Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Infamous Chalkboard

I gave a little peek at my chalkboard in my last post, but I don't think I did it justice. It's one of 1,000 pins that I hoped to move from my boards to my house this summer. And it's one of about 10 that I actually did (and let's not get too proud of me - one of my 10 accomplished pins was using a bread clip to fix a flip flop...)

I've actually been dreaming of the idea of converting our crib to an easel since I saw this pin. Max was still comfy in his crib, but I was itching to kick him out. So I did. And then we fought the Bedtime Wars of 2012 forever and the crib parts took up all kinds of room in our house because I never made the easel. I did use the headboard of the crib as a barrier to trap him in his room at night after he conquered the baby gate (I still had to reinforce with two HEAVY chairs or he would squeeze out!) And I finally got around to painting with chalkboard paint, so the kiddos did use them before I finally completed the project. And here's how I (finally) did it:

Take apart crib. This was, by far, the hardest part of the process. You have to remove hardware except for a piece at the base where you will attach a chain. It was a puzzle to figure out how to take it apart. Then, there were two or three stripped out screws that I blame for the 6-month delay. I tried. I failed. I gave up for 6 months. Then, I got mad and wrenched them out with pliers. Well, I got mad and had my husband wrench them out, but still...

Tape off border and paint inside panel with chalkboard paint.

Lay the headboard/footboard upside down and top to top. Attach with a hinge (more would be sturdier, but I couldn't make it work with the curved top).

Realize you installed the hinge backwards. Smack forehead. Remove and redo.

Use chain (I found it in the swing set area of the home improvement store, but I think it was for bird feeders or something - smaller-sized links) to connect the base of each part. This will keep the chalkboard from laying out flat.

That's it! Now you have a cute and memory-evoking chalkboard easel for you to illustrate points on during arguments with your husband your kids to scribble on.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Chalk it up to Marital Discord

Yesterday, I blogged about my unending love for my wonderful, amazing husband. Today, I had a knock-down-drag-out with the jerk. It all started when I innocently came out to see if he was ready for lunch just when our entire flock of sheep snuck past him into our yard. I assumed he knew they were out since he was standing right by them. Well, you've probably heard what assuming does to people. And boy did it! Over the next hour or so, the following may or may not have happened (in no particular order) 

- All five family members managed to herd the sheep in nine different directions at least four times before they finally went through the gate. Some of us were giggling. Some of us were not.
- I yelled, “Just TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO AND STOP TALKING TO ME LIKE THAT!!!!!” loud enough that I’m sure the farmers, who were working at the neighboring barn, had to have heard.
- Max told me, “I want you to talk nice.”
- Ryan called me a stupid idiot who doesn’t know anything about animals (well, that’s from the QTV* translation, but it's the most reliable version I'm told)
- I illustrated my animal shepherding logic on a chalkboard to prove that I was NOT a stupid idiot. (If you look closely through the kid-scribbles, you'll see my "strength in numbers" theory being explained with vigorously-drawn arrows)

- I admitted that I HATE animals, and that I always have and always will.
- I asked Reed, “Do you REALLY want to talk to me right now? Really!?” when he started to tell me a story about ___(I don't even know. Insert stupid boy obsession here)______.

We finally cooled down and life went on. Right now, Ryan's kayaking with some friends. I'm sitting on the porch enjoying the 70 degree July weather.The big boys are jumping on the trampoline and play "block the frisbee," which is really just a version of fetch wherein Max is the dog. 

The time apart is precisely what we all need. Summer togetherness is a double-edged sword. 

Just a few minutes ago, though, I was doing "combinations" on the tramp with the scamps. Calvin's combination provided the comic relief we all needed, even though the fight has long been over. His combination was, "Something from real today:"
- Sheep getting away (crawls exaggeratedly across trampoline). 
- Dad yelling for help - (HEY! GET OVER HERE! in manly, slightly disgruntled voice)
- Momma sheep knocking over baby sheep (whacks and rolls)
- Baby sheep gets up and runs (more animated crawling, this time with cute baby sound effects)
- Mom writing on the chalkboard (scribbles in the air and shakes head vigorously)

We had a lot of fun performing that combination! And I can't wait until Daddy gets home so I can tell him about it, and we can have a laugh together!  

*Queen Tobi Version

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How Do I Love Thee?

Ryan and I have been married for almost 12 years now. In that time, we've learned several new things about each other. One unexpected surprise is that he's great with kids. I got little hints of that at 20 and 21, but I'm a teacher and "good with kids" has a whole set of expectations in my book. I wouldn't have married him if I didn't think he had potential to be a good dad, but I wasn't expecting him to make Fruit Loop necklaces or dance the hokey pokey or anything. Little did I know...

First, I learned that he really has a way with the teenagers that he teaches, coaches, and mentors as a youth leader. Then, I was blessed to find out that he's an excellent Daddy to our little guys - from baby talk to wrestling.  And when he started coaching T-ball a few years ago, I learned that he was good with other people's little kids, too. But those situations involve either teenagers (his natural gift), his own flesh and blood, or competitive sports. 

Vacation Bible School game center does not involve any of those (well, part-time flesh and blood aside). So when I begged ordered asked him to run the games for our church VBS, I knew I was asking him to do something a little out of his element. He would have crying one year olds all the way up to awkward middle schoolers. The games would be cheesy and nonathletic. And I wanted him to go by the name Sir Ryan and try to stay in the spirit of our medieval theme, maybe even wear a silly hat. He agreed, and I assured him I would plan and prep everything. I shouldn't have bothered. On the first night, I went over the games with him, including clever little things he could call stuff (Capture the Cannonballs, not flag - cheesy, teacher stuff like that). I was taking pictures while he went over the directions with the first group. He was describing "Jump the Moat" in an animated voice (the voice, alone, was shocking). Then, he threw in a new reference to alligators that I hadn't even coached him on. He was gonna be just fine. And he was. In fact, he was amazing. From the preteen "Knights" who liked a little rough housing down to the "Town Criers" who just wanted to be distracted from the fact that Mommy wasn't there, he knew just how to play with each group of kids. Each night, I was more and more in love with this man. I mean, look at this:

To a girl, who in college fantasized about a guy "in boxer shorts, holding a baby," it doesn't get much hotter than that. (Cuz all these pictures woulda been weird in boxers). 

VBS was every evening. Also that week, we went to check out a camp that Reed will go to next year. We wanted to see what it was all about, so a friend who is a dorm mom invited us up during afternoon free time. We spent our entire time there going up and down the 100 foot, downhill slip and slide. I regret that I don't have any pictures, but it was awesome! After a few runs down the slide with Max on his lap, Ryan handed him off to me. That's when the 5th and 6th grade campers started taking over my man. He was racing a different kid each run. And when we headed back to the car, we talked about being dorm mom and dad in the future. Ryan said, "Your job is basically to play with kids for a week, so it would be awesome." Sigh.

Oh, and remember when I said it doesn't get hotter?

I lied. 

(Coincidentally, I also lied when I said I don't want to "try one more time for a girl.")

P.S. Just kidding, Mom.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Letters From Max

Dear Mom and Dad,
I think we need to talk. Yes, I've been a little cantankerous lately, I'll admit. But we wouldn't have this problem if you would just remember to NOT do the following:

- Tell me no
- Sit anywhere that I have ever sat before or have thought about sitting.
- Do anything that isn't my idea. If it's candy, I want it, but don't ask me if I want it. I'll be forced to shout "No!" and then change my mind 8 milliseconds later.
- Call me a big boy. I'm a baby.
- Call me a baby. I'm a big boy.
- Be anywhere within hitting or toy-throwing range when I'm not getting my way
- Sing along with the radio on a daddy part if you're a mommy (or vice versa)
- Tell me, ask me, or act like you would like me to anything at any time. Ever.

I'm glad we cleared that up.



Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Life, in Children's Books

When I was a little girl, my most favoritest book was Miss Suzy, by Miriam Young*, a story about a young squirrel who was neat and tidy and bossed around toy soldiers and made them be neat and tidy, too. It was SO me!

Well, life changes and while I still like to be bossy, the whole world knows that I am no longer as neat and tidy as Miss Suzy. But this week, I discovered my new favorite book: The Old Red Tractor, by Andreas Dierssen.* I was hooked when I opened to this page:

It's quaint and messy. And there are ducks running all over the place. My life exactly! And then I kept turning pages and finding more details that could totally be borrowed from our little patch of life.

Like the creatively engineered repair jobs:

The random junk piles in the shed:

And a rogue chicken trying to make his home among the junk piles instead of the nesting boxes (actually, we gather almost half of our eggs out of the shed and NOT the nesting boxes):

That chicken's feathered friends, dropping feathers (and poop) all over the yard:

And the Mama collecting bushels of apples. While simultaneously telling the boy no because he wanted  something that they "don't have enough money for." 

Plot synopsis: Tony has a great old, red tractor. He loves it. Life is good. Until he sees his friend's shiny, new tractor. Now all of the sudden life isn't so rosy on his quaint, but messy little farm.

 He begs for a shiny, new tractor, gets rejected, and eventually realizes that he likes his old, faithful tractor just fine. And then rides down the idyllic countryside hill, realizing that "no matter how old, beat-up, or broken his tractor was, Old Red was the best tractor in the world."

That'll preach...

* Not Amazon Affilliate links - I only wish my blog were cool enough to get those!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Just Birds This TIme (no Bees)

Tonight, Calvin reported on something he'd seen outside earlier: "A rooster was getting on top of two chickens." Here we go again... I acted casual and said they were either fighting or mating. No big thang. I thought that would be good enough, but it wasn't. Calvin really wanted to get to the bottom of this great mystery.  So he proceeded to demonstrate what the rooster did to the chicken so I could let him know for sure. He grabbed Max's "soft cover" and wadded it into a ball to play the part of  the chicken. Calvin was the rooster. The demo was very animated and complete with sound effects. And here's the scoop. The rooster did jump on top of the first hen, but then he appeared to only get to first base - just a little pecking on the beak. With the second chick, he either "married" her or gave her some sound donkey kicks.

Is it bad that instead of discouraging my son from reenacting egg fertilization, I watched and laughed? And then had him demonstrate again for Daddy?

I didn't think so.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

You Made Jelly Out of WHAT?!

 When my mother-in-law had me try this jelly, I was nervous. Not because she told me what it was made out of. That might have kept me from trying it. No, it was the knowing, expectant look in her eyes and the little green flecks in the jelly that had me skeptical. I was expecting something really weird like jalapeƱo or something. But it was really good—and normal. Just like peach jelly. Then she told me what the main ingredient was. I couldn’t believe it. Then I saw that it also takes 5 cups of sugar. Pretty sure you could add 5 cups of sugar to broccoli and it’d make a sweet jelly.

Freezer Jelly

6 cups peeled, grated zucchini or squash (yep. Sounds nasty, but you’d NEVER guess.)
2 T lemon juice
1 can (15 ½ oz.) crushed pineapple
1 pkg Sure Jell (fruit pectin – probably in the canning section)
5 c sugar (I started to text my MIL just to confirm this, but it’s fer real)
2 boxes Jell-O
Optional: chunks of fresh fruit

-          Mix zucchini, lemon juice, pineapple, and fresh fruit and cook on low for one hour.

-          Run mixture through blender until smooth.

-          Add Sure Jell and sugar

-          Stir constantly and bring to boil for 3 mn
-          Add Jell-O, return to boil

-          Pour into jars or plastic containers

-          Let your kids help you clean the dishes

-          Leave at room temperature for 24 hrs to set
-          Freeze extra

I’ve made peach, strawberry, and cherry almond (HEAVEN!  Just add almond extract at the end.)  Yum Yum! They're really good in jelly rolls.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fashion Advice From Calvin

Overflowing baskets of unfolded laundry revealed something I never would've guessed about my son. He does put thought into what he wears. Calvin couldn't find undies, so I dug him out a pair of Wolverinies from the mountain. He quickly rejected them because, "I only wear those with my Mario jammies." What?! This, from the boy who never cares about what he's wearing. At. All. He always has something a) inside out, b) backwards, c) mismatched, or d) all of the above (The correct answer is usually d). I asked him to explain his reasoning. Apparently, the Wolverine undies are his favs, as are the Mario jammies. They're rarely all clean at the same time, so he tries to wait for that magical moment. The next night, the planets were aligned. Mario shirt? Check. Mario pants? Too short, but check. Wolverine skivvies? Check. He donned the whole shebang, and then looked so stinkin' cute I made him pose for this picture:

In true Calvin style, he had to do his own pose.

Then, Reed wanted in on the action, so he dug up his favorite jammies.

I'd say my kids don't always look like orphans, but that would be a lie.

Friday, July 19, 2013


Every summer, a coworker and friend of mine invites our boys to her church's vacation Bible school. VBS is their church's biggest outreach event, and my friend is the director. She's an all-star teacher, so she puts on a great VBS. We've been several years, but this summer, I was especially excited because Max is old enough to leave. This year's experience would be two free hours of babysitting a great opportunity for him to learn about Jesus, too.  Like always, my friend and her church put on a great program and the boys really enjoyed themselves. Tonight, when I picked them up, she came over to me to share something that happened. "I asked the kids if they knew what diligent meant and Calvin..." she began. I immediately begin mentally patting myself on the back. Just a week ago, we had discussed diligence in great detail because it was the hero trait of the day in a comic book devotional my Dad had given us. Go on, go on and tell me how brilliant my five-year-old is, I thought to myself, and how spiritually well-trained my kids must be. And she went on. "Calvin raised his hand and said that when you're diligent you do your best job and work hard and don't do a crappy job." Crap. Guess my penchant for potty humor is coming back to bite me in the butt bottom.

To fully appreciate my humiliation, let me share with your a little about the parishioners at this church. It's a small, country church with a small congregation. I'm fairly certain several of the families homeschool. I'm also fairly certain most of the women wear dresses to church every Sunday. At least one woman (my friend's mother-in-law and the late preacher's wife) wears skirts every day. There is some debate about the King James version being the only acceptable version of the Bible for believers to study. I think the thys had it. And I'm not sure, because I read the NIV version, but I'm guessing "crappy" isn't in the King James vernacular.

And now, let me tell you about another experience this congregation had with my lovely middle munchkin a few years ago. On the final VBS family celebration Calvin managed to defile both the painstakingly-crafted watermelon cake (with his fingers) and the side of the church (with his urine).

Now I'm starting to think that there's another reason my friend invites my boys to VBS every summer. It is their church's biggest outreach event.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Playing Chicken

I'm just putting this out there because Ryan never reads my blog I'm feeling really honest right now: If anything ever happens to my husband, there will be a huge animal sale at the Layton Barnyard. Like before rigor mortis sets in. I just came in from wrangling chickens. 68 chickens. And 15 ducks. OK, I can't remember the exact number, but there was a six, a 15, and a couple of other two digit numbers when we were doing the math yesterday. Before yesterday, we had a few chicks and ducks and they were great. They ate bugs and blessed us with about five eggs a day. Perfect! Then Ryan's aunt "cut him a deal" on her entire stock of chickens and some cages and ducks and an elephant (just kidding - barely) and here we are. Ryan swears he's going to sell a bunch, but I'm not holding my breath.

Last night, the wrangling experience was fun. Max and I helped chase chickens toward Ryan, who shepherded (or chickherded?) them into the barn where they roost. It took forever, but it was cute and hilarious. Max got so into it, giggling hysterically as he ran after the "woosters," then turning dead serious, even screamingly frustrated when they wouldn't cooperate.

That was me tonight. Minus the hysterical giggling. Ryan took the bigguns to watch an all-star baseball game with a friend. He just asked me to throw some feed in the shed and hoped the flock would follow. He said I didn't have to put them up. I shoulda listened. But I really thought I could impress him with my sweet animal tending skills and once I got started, my stubborn side kicked in. I would not be outsmarted by a bunch of stupid chickens! I found a mighty weapon in our rake and felt powerful when the rooster that usually terrorizes me (for real!) squawked  and flew away from me. I herded several in the barn, then discovered more trying to roost in our nice shed. Un huh! Got those. Found a few more by the house. Done. I was just heading to put away the rake when I spied one lone escapee coming from under the van. I almost wrote him off. Really? If a coyote gets one, we still have approximately 67 more. As long as he drug off the evidence, Ryan wouldn't even have to know... But the "lost sheep" parable and my conscience made me go back and successfully herd him, too. I came in the door, not at all surprised to see that I had been out 45 minutes for the whole ordeal. I was ticked, but couldn't help but feel proud of myself as I washed my hands. And then I saw, out the kitchen window, first one, then two chicks strutting out from under the van. I sure hope the coyote drags their carcasses off.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Housekeeper of the Year Award

A while back, Reed asked me "Why is that room so clean?" I wasn't sure what he was talking about, so I asked him which room. "That closet thing where you and Dad get dressed."  I had gotten a wild hair and deep-cleaned our walk-in closet. I told him as much. His reply is a sad commentary on my housekeeping habits. "Why? Is someone coming over?"

Another afternoon I found out at work that a lady would be stopping by shortly after school to pick something up. She's super-organized, always put together, and known for being opinionated. Needless to stay, I rushed home from school and frantically started cleaning. I pressed the boys into service too. When Calvin asked why he had to pick up, I told him that someone was coming over and we didn't want her to think we (read: me) were sloppy. "Well, sooo! It's OUR house!"

Of course I didn't tell him so, but he was right. Why do I insist on putting up a front? If you come to my house and I know about it at least 24 hours in advance, I will hide our clutter, scrub the toilets, and probably freak out on my family seven or eight times before your arrival for taking off their shoes by the door or, God forbid, playing with ugly toys. My house will probably look pretty clean - or at least neat. But that is not how we live. And thank goodness - because getting it clean --and keeping it there is really stressful.

We had a party at our house just a week ago. I spent literally an entire week deep-cleaning my house. I cleaned one room per day and washed windows, dusted the red lantern balls in Max's bedroom, vacuumed book covers, crazy stuff like that. And why? Because our friends and family are judgemental of dusty balls? Nope. Because I already wanted to do that stuff and the party was a good excuse to get my rear in gear? Sorta. But mostly, there's really no good reason. I just got it in my mind that this party was an occasion for perfection.

I've been meaning to invite a friend over this summer. I really wanted to do it the week before our party, but I just "couldn't spare the time" cleaning. How ridiculous is that?! And then, the next week  we had surprise guests one evening. I was totally frazzled for the first few minutes (I had been sacked out on the couch and the house was a PIT!) But you know what? Once I got over it, we had a great time. And it was a whole lot more relaxing than if they had called ahead and I felt the need to frantically run around the house and hide/scrub/spot vacuum. It taught me a lesson God and my husband and have been trying to teach me for years: people are more important than (false) perfection.

So in the interest of full disclosure, I'm doing something I never thought I would do... Posting unstaged pictures of my house right now- and sharing this post on facebook to my 308 nearest and dearest. Keep in mind it was SPOTLESS only eight days ago.

One long, long week ago

Don't judge. Things can go downhill pretty fast around here...


There you have it. The real us. Kinda embarrassing for a frustrated perfectionist, but it is what it is. And even though most of the mess is grown up's stuff, I can still pin it on these guys one way or another. I mean, who can clean when this ruckus is going on?

And they're so totally worth it! So, if you come over and it looks like this, maybe you can imagine I was a really great mommy recently. And if it's really clean, please don't ask my kids how their day has been. Or open any closets...