How to suck the fun right out of gifts…a lesson

Excuse me for a moment. I’m a tad delirious and need to share a few thoughts. Actually, it’s just that my eyes need to rest, so staring at the computer seemed like a good idea.

I would like to take a moment to address my friends at Mega Bloks. Your product ranks right up there with a set of Chinese finger traps. Seriously. Except I can just throw away the cheap finger traps and not feel bad. I have a 6-year-old looking at me with tears in his eyes, while I feel like a complete failure for not getting his set put together yet.

It all started with a well-intentioned aunt. And a Santa that found a great deal on Zulilly. Or so I heard.

A set of building blocks…but green and yellow. John Deere. Just like Dad’s. But last time I checked, Dad’s didn’t come in pieces that you had to put together on your own. Not only pieces (828 to be exact), but the pieces come in bags.

Ages 5+...yeah right. Cool set, not so cool set up.

Ages 5+…yeah right. Cool set, not so cool set up.

No biggie. Fewer pieces to lose if you have the project separated into bags, right? Wrong.

The set is labeled for ages 5 and older. Great! Three out of my four boys can build it without assistance! The youngest is almost there as well, he’ll be able to handle it. My 11-year-old is darn near an engineer. He shouldn’t have a problem at all. Wrong. All three were almost to tears a few minutes in.

The problem? The bags mean nothing. You might as well open them all up and pour them into a giant tupperware container to start with..and perhaps a glass of wine. Or two. Don’t put the bottle too far away.

Are you kidding me? Please tell me you're kidding me. They forgot the two most important pieces. Patience and a sense of humor.

Are you kidding me? Please tell me you’re kidding me. They forgot the two most important pieces. Patience and a sense of humor.

I won’t even tell you how long it took me to build the large tractor. I’m almost ashamed to admit it. It would have been fun, but every time I thought I had it figured out, I had to back up a few steps. And let’s not talk about pieces that were missing.

Let's just say that completion was figured in hours...not minutes. A true sign that I really love my boys. Really.

Let’s just say that completion was figured in hours…not minutes. A true sign that I really love my boys. Really.

Tomorrow I’ll tackle the planter. And a new bottle of wine. 😉

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • I’m pretty certain that the people who packaged and wrote the instructions for these sets should have a job with the CIA. They could write out the instructions for nuclear weapons and no one else in the world could replicate them. It would end with the enemy rocking in the fetal position, demanding a glass of wine, crying out, “It can’t be done! It can’t be done!”
  • The person in charge of suggesting what age is appropriate for these sets is on crack. “For ages 5+,” yeah right. I do believe the fine print also suggests you have a working understanding of Olde English, hieroglyphics and advanced calculus, as well as a background in engineering…preferably genetic.Oh, and be a member of Mensa.
  • The next person who buys a set of these for my children will also be required to put it together.
  • I have warned my children that these will go on a shelf. If I see anyone touching them, they will be grounded until they turn 475. I’m only exaggerating a little.

Hometown Holiday

I had a very important date last night…several of them, really. And I thought that maybe I should tell you about it, because, well, really, we talk about most things, don’t we?

Last night I took my four boys Christmas shopping. They each had to shop for one of their brothers. I didn’t limit their spending, I didn’t limit their choices, and it was worth every minute and every dime.

We live in a small, rural community. We have a few stores, but nothing extravagant…yet we had a blast. Let me replay the evening:

Nothing beats a great hometown store...nothing. I've been shopping here for more than 30 years.

Nothing beats a great hometown store…nothing. I’ve been shopping here for more than 30 years.

I went to take Scooter to basketball practice, only to realize that practice was an hour later than I was expecting. No problem, we’ll get some Christmas shopping out of the way at Village Variety. Scooter’s job was to pick one brother, and to buy a gift. He picked Big Bro, found something that “he would love.” We paid for it, had it wrapped and were on our way.

I dropped Scooter off at my Mom’s, and picked up EJ. He picked George. We found a gift, had it wrapped and were on our way.

George met me at the door, ready to go. He knew he was going to go shopping for a gift, and he wanted to buy one for EJ. He already knew what to get him, so we picked it up, had it wrapped (found a little extra something for Grandma), and were on our way.

A happy boy, with his gift for his brother all wrapped and ready for the tree!

A happy boy, with his gift for his brother all wrapped and ready for the tree!

Last, but certainly not least, was Big Bro. He knew that the only brother left was Scooter to buy for, but he also knew what Scooter would want. We picked it up, had it wrapped and were on our way. Voila. Shopping complete.

Big Bro had to carefully determine what Scooter would want. No rushing a well-thought-out gift!

Big Bro had to carefully determine what Scooter would want. No rushing a well-thought-out gift!

And it was the best trip EVER!

Here are the lessons I learned:

  • It truly doesn’t matter what you buy, it’s why you buy it. And if it DOES matter what you buy, you shouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Love isn’t shown with the amount spent, it’s shown with the meaning behind it.
  • A friendly face, a word or two of encouragement to my children and knowing that I’m supporting a local family goes a long way.
  • My children know that my love is not depicted by the number (or grandeur) of the gifts they receive. We do not count gifts in this house. If you are so wrapped up in the gift-giving that you set guidelines, parameters and dollar amounts…well, I think you forgot what the point was for giving the gift. (And I’m not talking budget limitations.)
  • The best gifts I have ever received (aside from my children, naturally), are those that showed how much someone was paying attention: a lasagna pan (I love to cook for my family, and lasagna is my specialty), a necklace that one of my boys picked out, anything that my boys have made, etc. It’s not the amount spent, it’s the “why” behind it. 🙂
  • I am most certain that my boys will follow in my footsteps and will enjoy the giving just as much, if not more than, the receiving. And in that aspect, I feel as if I’ve succeeded as a parent. Yay!

It was a great night, indeed…and in case I get busy and don’t write for a few days again, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from my heart to yours. (And yes, I meant that.)

It’s all in the perspective

It’s amazing sometimes to think about how our situations can have a vast effect on how we view things. For example, think back to October. Those first few days of hitting 30 seemed downright cruel, didn’t they? And now, here we are in December, just hoping for a temp in the positive degrees.

I am not ready for these types of pictures, not that anyone is asking me.

I am not ready for these types of pictures, not that anyone is asking me.

 Amazing what a little time does, isn’t it?


The same is true for much of our lives. Take, for instance, the children in school. I know for a fact that my sixth-grader is pretty convinced that there is nothing harder than trying to figure out his algebra problems. And all I can think is, “Just wait until calculus!”


My fourth-grader is certain that without eating seconds, thirds or fourths at school, he will not be able to physically make it through the day. And all I can think is, “One day, that metabolism will start to slow down, boy!”

The tall one in the red? Yeah, that's my 9-year-old.

The tall one in the red? Yeah, that’s my 9-year-old.

 My first-grader is determined that he does not have to speak, unless he has fully surveyed the situation, has come to the conclusion that you are an OK person to speak to, and that he has something valuable to say. And all I can think is, “I know that one day I will not get you to be quiet.”

Yeah...that's the look that I will fear in years to come. Watch out ladies!

Yeah…that’s the look that I will fear in years to come. Watch out ladies!

 And my littlest one, the one that can cause the most trouble, all while looking the most innocent, he  believes that the world is his oyster, and there is nothing he cannot achieve, nor is there anything that’s out of his reach…literally, as well as figuratively.

Yep. This pretty well sums him up.

Yep. This pretty well sums him up.

 And, for once, I completely agree. Yes, he may have some bumps and he may have some limitations, but as cynical as I may get sometimes, I know that he can achieve it all. They all can.


Yes, distance from youth may have made me a little wiser, a little more cautious in my optimism, but I know that their drive and motivation can take them far. And I would never do anything less than support them fully.


Much like these cold temps, going through a down moment is temporary. Once you’re on the other side, it’ll all seem so trivial. And you’ll be ready to face those demons once again.


Just as the temp tomorrow being 20 would seem like a welcome reprieve and a beautiful winter day, our point of view changes, based on where we’re at in life. And I, for one, cannot wait to change my perspective.


No, I’m no longer a 20-something with grand ideas of setting the world on fire, but I am a somewhat-sensible 30-something with a plan in place of making an impact on the world around me. I’ve made some pretty remarkable strides already, and already my perspective has changed.


You don’t have to live in an urban setting, you don’t have to own the newest gadgets, you don’t have to have the highest of degrees. You just have to have a little passion.


And then you have to try.

Day 7 – Thoughts on raising boys

Yes, as you are well aware, I have boys. Four of them. I joke that they’re the reason I dye my hair, but that has more to do with genetics than anything. So here are some of my thoughts on what it’s like to raise boys…and perhaps a tip or two on how to survive:

boys on first day of school

From left to right: George, EJ, Big Bro and Scooter. My crew.

  • I’d tell you to expect the unexpected, but that’s not true. Expect the impossible. Really. Want to hide the last Hershey kiss in the light fixture, in the middle of the kitchen, with no ladder? Go fold clothes. I dare you. You’ll find your son hanging from the light. Seriously.
  • Do not teach them hide and go seek. I mean it. Unless you want to spend frantic minutes looking for them, only to find them in the dryer. Yeah. Not kidding on this one either.
  • Throw out any book that tells you boys and girls aren’t different. I bought dolls for my boys and gave them a kitchen, thinking I wouldn’t introduce any biasness and would let them be “themselves.” The dolls became hostages and lost their heads, the kitchen was turned into a bunker and doll arms became guns. *sigh* I have to admit, I was never a Barbie fan myself.
  • Do not tell your son to “act like a man.” Unless he’s older than 18. I do not want my child to leave his socks on the kitchen floor, expect his dishes to be picked up after him or expect the sock fairy to magically appear each night. (Kidding, just kidding.) Actually, my problem is that our children grow up too fast, and we always expect them to act older, not just act appropriately for the age they are…and there’s a difference. I’m afraid I may have done a little too much of this with my oldest. He has a very old soul, and I worked so hard to raise him to be a good child, I forgot to let him be a child. Lesson learned the hard way.

    Life is never dull around here.

    Life is never dull around here.

So how do you survive it all? I’m not sure I know quite yet, but I do know one thing. Let go. Don’t get so wrapped up in all the different aspects that you forget that you’re living a life. Make some memories. Have a water fight. Give your son a wedgie. Let them know that you’re not just Mom, and that you remember how to have fun.

It can’t be all rules, all the time. Stay up late. Tell scary stories. Play in a fort. Get dirty. When they ask what’s for supper, tell them it’s frog eyeballs and spider legs. Get creative.

Sometimes the rule is that there are no rules. Inside toys played with outside? Sure. But no complaining if something breaks.

Sometimes the rule is that there are no rules. Inside toys played with outside? Sure. But no complaining if something breaks.

The time will fly by, and before you know it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do all these things sooner.

Four boys. Apparently God has a very good sense of humor. But that’s OK…so do I.

WW – This little piggy…

Today’s Wordless Wednesday post is brought to you by the newest members of Team Wagner: our 4-H pigs!

Here’s a sneak peak, although I’m sure they’ll have their own posts from time to time:

4-H project, pigs

EJ picked a pink pig with a black nose. That was his version of “perfect.”

4-H project, black pig

Scooter picked this guy out. Not perfect, but built the right way, just like him!

pigs, feeding pigs a treat

EJ wasn’t sure about the smell of pigs, but he thought it was fun to give them treats!

feeding pigs marshmallows

EJ really loved feeding them marshmallows! I have a feeling we’re going to have some spoiled porkers!

pigs and babes

George loved the pigs! ALL of them! He was mad that he didn’t get a 4-H pig, but I figured three was a good start.

Palm Sunday and tough questions

We went to church today as a family. That’s not normally cause for celebration, but we’re down to nine cows left to calve, so Boss Man even made it to church with us! It was a great morning/early afternoon together.

Since today was Palm Sunday, the boys were involved in the service by carrying in palm leaves for everyone to wave during our opening services. It was great to see even the younger boys getting into the festivity.

The service went on pretty uneventfully, including the children’s sermon, which doesn’t usually have too big of an impact on our littlest two. After the children’s sermon, instead of a regular sermon regarding the importance of this holiday, three readers from our church read The Passion, or the recount of Jesus’ last hours before the crucifixion.

I didn’t think much of it, but EJ was oddly silent. He was staring at the image projected on the wall:

This is the image that had EJ in deep thought.

He looked up at me, and asked, “How did Jesus die?”

I wasn’t sure where he was going with his thoughts, so I simply stated that he died on the cross. He asked who put them there, and I said that people that thought he was a bad man put him there. And then things became more difficult for me.

EJ looked at me, with tears in his eyes, and simply said, “But Mom, they were wrong. Why didn’t anyone tell them they were wrong?”


I had no answer.

In fact, even if I did have an answer, I wouldn’t have been able to share it with him. I gave him a reassuring hug, and tried to compose myself.

I have participated in many Palm Sunday services. I have read a good portion of the Bible, although I have never read it from front to back. I read from my Bible regularly, going where my heart leads me, picking scripture that suits the day, the mood…and yet, here a 6-year-old boy brings me to tears and leads me to a place that I hardly understand.

When we got home from church, I spent a little time reading to EJ out of his Bible, so that his fears were allayed and that he could rejoice in knowing that Jesus did not suffer needlessly. His death was a gift to us all, and that it’s up to each of us to decide how to use that gift.

This little man was relieved to learn the importance of the story told today, but his innocence taught me more than anything.

This little man was relieved to learn the importance of the story told today, but his innocence taught me more than anything.

Deep thoughts for a 6-year-old, but I’ve quickly come to realize that EJ isn’t your typical 6-year-old. Perhaps next year he can explain it all to me.

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and reveled them to little children.” (Luke 10:21)


A 10-year-old’s Letter About School Lunch

After weeks of discussion and attempting to ask questions, my 10-year-old finally had enough last night. He asked why all of the stuff he liked about lunch seems to be bad for you now. I couldn’t answer his questions any more, so I asked if he wanted to write a letter to one of the people in charge. He agreed.

Big Bro…in a self-portrait last summer.

These are his words, not mine. I admit that I did help him with spelling a few times, and I did help him write down an outline of what he wanted to say before he wrote the letter. I am immensely proud that he wanted to take this step…and I encourage other parents to help their children do the same. We are talking about their lunch and their future – and we need to keep them involved.

I’m including the documents, so you can see what he wrote, but I will also type out his message, so that you can read it plainly.

In the next few weeks, I will also be featuring other students who have questions and concerns. Perhaps we can help get their voices heard, so that we can answer those questions and keep working for positive changes. We have this great opportunity to discuss healthy choices and healthy habits, let’s keep the conversation going!

Lunch letter page 1


Dear Mr. Vilsack,

I am writing about the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and school lunch.

I think that we shouldn’t pay for the extra food that we can get. Why did you think of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010? Why can’t we get pudding or melted cheese on burritos? I thought cheese was healthy?

I am 10 and sometimes I’m hungry when I get home from school. My Mom sometimes sends snack with me on the bus to school. My younger brother eats more than me. He is hungry all the time.

I would like to have a good school lunch. I think meat, cheese and bread are an important part of my meal.

Although I like fruits and vegetables, I would like to see changes made to the school lunch.

Thank You,

Ian Wagner


If a 10-year-old can take the time to write a letter, so can you. Here are the addresses, but don’t be afraid to include your local and state officials as well:

Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services
Kevin Concannon
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Secretary of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Banana Sushi

Banana what??? That’s right – banana sushi. And it was super simple and the kids thought it was delicious! All it took was to peruse a little Pinterest, come up with a few ideas, adjust it to what we needed and voila! A new treat for EJ’s kindergarten class.

I paired it up with sliced strawberries, sliced apples and sliced summer sausage, making it a healthy, hefty snack for a room full of little ones. Take that, new school food rules!

Here’s the simple recipe, along with photo instructions…fool proof, I promise you!

Banana Sushi


  • bananas
  • bread (I used honey wheat…a whole grain, you know)
  • honey

To start with, take two slices of bread and cut off the crust.

Remove the crust from the bread and lay them side by side.

Flatten together with a rolling pin, to make one big, flat slice of bread.

One giant squished piece of bread.

Add a healthy dose of honey…or just a little, whatever your taste.

Add honey to your bread.

Peel a banana. If it’s too curved, you can always just use your hands to “straighten” it a bit. In fact, I found the bananas very easy to manipulate into a straight shape…it was just a tad messy.

Next, just roll your bread around the banana, pat the ends together to seal, and cut into slices. It’ll look a little “sushi”-ish. And taste yummy! (If you like bananas and honey.)

Finished product…and yummy!




It’s Football Time!!!

Tonight is Scooter’s first football game…and I cannot wait! I wasn’t extremely active in sports during my high school days. We lived 16 miles from town and we had to pick and choose the activities we were involved in wisely, so that we weren’t wasting trips to town, working around schedules, etc.

I played basketball until a knee injury sidelined me, and then I became a cheerleader. I quickly found that my calling was supporting others, cheering them on, trying to infuse energy and excitement into situations…I guess I’m still kind of in that mindset.

But tonight I get to cheer on my favorite athlete of all time, my son.

Scooter and his older/younger brothers. He’s the one in the football gear.

With his size and appetite (he’s 8 years old, and he’s 5’1″ and weighs 105 pounds…he’s my NFL hopeful! 😉 Just kidding, of course…kinda), I knew that I would have to bulk it up a bit today. He gets up at 6:40 in the morning, gets on the bus by 7:20 and arrives at school around 8:30. This morning he had a poptart (because breakfast wasn’t ready fast enough) and an egg sandwich. Then when he gets to school he eats breakfast there. His lunch is at 11:20 or so and I won’t see him to feed him until almost 6 tonight. So I packed snacks.

That’s the plan behind the new school lunch guidelines – for parents to take over and provide more nutrition for those kids that need it. And I’m willing to do my part, but there’s a catch. You see, the snacks have to make it to the desired time period. I have to remind my son that he can’t eat them on the way to school. That he needs to save them for in the afternoon. And I have to make sure that the teacher is on board with this.

Normally the snack rule in our school has always been that if one person has a snack, they must bring enough for all…but that has to change with the new rules. And the snacks are supposed to change as well.

Yet, when I pack a snack at 6:30 in the morning, knowing they won’t be ate (hopefully) until 2 in the afternoon, and without the benefits of a refrigerator or a microwave, I’m a tad limited in my options. Grapes, granola bars, fruit snacks…some are healthy, some are not within the new guidelines. But more importantly, they’ll give my son the energy needed to get through the day.

My biggest concern is making sure he has enough energy to be physically active and not get hurt. Because an athlete that can’t focus or is lethargic on the field is a disaster (and an injury) waiting to happen.

I want my son fed AND safe…is that too much to ask?