When your kids throw a wrench in your plans to opt out of standardized testing

As an educator, I believe there are better ways to assess student learning than the system of standardized testing we currently have in place.

As a citizen, I believe that parents have the right to determine what is best for their children – including exercising the ability to opt out of standardized tests.

As a mother, I have long believed that the combination of my views as an educator and a citizen would combine in one outcome: that I would opt my children out of any and all standardized tests that came their way. 

From Pixabay.com under CC0.

From Pixabay.com under CC0.

Only, see what had happened was…my child did not actually want to be opted out.

Huh. In the words frequently mumbled by Sweet Love when she has made yet another mess…”I didn’t see that coming.”

I’ve written about this testing thing a few times here and there:




Sassafras is now in 4th grade, which means the next few weeks will hold her second round of standardized testing. Last year, I sat her down, told her my basic thoughts about testing, and asked what she thought. Her response was that she was curious about how the testing thing worked and she really wanted to take them. Okay, fine, I said. But there was absolutely no reason to get all stressed out or anxious about it and if at any point she changed her mind, I’d take care of it.

This year, I casually made the same offer: if you want to skip the test, I’ll make it happen. Her response was: Meh, I liked taking the test because I got a good score, so I’ll just go ahead and take it this year, too.

Ummmm…okay. I suppose she’s very behavioristic that way. Taking the test, and receiving positive feedback, makes her feel good about her school experience. I have to acknowledge that while also remembering that taking the test is not at all a positive occurrence for other kids out there.

I still believe there is a better way to evaluate the work done by educators and students, and will continue advocating for improvements to the overall system as well as parents’ rights to determine what, if any, testing experience is right for their children.

Our kind of camping...

Matt has been after me to go camping for years. YEARS. "Let's go camping!" he said, time after time. "It will be fun!" he said. But I'm just not a camping kind of lady. I mean, the bugs. And the utter void of climate control. And all the gear. And the snakes. Sweet baby Moses, the snakes.

My Pearl Girl isn't a camper, either. The bugs swarm her, for one thing. And also for a child who was born on the Equator, she has a ridiculously low tolerance for heat. The Captain and Sassafras have camped before at the local state park, and I mean really camped as in the primitive kind of camping. But that is not for me, not even one little bit.

But we tried it recently, this camping thing. We tried it in a way that was a compromise between Matt's kind of camping (Tent in the snake-ridden wilderness) and my kind of camping (Hotel. Suite, please): RV camping.

The five of us plus our gigantic dog loaded up over Spring Break and headed to Stone Mountain, Georgia for a week of family fun and togetherness. I had studied up on RV camping and had pinned a lot of pinny-things in hopes to make the week as enjoyable as possible. Some of those were valuable and others...notsomuch.

You know, one thing I'll never understand about all of you Happy Campers is why you find such joy in toting a lite version of your whole kitchen out to the wilderness. Camping prep is hard, and that's why I don't understand why it's so enjoyable for so many. Vacation shouldn't be hard, man. Vacay should be EASY. It's the law.

The first thing I realized was that it takes time to settle in to an RV. There were unavoidable reasons for this, but the way things turned out we had to just dump bag after bag of stuff in the thing, convince Jericho this house on wheels was OK for him to jump up in, convince Sweet Love to get in her car seat even though it was confusing for her to have to ride in a car seat strapped to the side of a kitchen, and hit the road. I needed time to settle in, but instead just played the same round of hide and go seek with every single item I had need of over the next few days.

Once we got on the road, I noticed was that the RV - I like to name things, so we'll call him Rob - Rob was N-O-I-S-Y. Matt drove while the girls and I chilled in the back, but the word chill is actually a total lie there. There was 0 chilling in the back of that rattletrap RV. Rob's kibbles and bits complained noisily against every single bump in the road and (you people know I'm already deaf) we basically yelled simple phrases at each other, followed by "huh?" for hours. What a delight that was.

Add to that the fact that Sassafras was out of sorts and crying that her ear hurt. Sass, who has had maybe two ear infections in her entire 9 years, was crying of ear pain and had a fever. I would stagger down the "hall" to Rob's back "room," try to talk to the peds' nurse, be completely unable to hear her, drop the call, repeat. THAT was the cherry on top of our delightful little joyride. 

Now, all of this was not helping my opinion of camping as a family activity, but after arriving to the Stone Mountain campground, things improved drastically. We got settled in, had a prime spot near the bath house, playground, dog park, and beach volleyball court/huge sand pit. We had our own grill, deck, and fire pit. We were just a few miles away from historic Stone Mountain, and spent a few hours one day checking that out.

One of the most significant parts of Camp Prep was figuring out what and when and how all of these people + dog were going to eat. I was also semi-stressed the whole time because the refrigerator wasn't cooling with, like, exact efficiency. 

The Pinterest proved really helpful with some tried and true camping recipes, and that part (the food, because of course) was one of the most fun parts. We came up with all sorts of fun and inventive ways to cook all of the things.  

My three + some random kid who kept showing up at our campfire.

My three + some random kid who kept showing up at our campfire.

Lots of sweet time with the J-Man! Our Jericho, I tell you, he is the most chill, most precious, and sweetest dog ever. He was calm most of the time, except for the rare moments when some random stranger man would ease up on his girls and THEN, oh man, he was not having it. This dog is Captain-approved!   

Lots of sweet time with the J-Man! Our Jericho, I tell you, he is the most chill, most precious, and sweetest dog ever. He was calm most of the time, except for the rare moments when some random stranger man would ease up on his girls and THEN, oh man, he was not having it. This dog is Captain-approved!   

It was so nice, though. Just to hang out and sit around in the peace and quiet, walk around and sniff it all in, and read for hours. 

Steak and potatoes! 

Steak and potatoes! 

So there you have it. We finally figured it out...our kind of camping. 

Parents' Day Inception

There are many, many days when Matt and I marvel at just how wide the Ocean-of-Ways-We've-Jacked-Up-Our-Kids is really going to be. Hey, once Sassafras, Sweet Love, and Pearl are grown maybe they'll find us charming and endearing little old people who still prank them even 'til the very day they put us in a home. What we hope is that they'll have as many crazy stories to tell about us as they have given us to tell about them. Team Wilson: the gift that keeps on giving.

There's no doubt that this one will be one of those things they tell their friends one day about their dear old mischievous parents.

Backs aching from a marathon of cleaning (it's been a while, as we are in the "OMG WHY EVEN BOTHER" phase of CWP - Cleaning While Parenting), we both sat down for just a minute and I hit up Facebook, cruising for a funny video. It wasn't a funny day in Facebook-land, however, so I just scrolled and scrolled until I was bummed out because nobody had anything entertaining to share. Matt, in his infinite wisdom, suggested if it was a funny video I wanted then maybe I should find an episode of America's Funniest Videos. Then we giggled because the obviousness of it had to be giggled at.

Side note: I am an absolute sucker for funny videos on Facebook. What is that even about? Sarcastic GIFs, Principal Gerry Brooks, people falling down, funny facial expressions, kids doing dumb things, people falling down, old people pranking each other, people falling down (Why is that so funny?! It's so mean! I hate this about myself!)...and y'all. If it's a montage, I'll just laugh until I cry. The whole family will gather 'round the phone and laugh until we can't breathe. 

So while still searching for a funny video on Facebook, Sassafras (who was supposed to be cleaning her room) piled up on us. I can't say where the inspiration came from, only that The Captain's genius streak reared its creative little head. He started off by giving her a hug and telling her that he had waited all day for her to realize it, but today was actually Parents' Day. He told her he wasn't really expecting a gift or anything, but he had hoped she would remember. Sass, bless her heart, eyes all wide, started down the "see, what had happened was..." line of reasoning and she went on about how she knew there was a day just for moms and a day just for dads but nobody EVER told her there was a whole Parents' Day for both of us together! And she hugged us and told us she loved us. Matt told her it was okay, we just love them all so much. We love being their parents and in truth we really didn't need any gift at all. Their love is all we need. He actually said that.


It took about 15 seconds for Sass to come running back in to us with our favorite blankets and, clearing the other kiddos out, she announced that their gift to us for Parents' Day would be having some time together to watch a show in the peace and quiet. She closed the door. We high fived each other and talked about how horrible we are as parents, and how we'll pay for it tomorrow when Sassafras goes to school asking her friends what they got their parents for Parents' Day.

Then we switched on the TV, and you'll never believe what was on. AFV!

Double high five.

Before long, Sass and Pearl were bringing me this super amazing sketch of Harry Potter (we've been reading the series together) that they - I kid you not - ran and found a YouTube Kids tutorial for, and drew it up for me because they knew I'd love it. How precious are these amazing little kids of ours?! 

Happy Parents' Day, everybody! I think we'll make this a whole thing.

*Revised to include that actually, Sweet Love was the only winner of Parents' Day 2016. Whilst typing this post she tumped over the whole bucket of mop water and created her own little disinfectant flood in two rooms of the Casa de Wilson. (sigh)


Out of the box meal planning

Maybe it’s just an eight-year-old thing, but Sassafras is firmly lodged in the “what are we doing next?” phase. Even when we are literally right in the middle of breakfast, she wants to know what’s for lunch. When we are rushing around the house at night trying to get all of these wiggleworm bedtime-haters in their rooms, she’s choosing that moment to ask what we are doing the next day, and what after that and what after that. Always looking forward, never really thinking about the moment right in front of her. It wears us out, mostly because we can BARELY keep up with the moment in front of us much less think about what is for dinner tomorrow night and what cup she will drink her milk out of and what shirt she will wear for green day at school…which could be two weeks from now. And then of course there’s that whole can you just be satisfied, child? thing.

She’s a planner, I get that. I totally, 100% get that. There are things in my life that I am always planning, always organizing, always thinking toward and thinking through.

Meal planning? Is so very much not one of them.

Y’all, I try. I really do. I use the AllRecipes app, I have a delicious pinboard, we joined this community co-op produce group (just co-buying, not co-growing; all I’d have to put in is a few cherry tomatoes which are delicious but tiny and rare), and all of my friends are forever sharing good-looking recipes on the FB.

Some times of year are better than others, and start-of-school month is just beastly when it comes to meal planning. Add to that our extracurriculars and my darling precious children might get a PB&J and some yogurt for dinner…and that’s only when they ask me at 6:00 what actually IS for dinner. I’m just not very good at it.

It’s the going to the store and the behavior battles that stem from taking already tired children to an entire building that is primarily designed to steal all my money. It’s the time and the couponing I so need to do but can’t keep up with, either. It’s the lack of foresight because all of my planning juices are directed elsewhere this time of year. And it's that they always want to eat, like, AGAIN. Aren't lunches enough? What else do you want from me? 3 meals a day? Mercy.

So. Meal planning? Blurg. I was just scrolling through FB one day because I needed just a minute…just one minute somewhat to myself when, lo and behold, some digital angel of the Lord, a holy algorithm, dropped me a coupon for HelloFresh. $35 off my first meal box, they said. And the meals looked pretty good…so I figured, hey. One box? Let’s give it a go. 3 meals for $30 total that are dropped straight on my doorstep? I’m game. What do we have to lose? Maybe some PB&J’s.

About a week and a half later our first box arrived. The packaging was pretty fancy. Nice, sturdy box with lots of insulation and cold packs for our ingredients. The upper layer (with the white boxes of ingredients) was not as cold as the lower section, where the meats were, but everything looked and felt extremely fresh. Each of our meats (shrimp, steak, and chicken) had their own cold pack, which reassured me their proper storage temps had been maintained in shipping.

Today we cooked up our first box, which was the Lemony Linguine Shrimp. Sassafras helped, although there wasn’t much to it for either of us. It came with the fresh shrimp, chili pepper flakes, a shallot, two cloves of garlic, six ounces of linguine, parsley, a lemon, and a red bell pepper. We followed our little recipe card and had a delicious dinner we would never have thought to make or have all the items for on hand without this meal kit.

hellofresh recipe card
hello fresh box

Their ingredients are non-GMO, farm-fresh, organic when possible (our beef and chicken were labeled organic), and they develop relational partnerships with their suppliers to keep quality high. They also offer accommodations for vegetarians, gluten sensitivities, and allergies, so don’t think they wouldn’t have meals to fit your unique dietary needs. Contact customer service (I have, and got a pleasantly thorough and rapid response) if you have specific questions about their meal types or ingredients.

hello fresh ingredients

The recipe card booklet is good quality, and perforated so you can remove them or leave them intact. Picky about my seafood, I was impressed with the cleanliness and quality of the shrimp. They were shelled and deveined, and the vacuum-sealed package they came in kept that strong shrimpy odor to a minimum. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the shrimp that came in my mail-order box were fresher than the ones I get when I bring some home from less than a mile off the coast, which the seafood authorities say is totally a thing.

I zested my lemon with what I THINK is a lemon zester tool from Pampered Chef. I jacked it up, though, because The Captain and I need a special learning plan for using Pampered Chef tools. So I ended up with lemon zest chunks. Zunks. Whatever, though. Still yummy!

I zested my lemon with what I THINK is a lemon zester tool from Pampered Chef. I jacked it up, though, because The Captain and I need a special learning plan for using Pampered Chef tools. So I ended up with lemon zest chunks. Zunks. Whatever, though. Still yummy!

This is what was left over from my prep box. Waste reduction, check!

This is what was left over from my prep box. Waste reduction, check!

HelloFresh advertises that their boxes are designed to feed 2-4. This meal easily covered the girls and me, and there was also plenty left over for The Captain (sad to miss our first meal but has his eye on the leftovers). If you added a salad or other veggie side (thank you, co-cop) to this meal, it would easily feed 6.  

I have a referral code if you want to check out HelloFresh. It’s BETTER than the deal I got from the Facebook ad. This code will give you $40 off your first box (typically around $69). Once you join, you can get your own code to refer others. Referrals resulting in orders will actually bring you a $20 credit, so you can pay it forward while also helping pay for your own weekly boxes…which is obviously what I’d like to do by sharing my referral code. $40 off for your hungry people, $20 off for mine. And the time and angst we save by not having to plan OR go to the store? Now THAT, my friends, is priceless.

Disposable plates, bowls, and cups: an August gift to ourselves.

Disposable plates, bowls, and cups: an August gift to ourselves.

HelloFresh is Amazon meets farmer’s market. You can’t go wrong by trying it!

Now, as an ADDED bonus (and your prize for reading this whole long post), is you can register for a drawing for a FREE meal box. What's that I just said? Free box? Free food? Yes, my friends. YES, a FREE box. I can give away a free box, so to get in the pot for that drawing, all you have to do is go to hellofresh.com and see what they're about. Comment below (sorry, FB and Twitter doesn't count! Has to be on the blog. Just make sure you log in with Disqus or FB before you comment and you shouldn't have any problems) with ONE thing you like about HelloFresh, and count yourself IN. Each comment is an entry and there is no limit. I'll draw a winner and send in your name Friday morning, so get your comments in by Friday morning at 6:00am. Good luck!

7 Summer Facts About Sweet Love, Sassafras, & Pearl

The following image contains information about outrageous parenting, total lack of self control, and seven ways the Wilson girls are generally rocking this summer.

the chaos

1. We don't place a lot of emphasis on "matching," as demonstrated by Sweet Love's jammies. 

2. Nor do we get bothered about "getting dressed" at all right now because SUMMER.

3. I scored Sassafras this Elsa dress from Varage Sale because it was her size, a great deal, and will be perfect for Halloween and other fall-related activities. I was adamant, absolutely unwavering, on the fact that this was not a dress up dress for now or it will never last until fall. It was to stay on the hanger, no matter what, until further notice. That lasted approximately 35 seconds. I am a weak mama, a sucker for watching my girls as they dress up and pretend and write stories in the air. 

4. Chip bag clips and baby blankets are totally the hottest accessories for 2015.

5. Before you think we left her out, know that Pearl Girl was very much a part of this whole scene. She was playing the essential role of Lead Provoker and Idea Giver. It's just that she wasn't wearing enough to be cropped in. See #2.

6. Sweet Love is THE BEST at the messy bun. She is so stinking cute.

7. And she better be glad, because she got herself in much trouble on this day. Cutting up some extremely important adoption documents, coloring on the wall, shooting darts at her sisters' heads (whether they were looking or not)...and that was all in just an hour's time.