play stages · siblings · slice of life

It could always be worse.

7:15 PM: I took a shower.
7:22 PM: I discovered no one had come upstairs to get ready for bed at 7:15. I gave the kids a five-minute warning since they said Marc hadn’t set a timer for them.
7:28 PM: Texted Marc to let him know the kids needed to come upstairs.
7:30 PM: My children pretended they couldn’t hear my phone’s timer or me.
7:32 PM: Patience was waning.
7:36 PM: Isabelle graced me with her presence. Ari continued to give Marc a hard time.
7:50 PM: I tucked Isabelle into bed since she was exhausted.
7:55 PM: I read to Ari.
8:07 PM: Lights out for Ari.
8:15 PM: I went to my office to catch up on emails. I promised myself to be in bed by 9:00 PM.
9:12 PM: Whoops! Still in my office.
9:18 PM: Shut my office lights.
9:19 PM: Stopped dead in my tracks when I discovered WHAT kept my kids so busy that they couldn’t come up at the regular get-ready-for-bed time.

What in the fresh hell was this?!

9:21 PM: Knocked on Marc’s office door to ask him what happened downstairs. He was on the phone. I made him mute himself so I could ask him why the kids did this while I was in the showered. He was like, “Oh, you know… kids!” Yes, I do know. I also know that I rehabbed my ankle injury of 2019 and value my ability to walk through the playroom!
9:33 PM: Snapped a photo of every possible toy that was lining the play room floor. From Isabelle’s old Little People structures to Ari’s old trains and vehicles, I couldn’t believe my kids still possessed all of this stuff!
9:34 PM: Imagined how else they could’ve made the playroom impassible to adult foot traffic.
9:35 PM: Legos. Legos strewn all over the floor would definitely be worse!

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family · siblings · slice of life · writing

Don’t Make Fun of Invented Spelling!

I awoke with a migraine. Once I walked into the kitchen, I grabbed the bottle of Excedrin Migraine and downed two pills.

Both kids were speaking loudly, so I was not amused. Through the chatter I was trying to ignore, I heard that Ari had an envelope ready to be mailed to my mother-in-law.

“I hope it’s not a sticky note letter,” I said. “You know Grandma doesn’t like it when you only send a sticky note in the mail.”

“It is,” Ari replied.

“C’mon!” I replied through the pulsing in my head. I looked at Marc, “You know your mom doesn’t like it when he sends sticky notes. She wants a letter or a picture too. And I agree with her.”

Marc shrugged. (He’s on-call at the hospital this week, so I decided to go easy on him since he was probably thinking about a complicated patient rather than Ari’s too-short note to his mom.)

“Ari, you need to send Grandma a letter on a larger piece of paper or enclose a picture too.”

Ari acquiesced and handed the envelope over to Marc.

“I’m going to open the envelope so you can use it again since it already has a stamp on it,” Marc said.

He stamped that?! Keep your cool, Stacey. Keep your cool.

Once the envelope was opened, Ari removed the sticky note. I read it and was aghast.

“You wrote a sticky note to Grandma asking her to buy you something?!”

Ari nodded.

“Do you think that’s appropriate? Or do you think you should ask her how she’s doing, tell her about what’s happening in your life?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Go and get a larger piece of paper and try again.”

Ari returned with the small rectangle of white paper you see in the photo above. (I realized I had a slice-of-life story on my hands when this happened, so I snapped the picture at this point.)

“Listen, Ari. You have paper in your desk that you could use. You can draw a picture and write something to Grandma on it. If you do that, I’m happy to send it to Grandma. She’ll love to read your writing and see your picture. But I don’t think she will love getting a sticky note demanding a crane truck.”

“Okay,” he said.

Ari went into the playroom, not to his desk. Maybe I don’t have a slice-of-life story on my hands. I don’t think he’s going to write more.

A few minutes later, as I took my oatmeal off the stove, I called Ari, “Have you eaten breakfast yet?”

“No!” he called back.

“You need to tell me what you want,” I replied.


“If you don’t tell me, you’ll have to make it yourself.” (This isn’t a threat. He likes making breakfast.)

“That’s fine!”

My migraine was dissipating while I ate my oatmeal. When I was nearing the end of my solo breakfast, Isabelle walked into the kitchen. She must’ve heard the commotion over the sticky note to Grandma since she walked over to the counter to check it out.

“Oh, Ari!” she said. “You wrote now instead of new.”

“Isabelle, don’t–” I warned.

“But he spelled it wrong,” she replied.

“You knew what he meant, right?”

She nodded.

“He misspelled Grandma too. He’s using what he knows to create the spelling for words. That’s called invented spelling. It’s a thing.”

“But it’s wrong,” she replied.

“Do you always spell correctly?”

“No,” she said.

“You invent spellings too. That’s FINE.”

“But it says now, not new.”

“That’s it. Come here and let me teach you about invented spelling.”

I pulled up an article about invented spelling that I wrote for We Are Teachers when Isabelle was in Kindergarten. It contains a piece of writing she did at home in Kindergarten. It’s loaded with invented spelling. I showed her the images. When I finished reading the “Invented spelling is an analytical process” section, Isabelle realized she was wrong.

Ari came into the room while I was reading the article. Therefore, Isabelle turned to him and said in a sing-song voice, “I’m sorry baby. I didn’t know what invented spelling was.”

“Really, Iz? He’s six years old, not six months. He’s not a baby.”

Isabelle modulated her voice, so it returned to normal. “I’m sorry I made fun of your writing, Ari. I did the same thing too when I was your age.”

“That’s better,” I told her.

“Ari, do you understand you didn’t do anything wrong?” Other than trying to send Grandma a sticky note asking for a toy.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Good. Now, it’s time for me to do the dishes so we can get out of here.”

Who knows if he’ll write Grandma a proper letter later today…

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food · siblings · slice of life

“I don’t like my blood type” is not a real complaint!

“I don’t want roast chicken for dinner,” Ari whined. “Why do you have to make roast chicken?”

“Huh?” I asked.

The complaining continued, “Why can’t you make buttermilk brined chicken?”

“I am making buttermilk brined chicken,” I replied.

“But you told Mrs. Paul you were making roast chicken tonight,” Ari retorted.

“Yes, because I am roasting a chicken. I was making small talk while you were getting into our car. Did I really need to get into the kind of chicken I was roasting when there were 30+ cars behind me?”

“I guess not,” Ari muttered.

Photo of a chicken leg/thigh and green beans.

Isabelle is our family’s complainer-in-chief, but Ari is a runner-up. He jumps right in if she’s unable to complain about something.

You can imagine that I had HAD it with complaints once Isabelle opened the fire hydrant on her complaints at dinnertime with, “It’s steaming hot!” about the chicken on her plate.

“That’s it!” I said. I opened a drawer, retrieved a notebook, and declared, “I’m writing down everything you complain about tonight at dinnertime… starting with that!”

Over the next ten minutes, I spent more time scribing than eating. But I was trying to prove a point, so I kept at it, rolling my eyes at Marc occasionally.

“Who’s winning?” Ari asked.

I counted. “You’re tied with Isabelle, five to five.”

Wanting to take the lead, Isabelle said, “I don’t like my blood type!”

“That’s not a real complaint!” I declared. “I refuse to write that down.”

A long list of my children's complaints at dinnertime.
Click to enlarge.

Of course, the kids started complaining about ridiculous things. Leave it to Marc to stop it by saying, “My water could have a little more flavoring in it.” (That was a dig towards Isabelle, who sets the table and gets the drinks at night.)

“Now, it’s five, five, and one,” I replied.

“You’re winning,” Ari told me.

Am I? I wondered. I fight so hard to make sure we eat dinner together virtually every night. This is the thanks I get!

In the end, Isabelle edged Ari out for the most complaints at dinnertime. Ultimately, I guess I won since I found something to write about.

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siblings · slice of life

Wear Shoes on the Basement Floor!

I was greeted by piles of folded laundry on my dresser when I awoke this morning. (My husband folded all of it last night while I read a novel, so I am NOT complaining!) I put it away in the kids’ rooms before doing anything else.

I walked down the hall and noticed both kids’ doors were open. Relieved that I didn’t have to wake anyone to get them moving for Hebrew school, I placed a pile of clean laundry to place on Isabelle’s bed. I walked back down the hall and realized Ari’s door was open, but his light was off, curtains were drawn, and his white noise machine was still on. I walked in and only found stuffed animals in his bed.

The house was pin-drop quiet.

“Ari?” I called.

No answer.

“Isabelle?” I called.

No answer — again.

I raised my voice louder, “Marc?”


“Marc, Isabelle, Ari! Are any of you home?!”

Not. A. Thing.

I texted Marc and asked him where they were since no one answered me. Seconds later, I received a response from Marc:

I just found both of them in the basement. He is running around with nothing on his feet.

Then, a picture arrived. It was captioned “for your amusement.”

These are my children just HANGING OUT in the unfinished part of our basement. Isabelle is kneeling on the floor in her rain boots going through the contents of her keepsake box. Ari was sitting in a beach chair doing who-knows-what in his bare feet.

The floor in the unfinished part of our basement is gross. It’s got dried-up mud on top of the concrete. Had I not broken my foot two weeks before we moved in, I would’ve asked for it to be thoroughly cleaned. But I had no idea that it was dirty! Therefore, the rule is that one must wear shoes when going in that part of the basement lest they subject themselves to a complete foot cleaning upon return to the central part of the house.


I was thrilled they were alive and well, but definitely not amused by the bare feet.

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siblings · slice of life

What should we do today?

Last week, our family spent five days in Bethany Beach, DE. This week is filled with back-to-school activities and more medical appointments than any person without school age children would ever schedule in a month! As a result, at breakfast, my children wanted to know what they’d be doing after Isabelle’s allergy shots.

I offered ideas that Isabelle (who was sporting a fabulous tween attitude) found abhorrent. For instance, when I suggested Ari’s favorite playground, she said, “A playground? That’s boring!” while rolling her eyes.

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

“Hersheypark!” she retorted.

“Hersheypark was never on the table for today. You both have appointments in the mid-afternoon and I have work that needs to be done.”

“What else can we do?” she asked.

“We could go peach picking,” I offered.

“I don’t want to go peach picking,” Isabelle replied. (Ari, on the other hand, was tickled by that idea. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate a freshly harvested peach?!!? Tweens, that’s who!)

“Why don’t you come up with another idea.”

“Well, you know what I’m going to say,” Isabelle remarked.


Isabelle let out her frustration with an audible grunt.

“Do you have any other ideas?” she wanted to know.

“Yes, I do. We could go to Ken’s Gardens to plant new succulents to replace the ones that perished.”

“I don’t want to do that,” Isabelle said while Ari yelped with delight.

“Your brother would be happy at a playground, picking peaches, or going to the planting bar. You can make the final decision, but it has to be one of those three things.”

“How about the pool?” Isabelle offered.

“Make a choice from the three I gave you or Ari and I will make it for you.”

“Fine, we can plant succulents,” she replied petulantly.

In the end, she enjoyed creating a new succulent arrangement. But, ohmigosh, it’s time for her to head back to school!

Top left: Mine; Top right: Isabelle’s; Bottom: Ari’s
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day trip · siblings · slice of life

Stops & Starts

I’ve dreamed of visiting Holland’s tulip fields in person. Thing is, the chance of me getting to the Netherlands in the next decade is small. (If you know of an international school in the Netherlands looking for a literacy consultant, drop my name to them!) So, I asked my husband if he’d be willing to drive nearly two hours each way to Holland Ridge Farms, which has over eight million tulips blooming each spring. Marc agreed and bought the tickets.

There were lots of kitschy photo props throughout the farm. This one reflects my affinity for tulips. Cheesy? Indeed.

Once Ari got the hang of twisting and pulling the tulips from the earth, he became a zealous tulip picker. Ari wanted red ones for himself, yellow ones for his sitter, and every other color combination for me, Isabelle, and Marc to enjoy. Therefore, Ari picked a LOT of tulips — some of which had to be discarded because he didn’t pull them off properly from the bulb. It was tulip madness!

Isabelle, who is nearly six years older than Ari, wasn’t into his let-me-stop-at-every-tulip-bed-to-pick-another-tulip antics. She grew frustrated with the stopping and starting, especially once we had been at the farm for 90 minutes.

After we bought some drinks, we took some photos. That’s when I made a deal with Isabelle. If she let me grab a few more photos, then we’d head back towards the car. Wisely, she took the deal.

One of the many photos to which I subjected my family. (Ari was INTO it. He even picked a new tulip for the picture!)

The thing is… we didn’t factor in Ari stopping and starting to pick more tulips on the walk back across the 300 acre farm. Isabelle grew irritated with him quickly.

We tried challenging Ari with timers. “Let’s set a five-minute timer,” Marc told him. “When it goes off you can stop to pick another tulip.”

The first time we did that Ari made it 2.5 minutes.

{Cue the exasperated tween.}

Next, I suggested a stopwatch. “This time we’re going to count up using a stopwatch. I want to see how long you can go without stopping to pick any tulips. Just admire them, but keep walking to the car.”

It worked. Ari made it one minute. Then two minutes. Then three minutes. Then four minutes.

Somewhere around four minutes, I must have said something like, “Aren’t those tulips beautiful?” Well, that’s all it took for Ari to run off to pick one of them for me!

Sweet, right?

Sweet for me. Maddening for Isabelle.

It probably took us close to an hour, but we eventually made it to the exit. Somehow, Isabelle survived. In the end, Ari’s stops and starts provided her with an excellent slice of life story. (Click here to read her slice of life story about her little brother’s antics.)

Posing by Red Tulips. (I’m sure he picked a few from this flower bed.)
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siblings · slice of life

Wiggly Tooth

I don’t like looking at wiggly teeth. It creeps me out. Always has. Always will. So imagine how excited I was to watch Ari wiggle his loose tooth back and forth during breakfast.

“Bite into your English muffin with your front teeth,” I suggested.

It didn’t work. After every bite — most of which were on the sides of his mouth — Ari wiggled his tooth, annoyed that it was still in his mouth.

After no action & a good deal of whining, I asked Marc to get the gauze since it was time to try pulling the tooth out. (Yet another thing that creeps me out.)

Marc provided Ari with an apple and told him to bite into it with his front teeth. Ari bit into the apple lightly a few times. Marc used the gauze to check the status of Ari’s loose tooth between apple bites. It didn’t seem to be getting any looser.

Marc attempted to pull out Ari’s tooth, but he was unsuccessful. Losing patience, Ari grabbed the gauze out Marc’s hands and bequeathed it to Isabelle.

Why Isabelle?

Well, Isabelle has experience pulling out teeth. Her own teeth, of course. She has been known to pull her own teeth out long before they were ready. (Like, I’m talking about seeing the root still attached.) I shudder when I think of how many moderately wiggly teeth she managed to extract from her mouth over the years.

Isabelle covered her washed hands with gauze and started to wiggle Ari’s loose tooth back and forth. She set her gaze on Ari’s mouth. Isabelle gave a gentle tug. Ari let out a small grunt. Nothing. She gave another gentle tug. He made another small grunt. Still nothing.

This went on a few more times until finally Isabelle exclaimed, “Did it!” She showed us the tiny tooth while pressing down on Ari’s gum with the gauze.

“Mazel tov,” I called out. (I even played “Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov” on my phone to celebrate.):

Marc peered under the gauze and instructed Ari how to hold it there until the bleeding stopped.

I stood back and beamed with pride at Isabelle who treated her brother in such a loving, gentle way. Then I realized we were entering a new phase in life now that Ari’s first tooth fell out. Both of those thoughts warmed my heart until I realized that our resident tooth puller might become Ari’s official tooth yanker! I cringed. Better than me having to do it, I guess!

Click here to read Isabelle’s version of the story.

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food · reading · recipes · siblings · slice of life


Ari’s half-birthday is approaching so I’m going to be baking a half-of-a-cake cake with him. Thing is, his half birthday falls during the week so in-between homeschooling, trying to get work done, and writing, I’ll be baking a cake tomorrow. Knowing this is going to make for a TIGHT day, I thought it would be a good idea to have all of the ingredients — except for the ones that require refrigeration — laid out on the counter tonight.

Thing is, the mise-en-place-the-night-before idea came to me while I was cooking dinner — a new recipe — this evening. Therefore, I couldn’t read off the list of ingredients to Ari, who knows where most things are kept in the kitchen. Even if he cannot read the ingredient names, he knows the difference between even more obscure ingredients, such as the look of the regular cocoa powder and my dutched cocoa powder. What he doesn’t know, by sight, is the difference between bittersweet and semisweet chocolate bars.

Isabelle knows where nearly none of the ingredients or baking tools are kept. BUT, she can read! So, I enlisted her help to read through the ingredient list to Ari so he could gather everything up and place it on the counter. They were quite the pair!

Everything is ready to go, waiting for us, for the morning. I cannot believe I’m going to start baking at 7 a.m. (Because our homeschool day starts at 8:00!), but that’s the plan… as of now.

homeschool · siblings · slice of life

When One Kid Is Up First

It’s 6:55 a.m. and Marc has told Ari he may not wake Isabelle up until 7:00 a.m. (That’s right. My always-early-to-rise kiddo has been affected by the time change.) Knowing that Isabelle still being asleep means that it’ll be challenging to start our homeschool day precisely at 8:00 a.m., I give Ari the green light to wake her at 6:59 a.m. as Marc heads off to work.

7:00 a.m.: Turn on “Up First” and do makeup.
7:01 a.m.: Listen to the first story about Ukraine.
7:02 a.m.: Keep listening and applying makeup.
7:05 a.m.: Overhear rumblings of tension down the hall.
7:06 a.m.: Listen to yelling — and it isn’t coming from the podcast’s audio feed. Keep putting on makeup since this is something I typically do after I eat breakfast.
7:07 a.m.: Speed up the pace of makeup application when I hear Isabelle yell, “Stop pulling my quilt!”
7:08 a.m.: Rise from the makeup table after Isabelle yells, “Could somebody help me down here!?” I am the only parent home so it’s up to me to break up the conflict.
7:09 a.m.: Turn off “Up First” while marching down the hall to see what the commotion was about.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“Ari was trying to pull my quilt off of the bed!”

“Why were you doing that?”

“She wasn’t getting up,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“You could’ve come to get me,” I said.

Ari made a soft uh-huh sound. (That’s what he does when he realizes he is wrong, but doesn’t want to admit it.)

“What could you have done instead?” I ask Ari.

That’s when he climbs up into Isabelle’s bed and lays down where the sheet is exposed from him pulling the quilt off. He closes his eyes and pretends to sleep.

And that’s when I think THAT IS NOT AN ALTERNATIVE! And then I think, is it really only Tuesday?!

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pretend play · siblings · slice of life

You Know You Live in Lancaster County When…

When I tell people live in Lancaster County, PA, they often ask me if I see a lot of horse and buggies. The answer is yes. It’s almost a daily thing if we leave the house. In fact, sometimes we don’t even have to leave home to see them. Early in the pandemic, Isabelle and I once sat outside our house for a half-hour writing poetry. In that time, we saw and heard had three horse and buggies go by on the high road, which we can see from our house! So, seeing horse and buggies has become a part of my children’s landscape.

Boy holding both ends of a pool noodle around his sister's waist on a sidewalk.
Yes, Isabelle is blowing bubbles while she plays the role of the horse. I’m guessing this is what she was doing when she was recruited for this by Ari!

I was working in my office and got a photo sent to me of the kids playing outside. If there weren’t an explanation, I would’ve wondered why they were walking so close to one another with Ari holding both ends of a pool noodle around Isabelle’s waist. But then I saw the caption, which read:

Ari is playing horse and buggy.

I burst out laughing! I turned around, hopped out of my desk chair, and bounded towards the door so I could see for myself. Sure enough, I discovered my 11-year-old daughter humoring her 5-year-old brother, so he could play horse and buggy with her. Classic.

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