealed driveway. We're on to you, man.

After a decade of devoted service, our master bedroom closet gave up the will to live, so that was fun.

I was thrilled to join the elite 1% (it's probably not what you think) and pleased that cod liver oil doesn't taste as bad as I thought it would.

I forget most of the time that our family is what many people would consider freakishly large so I don't write about it that often (to me it's just everyday life,) but I decided to write this post about 7 big family misconceptions that I was told many times hit the nail exactly on the head.

With a whim and a coupon, I walked into Great Clips and cut off my hair. It turned out to be the best haircut I've ever gotten, according to my husband.

I looked at some cute baby pictures, took my family to get Christmas photos taken and cleaned up pee in the studio, and discovered that my 3-year-old apparently knows how to change a toilet paper roll. That was weird.

The highlight of December, and probably the highlight of my entire life, was a trip to Florida. Getting out of the New England cold during the winter is an out-of-body experience.

At home, I introduced the kids to Chuck Norris jokes and gave away a copy of a Christmas board game called Stella Nova (congratulations, Amanda!) I watched a lot of Christmas movies with the kids and enjoyed all of them that weren't The Polar Express.

I finished off the month by creating these motivational posters for toddlers and rounding up my 10 funniest parenting memes, and now I'm ready to settle down for a long winter's nap.

I read that was a thing in one of my kids' Christmas books.

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Friday, December 27, 2019

7 Quick Takes about Christmas Accomplishments, Chuck Norris as a Motivational Tool, and Empathizing with Charles Dickens

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


Well, Christmas was amazing. As usual.

I just love the whole feel of the entire day. Before opening presents, we all gather in a room to read Luke 2 and pretend not to hear the younger kids complaining.

Then we open presents one at a time, and the kids like figuring out a silly order in which to do it (reverse alphabetical order by middle name, rainbow order by what you're wearing, longest to shortest hair, etc.) Each one plays with his or her new thing for a while until it's their turn again, and it's one of the most relaxed and fun days of the year.

My biggest accomplishment, which I'm positive I'll be bragging about for the next 12 months, is that I ordered a total of 4 complete outfits for the girls and they all worked. Let me repeat that. I ordered them online, and all of them:
  • got here on time
  • fit
  • looked cute
  • were acceptable to my teenagers (they actually liked them)
If they gave out awards for motherhood, I would win one with this.

The other highlight of Christmas morning was this police officer costume for my 3-year-old. Between him and his brother, this dress-up outfit didn't hit the floor all day. Someone was always wearing it. The one thing I didn't realize was that one of the accessories that came with the uniform was a police whistle.

The weekly hilarious recap of the Unremarkable Files family of 8, Christmas mayhem style. #funny #7quicktakes #7qt #unremarkablefiles #relatable

So I'm deaf now.


We enjoyed our usual Christmas traditions, some more quirky than others. I enjoyed reading about some of yours on Facebook. What about the rest of you?

Our kids draw names, but instead of getting their Secret Sibling a present, they do something nice for them every day of December and then reveal who they are on Christmas Day.

I have to help the younger boys with this but my 8-year-old did this totally independently and I loved the reveal card she made for her dinosaur-loving brother:

The weekly hilarious recap of the Unremarkable Files family of 8, Christmas mayhem style. #funny #7quicktakes #7qt #unremarkablefiles #relatable

Of course we miss days and definitely don't do perfectly at the Secret Sibling thing, but the closer I get to 40 the more I'm like, "You know what? That's okay." I've heard this about 40. I'm excited.

Another of our more unusual Christmas traditions has been dubbed "the Annual Evans Family Christmas Light Contest That Nobody Knows About."

On Christmas Eve(ish,) we drive around and look at Christmas lights, and when we come across a spectacularly decorated one we leave them a plate of cookies and a thank-you note for putting so much time into their light display.

The kids all love it, mostly because we deliver the cookies and note ding dong ditch-style, so the excitement is pretty palpable as they're all yelling "Go! Go! Go!" in the backseat while Phillip peels out the moment the child delivering the cookies sprints back and hurdles into the car.


One thing we did differently this year was our Christmas tree. Most years, we go to a Christmas tree farm and cut one down ourselves the day after Thanksgiving, and we make kind of a day out of it.

But for some reason our Saturdays were always busy (including one where I was in Florida, and I'm not complaining about that) and it just didn't happen.

It turned out to be fine, though, because if you just go to the place down the street on Christmas Eve they'll give you a tree for $20, which is a great deal for a live tree in New England.

The weekly hilarious recap of the Unremarkable Files family of 8, Christmas mayhem style. #funny #7quicktakes #7qt #unremarkablefiles #relatable

My least favorite part of the Christmas season is decorating, anyway, so I didn't even mind doing it this way. Maybe we'll make a regular thing out of it.


The high schooler has quite a bit of schoolwork to catch up on over the break, and Phillip and I have been experimenting with different methods to encourage her to keep working hard.

My favorite is sending her a motivational Chuck Norris joke of the day via text.

This was the first any of the kids had never heard of Chuck Norris jokes before (e.g: "Chuck Norris doesn't wear a watch, he just decides what time it is" "Chuck Norris was once denied service at McDonald's so he roundhouse kicked it so hard it turned into a KFC") and they thought they were hilarious.

Every time we sit down to dinner now, my 5-year-old begs, "tell us some more Chuck Norris facts!"

I seriously thought about going online to find a What Would Chuck Norris Do? bracelet for every one of them for Christmas, but decided the shipping costs would have been exorbitant. So maybe I'll just put it on the wall in vinyl lettering or something. I'm looking into it.


Last night we watched a very entertaining movie called The Man Who Invented Christmas, and I highly recommend it.

It was the story of Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol, and I really liked it (I always like movies about writers.)

I haven't yet looked it up to see how historically accurate it was, but I can vouch for the fact that his reaction to constant interruptions when working (slow blink with a touch of eye roll) was 100% authentic.

Seriously, it's the same face I make every time I try to do anything around here.


I wrote once in a post called "Never, Never Have I Ever" that I've never bought a Magic Eraser.

Well, I bought one and I am an idiot.

Why did I not do this before?? Magic Erasers are totally magical, and I love them. They erased the grubby handprints all over every wall in this house, which soap and water don't even touch. We've tried.

It's quite possible that this is like microfiber... I've been burned before. At first I thought microfiber was a miracle fiber with super-cleaning abilities so we bought a microfiber couch and chairs, only to realize they stain easily so they always look dirty.

Of course, last time I was in a furniture store I saw zero microfiber couches but places are still selling Magic Eraser, so it's probably legit.


I always look forward to this lazy week between Christmas and New Year's. With the exception of my high schooler (who is working hard because Chuck Norris can divide by zero!) we all have nowhere to go and nothing to do. We're just going to watch some Christmas movies, take some hikes, and play some games.

And if I'm honest, another reason I look forward to this time is that when kids misbehave, I can indignantly declare "Alright, no more [insert privilege here] for the rest of the year!"

Except this time, I can threaten to take a given privilege away for the rest of the decade. That's special, people.

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