In the Middle · Life with Kids · Parenting teens · Parenting tweens

I Get By With a Little Help From My (Cyber) Friends

I’m not gonna lie. I miss having Little Ones. I mean I really miss it. I miss chubby, jelly-smeared faces. I miss sticky kisses and fat little arms around my neck. I miss the way my little boy said, “welwoah” and “wemon cake” and dandewion.” I miss they way my daughter used to pretend to be a baby shark – all year long, on land or in the pool. I miss the way my younger daughter spent day after day wearing fairy wings and snow boots and the way our littlest one used to play with his toes and sing a sleepy song just before dropping off. I miss all of this and so much more.

But I’m not surprised. Even at the time I knew that the moments were precious and the time was fleeting. I knew I would miss having little ones. What I did not expect, what I did not know I would lose, is the friendships I formed in those days of playgroups and play dates and long, lazy afternoons by the pool.

At the time, I did not realize what a gift it was to sit for a couple of hours (or more) each week with my friends and drink coffee or sweet tea and visit while our children played. For me, having small children meant having time for friends. As a stay-at-home and a homeschooling mom, hanging out with my friends was actually a part of my job description.

Of course, I still have friends. Some have moved. Some of us have gone back to work. But none of us had a falling out. We still love to hang out and drink coffee and talk. But now, those opportunities are rare. There are no Saturday mornings at the park because Saturday mornings are for ball games and lessons. We don’t hangout by the pool in the summers like we used to. Sitting in the sun with friends watching your seven year olds swim is normal. It’s good parenting.  If my mom friends and I joined our teenagers at the pool now several afternoons each week, they would be mortified. It would be weird.

So, we do the best we can. Somehow, every once in a great while, a few of us find a night when none of our kids has a game or a practice or a band concert, and we have dinner.

I keep telling myself that, just like those years when I could not sit down to a meal without being interrupted to nurse or take a toddler to the bathroom or wipe up spilled milk, this is a phase, a season of life. The teenage years are, in some ways, the years of isolation for moms.

Or maybe not. Having teenagers does afford me hour and hours of late night solitude as I wait (and pray) for my kids to get home safely. In those hours, I am able to connect with moms all over the country thanks to groups like Grown and Flown.

I was thrilled when I found a website and Facebook group specifically for parents of teenagers and young adults. Like a lot of aspects of middle age  this time in life, mothering older kids entails its own unique set of joys, sorrows and frustrations.  I am delighted to be connected to a supportive group of women who know what I am going through. I am even more delighted to have been able to write for Grown and Flown.

In recent weeks Lisa and Mary Dell, the women who run the site, have published two of my posts. Family Dinner: We Lost the Table and Found So Much More is about the way my family has connected by turning out kitchen eating area into a comfy sitting area. Teenagers: I Want to Remember These Last Times is about the bittersweetness of going from a house full of Little Ones to a house full of teens and tweens.

In the years that my children were small, I needed my mom friends to help me through the stress of teething and weaning and living day after day with a house full of needy little people. Those days are over, but I still need mom friends now to help through these years of living in a house full of needy (and sometimes moody, sometimes hilarious, sometimes infuriating, sometimes delightful) big people. Even though we don’t have a weekly excuse to hang out drinking coffee anymore, I am still grateful for my mom friends. And I’m grateful for my cyber mom friends too.

After all, as Mary Dell and Lisa say, “Parenting never ends.”


A rare moms' night out
A rare moms’ night out
Catholicsim · Life with Kids · What We're Reading

Six Very Short Christmas Stories for All Ages (with PDF links)

Every year in preparation for Christmas, along with the twinkle lights and the greenery, the crèche and the stockings, I unpack my family’s collection of Christmas books.

Sometimes I try to convince the kids to let me read to them. But the children are all big now and busy and much too old for stories.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. No one is ever too big for stories. With a cup of cocoa, a plate of sugar cookies, and a cozy blanket it’s possible to get even big kids to cuddle up and listen. Here are six short Christmas stories guaranteed to delight all ages.


  • Papa Panov’s Special Day by Leo Tolstoy is based on the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel wherein Jesus speaks to His followers about welcoming the stranger.  Papa Panov is a lonely cobbler. On Christmas Eve Jesus appears to him in a dream and tells Papa that he will come to visit him the next day. All Christmas day Papa Panov waits for Jesus’s arrival, but as the day drags on Papa worries that he has missed Him.

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  • The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde – This is the story of a  giant who refuses to let the village children play in his beautiful garden. The giant’s selfishness costs him dearly. But when a very special child touches his heart, the giant is changed forever.


  • A Christmas Day in the Morning  by Pearl S. Buck -At fifteen, Rob realizes for the first time in his life that his father loves him. This realization awakens love in Rob’s heart and  prompts him  to give his father the best gift he can think of. Rob’s gift is simple, but it’s this simplicity and Rob’s father’s reaction to the gift that make this story so touching and so relatable.


  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry – This is one of the best known Christmas short stories of all time, but it’s still worth reading every year. Newlyweds Della and Jim each want desperately to give the other a special Christmas gift, and they both make a great sacrifice to do so. But in the end, they realize that love is the greatest gift of all.


  • Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt is a story is based on the childhood of novelist Frank McCourt’s mother, Angela. Little Angela is worried that Baby Jesus in the nativity at Saint Joseph’s Church is cold. After all, she knows what it’s like to be cold and hungry. So she takes matters into her own hands. This almost gets her into a lot of trouble with her mother, with the parish priest, and even with the police, but when her brother Pat comes to her aid everyone, including the reader, is deeply moved.


  • A Christmas Memory by Truman Copote was first published in 1956 in Mademoiselle magazine. It is the mostly auto-biographical story of the friendship between seven year old Buddy and his special friend, an elderly relative who herself is much like a seven year old. This one is a bit longer than the other stories on this list, but definitely worth the time. It’s a beautifully crafted tale of friendship, growing up, and loss.


Christmas is such a busy time. I can think of no better way to slow down and enjoy the season with my family than to share one of these delightful stories together – even if I have to bribe everyone with a plate of cookies


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Life with Kids · What we've learned

Four Reasons We Didn’t Get a Rescue Dog

We have a new puppy. We didn’t take in a stray. We didn’t find him from a pet rescue website. And we did not, as I had always imagined we would, go to our local shelter and pick out a sad-eyed, fuzzy puppy looking for his forever home. Instead we bought a purebred puppy from a breeder – no apologies.

No apologies, yet I find myself explaining our decision over and over to family and friends who are advocates of shelter pets.Actually, I’m an advocate too. I think adopting is a wonderful way to add a pet to a family. A dog certainly doesn’t have to be a purebred to be lovable and adorable. When I hear of someone looking for a dog, I always encourage them to consider a rescue dog.

In fact, for many people and families, a rescue dog is the best option. Until a few weeks ago, I assumed it was the best option for our family too. But turns out, it wasn’t. A few weeks ago, after lot of research and a great deal of thought, we bought (and adopted) Rufus, a UKC registered redbone coonhound.


Here are the reasons my family decided to get a purebred.

  • We knew what we wanted and what we didn’t. Our dog search began just after my youngest son read Where the Red Fern Grows. From that point on he was, like the boy in the book, aching for a dog of his own. He was convinced that a redbone coonhound, just like Old Dan and Little Ann, was the perfect dog for him. I wasn’t so sure. What about a nice lab mix or boarder collie combo? We did our research, and slowly we began to weed out certain breeds. We raise bison, so we ruled out any of the herding breeds – because bison do not take kindly to being herded. We have a lot of landscaping, so we ruled out diggers like terriers. We knew we wanted a shorthaired dog because farm dogs tend to roll in yucky stuff. We also wanted a dog we could keep in the house, so we didn’t want a dog who would shed or be too hyper. As the list began to narrow, we decided we didn’t want to roll the dice with a pound puppy. Turns out, my son was right. A redbone is the perfect dog for us. According to the The American Kennel Club, the breed is even-tempered, amiable, and easy to train. They are energetic and active when outside but content to lie around the house for hours too. This sounded like the perfect dog for our family and for our young son.
  • We believe in maintaining breed standard. Don’t breed or buy while shelter animals die. I’ve seen it on websites, T-shirts, and bumper stickers. This slogan is catchy and a great way to encourage people to consider adopting a shelter pet. But it doesn’t make sense for everyone to stop buying from breeders. If that happens, eventually there will be no more purebred dogs. We never hear of anyone calling for the extinction of the black rhino or the mountain gorilla, but if no one is breeding labs or poodles or Siberian Huskies, eventually there will be no more of these breeds. In order to maintain quality bloodlines and breed standards, dogs have to be bred and their puppies sold to people who appreciate the specific qualities of the breed.
  • We want to support responsible breeders. Our family has alway believed in supporting locally owned, family businesses. Buying a dog from a quality breeder was in keeping with that philosophy. Also, many of the families who breed dogs do so, not just for the extra income, but for the love of the breed. Their dogs are not just sires and dams, but beloved family pets whose puppies are given the best possible care until they are sold to loving homes. Reputable breeders keep their dogs in safe, healthy, and comfortable living conditions and up to date on all shots and vaccinations. Responsible breeders are advocates for the health and well-being of dogs, just like rescue advocate are.
  • Our son deserved this dog. Our son earned this puppy by doing chores on our farm. For months he has consistently and compassionately taken care of our pigs, chickens, and ducks. He has shown himself to be responsible and reliable. It was time to get him a dog of his own. Unless something terrible happens, this will be the one and only dog we get for our son. This is the dog he will grows up with, and this dog, this breed, was his heart’s desire. We don’t always give our children their heart’s desire, but in this case we could, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Not every family should buy a dog from a breeder, and not everyone should adopt from a shelter. Choosing and owning a dog is a big deal, a big commitment. The right dog for anyone is the dog that is the best fit for them – no matter where it comes from.


Confessions · Life with Kids · What we've learned

Confessions of a Former Homeschooling Mother

I never ever planned to homeschool. When I got pregnant with my first child, my plan was to quit my job as a high school teacher and stay home with my children until the youngest started kindergarten.

Fast forward two years. I’m pregnant with number two. My husband and I are having dinner with friends who have a four year old and a one year old. At some point in the evening they casually mention that they are planning to homeschool their oldest next year for kindergarten. I remember thinking,”Huh? They look so normal.”

I looked at my husband expecting to share one of our subtle ya-gotta-be-kidding-me glances. That’s when he piped up. “Yeah. We’ll probably homeschool too.”

What the what? I couldn’t believe my ears. Still, I chalked it up to the wine. Besides kindergarten was a long, long way off for our son, Jack. I had plenty of time to worry about that.

Then I blinked and it was time for him to go.

But my husband and I weren’t sure. He was young for his age. As a late April baby he did not have a magic birth date. You know, the ones that come before March and that guarantee a child will be an honor student, a star athlete and score a full ride to the college of his choosing. (Give us a break. He was our first, and we still believed all the urban parenting legends.)

Anyway, long story short, we decided to give homeschooling a try. We figured that if it didn’t work we could always red shirt Jack and then send him to real kindergarten the next year.

Turns out, it worked out beautifully. That’s not to say that I didn’t re-question the decision at the beginning of every school year, but that year and every year for the next seven years, we homeschooled Jack and our other three kids too.

Maybe it’s because I never imagined myself as a homeschooler. Maybe it’s because my commitment to homeschooling was always a little tentative. But whenever I was asked about my decision, I always felt like I had to try to make homeschooling sound as mainstream as possible. But now that all my kids are in public school, I guess I can come clean about what we really did all those years.

We started every day by snuggling on the couch. There was no yelling at everyone to find their shoes. There was no scrambling to locate homework and lunch boxes. There was no rush. No fuss. No tears. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a homeschool hippy, we started our days in peace and love. What a bunch of weirdos.

We studied what we wanted to. One year the two older kids developed a fascination for sea life. We went ocean crazy. We read every book about sharks, whales and squid that we could get our hands on. We took a field trip to an aquarium and then a family trip to the beach. We watched hours and hours of ocean shows on Discovery Channel, and we never once opened a single science text book. Funny, I think my kids actually learned a lot of sciencey stuff that year anyway.

My kids were best friends. We were involved in a large homeschool group, so my children had plenty of friends outside of our family. They also knew kids from church and sports.They went to birthday parties and sleepovers just like normal children, but day in and day out, they were each other’s playmates and confidants. They will thank me someday when they are grownups and they need someone to complain to about their crazy homeschooling family. Their siblings will understand better than anyone.

They read books and played outside all afternoon. In my defense, it’s easy to finish school by noon when you only cover two subjects – math and reading. Okay, maybe that’s not much of a defense, but who really remembers anything from fourth grade social studies anyway? So, maybe my kids don’t know the difference between Ponce de Leon and Magellan, but they do know how to play and pretend and entertain themselves. And they darn sure know the meaning of the words, “Go outside and play, and don’t come back in until I call you.” I think those lessons will serve them far better in the long run anyway.

We skipped school sometimes. The truth is, some days we couldn’t even make it until noon. Sometimes the weather was just too pretty to do school. Or the baby was too fussy. Or I had too much laundry. Or a homeschooling friend (who also thought the weather was too pretty for school) would invite them over to play. We also took all the same snow days and holidays as kids who went to real school. So, looking back, that could explain why…

They had some holes in their education. When Jack was in third grade, he had to take the same standardized tests as all the public school kids. No problem. I was (fairly) confident that he was reading, writing, and doing math at or beyond grade level. I didn’t do anything special to prepare him. I figured he’d be fine. And he was – except for one thing. I had somehow neglected to teach him our address. Also, he was a little shaky on the spelling of our last name. But once he got past filling out the personal information portion of the test, he actually did score at or above grade level in everything.

In fact, since my children started public school, they have all been at or above grade level in all their subjects. I guess all that extra play and snuggling didn’t do too much damage. But I still don’t think any of them know who Magellan was.

Spelling wasn't exactly our strong suite - as indicated by this Mommy Appreciation Day poster The Littles made.
Spelling wasn’t exactly our strong suite – as indicated by this Mommy Appreciation Day poster The Littles made.

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Life with Kids · Parenting teens · Parenting tweens

Seven Reason Taking My Kids to a Corn Maze is a Nightmare

I love fall. Fall in the country means locally grown pumpkins adorning my front porch. Fall means bonfires, hayrides and freshly baked pumpkin everything. The leaves are stunning. The air is crisp. Fall is charming. Well, charming except for one thing – a thing that I suspect is unique to rural areas, fly-over states, and low budget horror movies. The one uncharming thing about fall is corn mazes.

Corn mazes, or course, are very popular among tweens and teens. Parents on the other hand, loath and despise them. At least this parent does. There are seven reasons that a corn maze is a living nightmare.

You would rather do anything else. Literally anything. How about instead of the corn maze we go see a movie? Roller skating? Go Carts? Laser tag? A trip to the mall? A new puppy? A hundred bucks? Seriously, name your price.
Resistance is futile. In time you realize that, just like in the horror movies, there really is no way out of this. You relent. You are beaten. The dreaded corn maze awaits.
There is a long and arduous journey. If you have never experienced the ordeal of an hour’s drive to the middle of nowhere with a carload of tweens hyped up on the gleeful anticipation of being lost in the dark and chased by zombies, you are one lucky mother.
The terror begins. Finally you make it to the corn maze. Slowly, you creep through the darkness. There are people everywhere. Everywhere. But no one seems to know the way. A sea of souls, lost and confused, searching, praying, trying to find … a parking spot. If you had known this many people would pay good money to spend an hour lost in the dark, you would have plowed up your flower beds long ago and planted rows of corn in your backyard. The “parking lot,” by the way, is actually just an open hay field. Awesome.
You are in for way more than you bargained for. You agreed, albeit reluctantly, to bring your kids and a few of their friends to the corn maze. But you forgot about the haunted house, the bouncy house, the zip line, the spooky lawnmower ride (don’t ask), the candy apples and the kettle corn stand. Everywhere you look there is some sort of Halloween or fall-themed ride, attraction or junk food vendor. Basically, the corn maze complex is like the county fair from hell.
The maze. Eventually, you find yourself standing at the entrance to the corn maze with your kids and four of five… Wait. Was it four or five? Dang. It has already been such a long, long night. You should have done a head count before you got out of the car. Okay. Okay. They each brought two friends (what were you thinking!) That makes six. Six kids total. Now you’re ready to enter the corn maze. You hear screams of terror coming from within.You tell your kids to stick together. For a spooky effect you add, in a low, menacing tone, “If we all stay together, we might just get out alive.” Thirty steps into the maze and a hooded guy with a machete jumps out from a wall of corn. The kids scatter like marbles. And you are left to navigate the corn maze all alone. Great. You aren’t scared, but you are annoyed. You should have just waited this whole thing out at the kettle corn stand. You could be enjoying a nice hot styrofoam cup of apple flavored cider right now, but instead you are stumbling around in the dark resisting the temptation to punch all the chainsaw murders in the throat. Again, not scary, just super annoying. Dude, here’s a tip. You aren’t actually sneaking up on anyone. We can hear you coming. Hellooo? Chainsaw. Finally after more than an hour, you are hungry, frustrated and exhausted. Where the hell is the exit? In desperation, you grab the nearest zombie by his tattered hoodie and offer him $10 bucks to lead you to out. He pockets the cash so fast that you know you aren’t the first parent to find herself irretrievably lost in here. You begin to suspect this whole corn maze thing is one big racket run by high school juniors who have figured out that maybe you don’t need no education to make big bucks – at least not from late September to early November.
Escape! Finally! Finally! You are out. Oh blessed relief! Wide open spaces never looked so good. But wait! Where are the children? They weren’t carrying cash. They had no way of bribing a zombie, The poor things must be terrified. You picture them huddled together deep within the maze, wondering if they’ll ever get out alive. And that’s when you spot them – calm as can be, hanging out by the kettle corn stand.



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Confessions · Life with Kids · New to farming

My Love/Hate Relationship With the County Fair

Anyone even remotely familiar with small towns knows that that the biggest event of the year (next to Friday Night Football) is the County Fair. For one week, normally sensible parents, forego bedtimes, healthy eating, proper hygiene and a whole lot of money in favor the carnival life. Every year I look forward to the fair, and every year I dread it. Basically, I have a love/hate relationship with the County Fair.

The Rides
There is so much to hate about fair rides. For starters, I question their safely. Two story mechanisms that whirl, twist, spin and gyrate while simultaneously defying gravity are assembled and disassembled every week like a fleet of Lego ships.This is terrifying. So, I think I’ll strap my kid on board and watch him rotate at g-force speed until he’s on the verge of vomiting. Here’s my twenty-five bucks for an armband so we can do this over and over. Now, that’s good parenting.

On the other hand, it is the terrifyingness of fair rides that makes me happy to let my kids ride them. It is a good and healthy thing for children to push the limits of their comfort from time to time. It’s empowering to do something scary. So go, Little Man, ride The Zipper and Power Surge and the Ferris Wheel (okay, maybe the Ferris Wheel is only scary for me). Be brave. Be fearless. Just please don’t vomit in the car on the way home.

The Filth
The County Fair is disgusting. My apologies for my continual references to vomit, but it’s a horrifying fact of fairs. People vomit on those rides. Best case scenario, the mess is contained on the ride. Worst case scenario… ya know, let’s not even go there. But it can be bad, like that scene from Pitch Perfect bad. Not only that, but we after leaving the fair there is a layer of dust on everything – our bodies, our clothes, our cars, I think even our teeth. And of course there’s the flies. The fair is like Club Med for flies. I guess this is because of the 24 hour buffet of animal poop that is available to them, but they also enjoy alighting upon food and people too – after wallowing in horse poop, no doubt.

And yet, maybe it’s the farm girl in me, but one of the things I love about the fair is the smell of fresh manure. As far as filth goes, that’s about the only perk, but I do dearly love it. Horse manure mingled with the scent of hay and the faint smell of funnel cakes cooking in the distance. It almost makes the dust worth it. Almost.

The Food
Speaking of funnel cakes, I love fair food. Where else can one or would one ever eat a foot long corn dog with a side of cotton candy and a snow cone chaser? The fair is a veritable smorgasbord of all things fried, processed and sticky.

Which is why I also hate fair food. The food at the fair is basically poison, deep fried and/or on a stick. I feel horrible after eating it. My kids feel horrible after eating it. And I can assure you it does not mix well with those whirling, spinning rides I mentioned earlier.

The Exhibits
Not being much of a rides person myself, I prefer to spend my time wandering through the exhibits. It’s enough to restore one’s faith in this great nation and in the next generation. There are rows upon rows of homemade jellies, canned green beans and homemade pies. There are handmade quilts, handcrafted bird houses, homegrown cucumbers, corn, tomatoes and pumpkins the size of a VW. This year someone even entered a pineapple she had grown in her living room using a solution of tap water and Epsom salt. The exhibits at the fair are a testament to American talent, ingenuity and craftsmanship.

I, on the other hand, once paid someone to sew a button on my husband’s shirt. This is why I also hate the fair exhibits. After walking through the exhibit hall, I am faced, once again, with the knowledge that I lack any sort of crafty, artistic, or homesteading skills. I think this is a tough realization for anyone who grew up on Little House On the Prairie and who spent her childhood fancying herself a modern day Laura Ingals and who has spent much of her adulthood comparing herself to Ma. Would Ma have let Laura and Mary watch this much TV? Would Ma ever stoop to store-bought Halloween costumes? Would Ma use a mix to make her margaritas? I can tell you one thing. Ma would damn sure never have eaten a footlong corn dog. Combine all this with the fact that I run a farm blog (see my byline), and the fair makes me feel downright ashamed.

I guess I am glad the fair is only one week out of the year. On the other hand, I wish my kids could have that kind of fun more often. On the other other hand, the fair is really gross and expensive. But it’s also wholesome and charming. See what I mean about the love/hate thing? Oh well, I can’t make the fair come around any sooner, but at least I have a whole year to perfect my canning skills.


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In the Middle · Life with Kids

Ten 80’s Movie Quotes I Use on My Kids

As is the case with most moms, sometimes I open my mouth, and my mother comes out. That’s fine. My mom had some good material. But she isn’t my only source for parenting one-liners. I also find myself frequently quoting 80’s movies to my kids. Here are a few cinematic gems that can often be heard around my house.

Any monkey business would be ill advised. This is good advice even if it does come from The Breakfast Club’s power-drunk principal. I know. Richard Vernon was an ass, but you know what? Those kids were jerks. And now that I’m a parent, I kind of see his point – but not because my heart has died.







The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy. Lloyd Dobbler took this advice to heart. I hope my boys will too.

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Stay golden, Pony Boy/Girl. When they get out of the car for school in the morning, when they are headed to a friend’s house for a sleep over, any time we are going to be apart for more than a few hours, I like to leave my children with these parting words. Neither they nor I really know what “stay golden” means, but it’s an inspiring phrase nonetheless.






I say. You do. No questions. Oh Mr. Miyagi, you are so wise. I should always remember to begin and end all of my instructions to my kids with this.


Does anyone know what this is? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Who spilled this? Who tracked this in the house? Where did this dog come from? Any time I ask my kids a question that no one wants to answer, I become Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher.




Good night. Good work today. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning. Fortunately my children share my twisted sense of humor and my love for all things Princess Bride. I also describe the cell phone battery as “only mostly dead.” And I have been known to jump out from behind doors and around corners brandishing a wooden spoon or an empty wrapping paper tube shouting, “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”


Say hello to my little friend! They aren’t familiar with Scar Face. I think my children just think this is the customary way one greets a frozen margarita. At least that’s how Mommy does it.



I think I’ll have a drink. Okay, even I can see that this one is a little obscure. It’s what Elliot Ness says in The Untouchables when asked what he will do if prohibition is ended. It’s also sometimes what Mommy says whilst making dinner.

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I am your father. Admittedly, this one is hard to pull off since, ya know, I am the mother. But that doesn’t stop me from doing my best Darth Vadar every chance I get. “Go get your father.” “Where is your father?” “Just ask your father.”

Yippee-ki-yay, little fella! I pretty much abhor all action films – with the exception of Die Hard. I can’t wait until all the kids are big enough for us to add it our list of annual Christmas movies – right up there with It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. Anyway, I realize that there is something lost in the editing of John McClane’s classic line, yet edit I must.


My kids are used to me randomly quoting lines from movies. They usually laugh but occasionally one of my hilarious film references is met with a blank stare – or worse, an eye roll. That’s not a problem. I just say what Duckie from Pretty in Pink would say…


So, what about you? What are your favorite movie quotes to use with you kiddos?