the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Quinoa, frogs legs and more musings from “The Picnic Game”

This content was created in partnership with Ford.



While spending time with my friend Kristen and her family in Southern California, I was reminded of one of the main reasons why she and I connected as colleagues and friends: our parenting styles are very similar, in that we’re both pretty much no nonsense. We don’t bargain, we don’t tolerate rude behavior and we would very much like it if our kids would learn how to fix us a hotdog.

I was also impressed by how little screen time she gives her kids each day and reflected on how much improvement I need to make in that area as a parent. Yes, Leta loves to read, and both kids enjoy imaginary play with each other. They spend a lot of time outside coming up with elaborate games. But when it comes to iPads, televisions and DVRs, I’m guilty of turning to those things a little too quickly to occupy my kids when I need both of my hands for something else. (Like using them to cover my ears.)

It’s especially bad in the car, even on relatively short, 15-minute rides to the store and school. I guess it’s laziness on my part, but laziness sometimes trumps having to listen to, “THIS IS THE LONGEST CAR RIDE EVER” over and over again to a destination that’s only two blocks away.


So I started searching for ideas about games to play in the car with kids. Given that Marlo can’t yet read, I had to skip over some things that required she know how to spot a license plate from Idaho. Although, you really don’t have to be able to read to know if a car is from Idaho. You’d know immediately just because you’d be fearing imminent death.

Then I heard about “The Picnic Game,” which incorporates the alphabet — something that supplements what Marlo’s already learning at school. One player says, “I went to a picnic Saturday and I brought…” and then says something that begins with the letter A, like an artichoke. The next player repeats the opening phrase, and after “…I brought” they repeat the A item then add one that begins with B: “I brought an artichoke and some biscuits.” The third player repeats the opener, the A and the B items, and then adds something that begins with C, and so forth. You could consider encouraging your kids to come up with healthy foods to make the game even more instructional, although given Leta’s limited palate I could see her arguing that “frozen burrito” is a perfectly good fit for the letter F.

Before playing this game, I would have said, “Pity the passenger who ends up with the letter X.” But after giving this game a try on a trip to the store with my mother and stepfather, I can now authoritatively say, “Pity the passenger who is in his sixties and can’t remember what comes after the letter C.”


I started the game: “I’m going to a picnic and I’m going to bring asparagus.”

Leta continued, “I’m going to a picnic and I’m going to bring asparagus and beets.”

Then it was my mother’s turn: “I’m going to a picnic and I’m going to bring asparagus and beets and cabbage!!!” Yes. With three exclamation points. The Avon World Sales Leader does not do anything in life without that specific punctuation. You cannot possibly be surprised.

Next up, my stepfather: “I’m going to a picnic and I’m going to bring asparagus and beets and cabbage… and…hmm… let’s see….” Then he started counting out the alphabet on his right hand. Could that be any more adorable.

“D! DONUTS! I’M BRINGING DONUTS!” he finally blurted.


We told Marlo it was her turn, but she preferred to watch the whole spectacle unfold. I didn’t want to push it and thought it might be good for her to see how it’s played before she’s put on the spot. So I took my turn again, and told everyone that I was bringing eggs. But before I had even taken my turn, Leta figured out that she’d be getting the letter F. As soon as I finished, she fired off the quickest sentence of her life.

“I’m going to a picnic and I’m going to bring asparagus, beets, cabbage, donuts, eggs, and FROG LEGS!”

I told her l might skip over that part of the meal, and then my stepfather announced very matter-of-factly, “I don’t want to go on this picnic.”

Marlo was cackling at this point.


After my mother added green beans to the list, my stepfather continued to be the most adorable human on the planet: “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to take asparagus, beets, cabbage, donuts… uhhhhh… frog legs—”

“Nuh-uh, you missed one,” my mother interrupted.

“Didn’t I say donuts? What comes after D? D… D… oh… eggs. Eggs and then frog legs. And then I’ll bring goat’s milk.”

“I SAID GREEN BEANS JUST THIS SECOND!!!” my mother reminded him.

“Oh, you said G?”

“Yes, what did I just say?!!!”

“I don’t know! I’m not paying attention! What comes after G?”


Leta finished the picnic list with the letter Z just as we pulled into the driveway. Here’s what our picnic looks like: asparagus, beets, cabbage, donuts, eggs, frog legs, green beans, hamburger, ice, juice, kale, lamb chops, mustard, nuts, okra, popcorn, quinoa, red peppers, sandwiches, Tabasco sauce, an umbrella, a violin, watermelon, a xylophone, yams, and zucchini.

Before we got out of the car, I made a very important announcement: “Just so we are all clear, if anyone picks up that violin at any point I will force them to eat my frogs legs.”

If only you could hear how my stepfather outright refused to pronounce quinoa correctly, because no way on earth do those letters spell a word that sounds like anything other than, “KEE-OH-NAH.” Now, when the girls and I play “The Picnic Game” on those 10- to 20-minute “longest car rides ever,” whoever gets Q assumes a very low voice and shouts, “KEE-OH-NAH!”


This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive.

  • Marissa

    2014/09/30 at 8:37 am

    My 13 year old recently taught his 5 year old sister to play 20 questions (not that we ever sitck to that limit), it makes for very entertaining car rides. We also like to play “I Spy” which allows the 3 year old to participate. Thank you for reminding me about the picnic game!

  • Jennifer Cafferty-Davis

    2014/09/30 at 9:16 am

    Hey, what’s wrong with Idaho drivers?! 😉

  • Mindy Lee

    2014/09/30 at 11:18 am

    We have always loved that game. We also play “going to the beach and bringing” and have words like sunscreen, umbrella, buckets, shovels (for building castles, not burying bodies) as well as going to the zoo and hoping to see apes, bats, cheetahs, dingos, etc.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/09/30 at 12:08 pm

    They’re just like drivers from Memphis, Tennessee. 🙂

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/09/30 at 12:09 pm

    Ooh! I love this variation. (Is there something wrong with burying bodies?)

  • Shellbelle486

    2014/09/30 at 12:25 pm

    Is it terrible that one of my first thoughts was “And, this is also preparing them for the drinking games that will surely be in their future.” yes, that’s terrible. I’m sorry.

  • AL

    2014/09/30 at 12:39 pm

    We also play Ghost – where you say a word, and the next person says a word that starts with the last letter of the first word (ie, Hat –> Tomato –> Octopus –> and so on)

  • Sara M

    2014/09/30 at 3:20 pm

    I taught my boys (7 and 5) to play slug bug…but without the slugging. We keep score and start fresh everyday. It’s really my 7YO playing and the 5 YO is the judge if we both scream for the same car at once. He’s also the score-keeper. It’s actually pretty entertaining.

  • Vicki B

    2014/09/30 at 4:15 pm

    Marlo is as adorable as ever but holy moly Leta is turning into a downright beauty.

  • Vicki B

    2014/09/30 at 4:18 pm

    P.S. As a reading tutor, age appropriate books on cd are great for car rides when you are brain dead
    and have used up the alphabet. Frogs legs, indeead! Hysterical!

  • LuluinLaLa

    2014/09/30 at 10:48 pm

    Ha ha – I guess I only know the dirty version: “I’m going on a porno picnic and I’m going to bring…” Favorite game in my 20’s!

  • lu

    2014/10/01 at 6:21 am

    I’ll try tha alphabet game next time. We also need a car ride/long walk game, and our current favourite is the animal game. Someone picks an animal. Other person gets to ask any 6 clues (does the animal live in Canada, does the animal fly, is it bigger than car, does it eat people….you can be as creative and random as you want. We try to stick with yes/no answers but you can stretch it to help smaller kids). Then after the 6 clues, you get 3 tries to guess the animal. Great hilarity ensues, as sometimes kids have a funny (false) concept of animal realities, and it sends you on a total goose chase. BONUS: parents can either really concentrate on the game, or you can totally kind of fake concentrate on the clues and guesses … and your kid will never know the difference! They will just think you are really bad at guessing clues, and this will entertain them even more!!! (PS. No avon in my past but I love me some !!!).

  • darlene

    2014/10/01 at 10:11 am

    I travel often with my kiddos, and we have played this game too in lieu of recreating A CIockwork Orange. I couldn’t imagine playing it with my inlaws in the car. It would truly be like hanging out with a bunch of drunks. Freaking adorable story.

  • Malis

    2014/10/01 at 2:25 pm

    We play “Guess What I am”. One person say I have brown fur. I have a long wet nose. I live in …… I eat….. Finally, after adding a few hints after no one guesses correctly we say “I am an ant-eater”. The rules are that it can’t be something made up on the spot, but it can be anything that’s real or from a movie, book, etc….

  • Sarida

    2014/10/02 at 7:13 am

    When my girls were in Elementary school, I walked them to school. It was a 10 – 15 minute walk, and we would play the Alphabet Game, which is a lot like the Picnic Game, except we would just name objects, animals, food, states, etc. They loved the challenge of thinking of words for the difficult letters and often asked that we play the game before I could suggest it!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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