On Having Kids
And Paying Opportunity Costs

Every once in awhile, what I write about over at sklevy.com happens to overlap a great deal with what I write about over here at ChecklistMommy.

Yesterday was one of those days.

The post I wrote over there began:

This weekend I attended the New Member meeting at the WGA-W. The meeting happened to be scheduled at the exact same time as Gaga’s class Tot Shabbat service. Obviously, I wanted to be both places at the same time. Obviously I couldn’t be both places at the same time (damn you, physics) and I will say now that arriving late to the WGA meeting was stressful (I fucking hate being late anywhere) but ducking out early from my daughter’s performance – despite the fact that MrBigIdeas and all the other kids were there to support her – brought me to tears.

That’s a pretty good summary of what it’s like to have kids, love them more than anything on earth, and yet to still harbor career ambitions that you just have to pursue because otherwise the psychic cost to you and your family will be so terrible it will make the economic costs seem piffling in comparison.

If you’d like to read more, click here.

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RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman
& Thanks for One Last (Awful) Illuminating Performance

I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing while on my way to pick up my daughters from their Sunday morning rehearsals at a West Hollywood acting school they attend. (Incidentally they are doing Legally Blonde and Diddy is Elle and it’s AMAZEBALLS for her and me because off all sorts of things not least which is my joy at passing my deep love of musical theater to my kids.)

CHK philip seymore hoffman

My kids are not taking acting lessons because I have any desire AT ALL for them to grow up and be actors. (Putting Gaga in my movie more than made me clear on THAT).

In fact, I chose their acting school because I am fairly certain NO ONE ever gets scouted off that stage. It’s adorable. There is literally no pressure for anyone there to out-perform anyone else. Every once in awhile there’s a kid who blows your socks off (last semester it was the kid who played the Beast in Beauty and the Beast) but in general all the kids are equally bad on stage and no one seems to be getting any better.

I am cool with that.

But before anybody gets the wrong idea: I don’t hate actors. I have a lot of actor friends. They are lovely people, and most of them are not insane. That’s why I love them and have chosen to hang out with them whenever I get the opportunity and raise my kids among them and generally adore them.


Many many other actors are insane. They are deeply troubled creatures on any number of other levels. Some of this is just the dark side of whatever deep psychological well you need to draw from in order to be a truly great performer.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a truly great performer.

He was also, apparently, deeply troubled.

I say this because, IMobviouslyexpertO, only deeply troubled adults, living fairly adult lives, raising kids with partners (ex-or-otherwise), stick needles in their arms and pump themselves full of heroin.

Honestly, I find it kind of mind-boggling that considering all the other, easier ways to get hella high that were at this man’s disposal, he went with THAT.

In fact, I spent most of yesterday being pretty pissed off at how stupid PSH was in this particular instance. I was sad, yes. This guy was the real deal. So friggin’ talented. And honestly, a true contemporary. Even more so than Paul Walker, who spoke for the most part, to the generation below me.

PSH spoke to US.

For which I thank him.

I also thank him for this:

This morning, over breakfast, Diddy asked MrBigIdeas who that guy on the front page of the newspaper was.

MrBigIdeas told her he was a famous actor who died.

At which point I said:

You know what? I want to tell you why he died. That man was incredibly talented. That was why he was so famous. He was really really good at his job. But he took drugs, and they killed him. Drugs kill. Period. He was a grown-up, he should have known better, and drugs killed him ANYWAY.

Diddy nodded. Gaga nodded.

Sausage helpfully added, “That man died.”

Pancake continued eating his waffle.


Thank you, PSH, for all the wonderful wonderful work you did.

Every moment you were on screen was illuminating.

As was your tragic tragic tragic death.

Thank you for letting my family learn something from that, too.










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CHK book club 2014

So last year I threw down the gauntlet and dared myself to find the time, energy, and brain cells to read 50 “serious works of fiction.”

I managed 22.

Around here we call that an epic fail. Apparently I stopped reading in August and never picked up another book. That squishy sound you hear is the sound of my brain rotting.

But I am okay with failure. I am a writer. I fail at shit all the time. But I am nothing if not resilient – so here I stand, dusting myself off, to proclaim a similar challenge for 2014:



See what I did there? I gave myself a little credit for the non-fiction reading I do. For the Malcolm Gladwell and the Janet Reitman and the Bruce Fieler, too, while we’re at it, books I keep at the bedside or read for research or read for this blog.

Sure, they’re not quite as diverting to my mind as a great work of fiction, and they demand a little less from me – all the legwork is done FOR you, in good non-fiction, whereas in fiction the reader’s imagination has to do a bit of the heavy lifting – but it’s not like they’re not equally MIND EXPANDING.

Give a Mom a break, already.

So this year, I’m counting both – fiction and non-fiction, book-length, and generally agreed to be works of either scholarly or artisitic merit. (Meaning: there’s a reason I left Fifty Shades of Grey off my list last year. Yes, of course I read it. Didn’t we all?)



My reads below. Your thoughts / suggestions / aggravations in the comments, please!

1. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

This is THE definitive scholarly work about clinical depression. It’s a National Book Award winner for good reason: Solomon traces anthropological and historical roots to the causes and perceptions of the disease, in it’s MANY forms, discusses treatments, interviews people who have suffered, and relays his own experiences with struggles with depression, too. An incredibly impressive, dense, invaluable book which I read every 10 years. I picked it up over the New Year to help me with an idea I have for a novel. If you are struggling with depression, or know someone who is, this is THE book you need. (Non-fiction / JANUARY)

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Can you believe I have made it 38 years – several of them as a mopey, depressed, melodramatic teen – without reading this book? Me neither. Totally engrossing, weirdly charming book about a suicidal depressive. Plus if you pick this up now you never have to admit to never having read it again. (Fiction / JANUARY)

3. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Do you detect a theme? I swear this is research – but even so: I LOVED THIS BOOK. This book is structured in such a way, and narrated in such a way, that its shape and voice completely mirror its content, a memoir about living several years as a teen in a mental institution – the same institution, by the way, that Sylvia Plath inhabited years earlier. Phenomenal read.  True, believable, shocking. And no, I had never read it before NOR seen the movie. Real gaps of my education are coming to light here, I know. (Memoir / JANUARY)

4. Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Meh. I just didn’t buy it. And I say this as a person who has been depressed, and grew up around depressives, and continues to live among them. Most people I am friends with are medicated. But I just didn’t EVER feel I believed what I was being told in this book. Not because it wasn’t true – because I didn’t believe Wurtzel was telling the truth. There is a distinction. Reading this was a slog for me. I might not have finished it if I weren’t immersing myself in dep-lit (yes, I just made that up) right now. Oh and: the title takes it’s name from the (tacked on) last chapter about what Prozac has or hasn’t done to our nation as a whole. Which didn’t seem particularly integrated into the book IMHO. I don’t know. Maybe this book was huge because it was THE depression book about ’90s kids, just as GIRL, INTERRUPTED, was about ‘60s kids. All I know is, this book is NOT the book for me. (Memoir / JANUARY)

5. Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface by Martha Manning

THIS book I found incredibly true in every way. Manning’s particular skill is in describing how depression builds not just as a result of so many and such disparate life events, but also showing how one’s biologically-based personal chemistry that may even pre-determine a severe depressive crisis despite all efforts to head it off. Manning is a psychologist herself, and during the time she describes in this book she was a church-goer, practiced meditation, and was happily married — and yet NONE of these things were a great enough hedge against harm. It’s a chilling and beautiful book about a slow, inexorable build to illness. Highly recommended. (Memoir / JANUARY)


Book Club reviews include affiliate links to Amazon. My participation in affiliate programs helps support this blog. 



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By Writing On The Wall

You might remember that last year I made this insane 8 page spreadsheet  of New Year’s goals that was divided up month-by-month.

It was a little overwhelming.

So this year I went back to the basics and just typed up a single page of stuff, divided up by FAMILY, SELF, HOUSE, and WORK.

Highlights include:


  • Organize our planned Family Robinson sabbatical year in South America. (THERE. I SAID IT. ON THE INTERWEBS. NOW I HAVE TO DO IT!)
  • Simplify social life! Don’t leave the kids with a sitter more than 2x a week (THEIR REQUEST. Which I think is pretty reasonable).
  • Continue weekly family meetings. 


  • Continue running 5x week. Add pilates / yoga / horseback riding.
  • Hang with girlfriends.
  • Try, try, try again to read 50 books.
  • Alone time! Alone time!


  • Declutter 2014 in 2014.
  • Go paperless.
  • Park 3 cars in our 3 car garage.
  • Update all our family photo albums.


But how to stay accountable?

Me, I find the best way to achieve my goals is to




As in:


CHK idea paint

What you’re looking at is an awesome wipeboard I smacked up on my office wall using clear IdeaPaint . I bought it on eBay because it is SUPER pricey. I also got SCAMMED doing it that way – when the paint arrived it had already been opened and partially used and the seller is LONG GONE. If I had to do it again I’d buy it at Loews or on Amazon.

And I would TOTALLY buy this product again. It’s AMAZEBALLS.

Here’s how I use my new Idea Wall to keep me focused on my goals:

I’ve got 4 columns on the wall.

  • THREE MONTH GOALS – extrapolated from my Yearly List
  • MONTHLY GOALS – extrapolated from my Three Month List
  • THIS WEEK’S GOALS – extrapolated from my Monthly List

Every morning after my run, I come into the office before the rest of my family is up and take a few minutes to organize my day on an index card.

I build the card from the WEEKLY GOALS list on my wall.

SKL index a

I love this index card system. I’ve been using it with great success for months.

But it’s even BETTER now that I’ve combined it with my BIG BOLD IDEA WALL.

Now my daily to-dos are viscerally connected to my WEEKLY, MONTHLY, and ANNUAL goals, and I know that because all I have to do is spin my office chair around and look at my Idea Wall and be reminded of my goals and projects for the year.

And that’s kinda turned my goals into a game, too – because every time I finish a task on my Idea Wall, I get to wipe it off the board. My goal each week is a clean board. And that’s proved incredibly motivating – I managed to wipe through my entire list last week and it was THRILLING.

Yeah, I know. I lead a very exciting life around here.

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For The Holidays (And Every Other Day, Too)

CHK gift diddy

There are so many things I hate about wrapping presents.

  • I hate STORING wrapping paper. I have tried every gift wrapping center on earth — closet ones and rolling ones and even wall-rack ones, but … they’re all terrible. I don’t have the space for them, nor do I, if we are truly being honest, care THAT much about wrapping presents.
  • I hate the WASTEFULNESS of wrapping paper. Wrapping paper is useful for about 10 seconds before it’s on its way to the landfill.
  • I hate CARDS, too. Most cute cards you tape to presents are also landfill-bound, with the added inconvenience of becoming UNTAPED to presents before you’ve had a chance to note who GAVE you that GIFT. (Parents of small children: Am I right, or am I right, here?)
  • Oh and my god do I hate how much TIME I can kill wrapping presents! Between our four kids we average anywhere from two to six birthday parties each weekend, plus dinner parties, adult birthdays … it can get to be a bit much.

So I have learned to streamline this whole gift-buying / wrapping process wherever I possibly can.

I bulk shop year ‘round.

  • If I’m at Target and I see a great gift, I buy 5. If I’m shopping for my kids and they want something awesome and affordable, I buy 5 more. We have crates in the garage marked by age-range (0-3 years, 4-6 years, 7-10 years) and the gifts live there, ready to go when I need them. Which is basically ALL THE TIME.


I wrap SIMPLE …

… while still gaining MAXIMUM IMPACT, seeming like I put in a ton of care, and … umm … OUTSOURCING nearly every step of it.

  •  I wrap in plain paper. I like the rolls of white paper you can buy at Ikea (from the MALA line) – we have several in the house. They’re kind of thin, so you may want to double-wrap your gifts, but still. Yay. Plain, cheap paper. Newspaper works too. So do paper shopping bags turned inside out (or not).
  • I let the kids go nuts DECORATING the paper after we’ve wrapped the gifts. Voila! Two gifts in one! (What do you mean you’re not saving every piece of art my kid ever made you??) (Don’t worry, I’m not either.)

CHK gift gaga

  • I use gift labels instead of cards. No more losing cards. No more having to come up with deep meaningful messages that will most likely be forgotten the moment they’re read anyway. For our family, I even made MULTIPLE CHOICE labels which I ordered from ErinCondren.com. Yes of course I could do this myself. And I will someday.

‘Till then, if anyone out there wants to send me the PERFECT holiday present … massages are good. So are tons of personalized gift labels!


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About Sarah Kate Levy

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a novelist living in New York City. Four kids later, I'm a blogger living in LA who writes about parenting, partnering, and the rise and fall of my family / my home / civilization. I'm also a I'm a screenwriter, most recently of the movie "No Way Jose." I live with my husband, kids, dog, cats, and a tank full of surprisingly resilient fish, and I take bedtime around here as seriously as I do my morning coffee. Which is to say: I AM NOT KIDDING AROUND ABOUT BEDTIME.

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