(Back to Reality)

CHK Back to School

Diddy started 1st grade this week.


But also:

Who are all these other American school children who agreed to pose for “first day of school” photos? Diddy certainly would not not not.

I had to sneak up on her and snap her before she looked up even to get this one:

CHK 201308 Eva 1st day 1st grade

Apparently she had better things to do. Like get to 1st grade. And her best friend. And the teacher she wished for all summer long and wouldn’t stop talking about. (Another hallelujah there, by the way.)

Good for her. And good for me, too.  I am so so so so ready for the kids to be in school. Why yes, this year ALL FOUR OF MY KIDS WILL BE IN SCHOOL.

YEE-HAW! And can I get an AMEN!

But not for another two weeks. Gaga and her brothers don’t start school till the second week of September and it can’t come fast enough. Summer was great. It really was. But summer is now over in our neck of the woods, and real life is back, and let me tell you:

Re-entry has kicked my ass.

It’s not easy to come home from a big ranch where your kids can run around with their cousins in the great outdoors and your parents are doing the large majority of the shopping and cooking and come home to … UMM. My house. Where I have to do all those things. Plus work. To say I have been a tiny bit cranky since we got back to LA would be an understatement. There’s just so much to do to get all the kids ready for school it’s kind of mind-boggling. The school clothes. The haircuts. The classroom supplies. The emergency bags (this being LA – earthquakes – and the kids’ school being at a synagogue – crazies, terrorists – each kid has to bring an emergency bag at the start of the new year). Plus, uh – the decluttering. It’s a sickness.

At the start of each school year I just compulsively believe that I have to do BETTER.

I can’t help it. I have to feel the house is cleaner and more organized and more ready to hum like a finely oiled machine. So I’ve been shedding and re-configuring and re-imagining like crazy. More accurately, like a crazy person. I am a crazy person. In the week I’ve been home:

  • I’ve decluttered all three kids’ closets. I’m particularly thrilled by the boys’ closet:

CHK closet

  • I’ve re-done our entryway to better accommodate the fact that four kids will be bringing school bags in and out of the house. (Ok to be fair, I hardly did that on my own. We had friends over on Saturday night to swim and bbq and the wife happened to mention she likes to build Ikea furniture. She is nuts. I love her. She and I built that CB2 cabinet while our husbands grilled chicken. I wonder how she feels about Elfa installs … hmmm …)

CHK entryway

And the piece de restistance:

  • I’ve created a homework and art-supply station in the cabinet by the front door.

CHK cabinet collage

Starting this week, we’re on a no-weekday-TV plan as Diddy supposedly has homework now that she’s in 1st grade. (She’s thrilled about this, by the way.) So I made her a homework box so she could do her assignments at the dining room table in the afternoons, and I made one for each of the other kids, too, so they could stay busy in what used to be TV time.

CHK homework box

What’s inside:

Pencils, markers, highlighters, tape, glue, scissors, a ruler, a stapler, a pencil sharpener, a small dry erase board for figuring out math problems (I grabbed that idea off of Pinterest), and a notebook for scrap paper and drafting purposes.

The boys’ boxes have significantly less in them. Pencils, crayons, paper, tape. Just enough so that they can feel involved.

And I bought a ton of new art supplies for the same purpose, and figure I can now just look at the weekend calendar and set the kids to their “homework” of making birthday cards and decorating wrapping paper and writing thank you notes in a more timely fashion than our norm.

I am weirdly thrilled and excited to see what my kids will create with their homework boxes. Told you I’m a crazy person.

Even With 4 Kids and A Dog.

CHK road trip

Every summer we drive from LA to my happy place in Colorado – and back.

I love my happy place. I spend the entire year thinking about getting back there in the summer, and as of this summer I think I have successfully brainwashed three of the four kids into feeling EXACTLY the same way.

My mom took this photo. She's on Instagram. I'm on Instagram, too!

My mom took this photo.

Want more proof of our family yee-haw? Head over to Instagram. It’s pretty palpable over there.

But back to LOGISTICS:

You know what I love almost as much I love Colorado?


And I love the GETTING BACK.

Yep. Even with four kids and a dog I have to schlep 900+ miles  back and forth each summer, I dig the schlepping.

Here’s why:


  • Part of that is cost. Flying four kids and all our baggage ANYWHERE is just insane. Renting the inevitable minivan on the other end is ridiculously expensive too.
  •  But the other part is necessity: airlines won’t take fly dogs in cargo during much of the summer, because the cargo hold gets too hot. So to bring our dog with us to my happy place – and it would be criminal to not bring my city dog to a RANCH IN THE MOUNTAINS, for god’s sake – we just have to drive.

Luckily, that’s cool with me, cuz:

We see amazing things on the road.

Piece from the Painted Desert series by Chip Thomas. Seeing his new work throughout Navajo country in AZ each year is a major highlight of our trip!

Piece from the Painted Desert series by Chip Thomas.
Seeing his new work throughout Navajo country in AZ each year is a major highlight of our trip!


  • We nearly hit a moose once, heading into the Grand Canyon.
  • One summer we drove about 60 miles alongside a small tornado heading into Flagstaff.
  • Monument Valley is pretty stunning. 
  • And how about Sedona? I mean, come on. SEDONA is mind-blowing-ly rad.


So yeah, driving long distances is pretty fabulous.

Even with the kids.

Especially with kids.

CHK boys in cars

(Again: go check out my Instagram. It’s easy: click the photo!)



Here’s how we’ve lived-and-learned to DO ROAD TRIPS RIGHT:

We plan our itinerary in 300 mile increments – or less.

  • Once upon a time we drove 1000-mile days hopped up on NoDoze and giant Slurpees. Those days are behind us, mostly because it’s criminal to give that shit to your kids.
  • Also, turns out 300 miles is the perfect amount of distance to cover each day that still allows wiggle room for actually HAVING FUN on the road. 300 miles gives you time to stop for meals in wonky little towns – even if that’s a banana-split lunch in a tiny town in nowhere Utah where nothing else is open on Sunday (been there, done that). Driving 300 miles or less gives you time to check out local attractions, too.  Like a dinosaur museum. Or the Osh Kosh Bgosh outlet. (Seriously, MrBigIdeas is OBSESSED.)

We get our car serviced the week before we go.

  • My car likes to freak me out with little “maintenance required” lights all year round. Apparently Toyota and MrBigIdeas have different … ideas … about what maintenance is actually REALLY required, and when …. but every summer when we’re about to hit the road even MrB agrees it’s not worth making me crazy wondering about those lights when we’re in the middle of nowhere.
  • So before we hit the road we do oil, fluids, tires. The whole shebang. Mama’s happy. We’re all happy.

We separate our “road luggage” from our “destination luggage.”

  • When we travel by car, I separate our luggage by “road items” and “destination items.” Road items include pack-n-plays, dog food, snack & breakfast items, car entertainment and snacks, and whatever clothes we need for the actual DAYS ON THE ROAD. Those clothes are sorted into DAILY OUTFITS, which I just fold together, shirts over pants over underpants and socks. Some people baggie them, which is cool, too.
  • Road items get to live in the trunk of the minivan, and are loaded in and out of motel rooms each evening.
  • Destination items – additional boxes of diapers, swim clothes, sports paraphernalia, clothes we don’t need on the road — live in the TRULY ENORMOUS Yakima SkyBox on the top of the car, which remains locked and untouched until we get from home start to destination finish line.

We FINALLY invested in a cargo box.

  • Yes, you can pack your car to the gills with all the stuff you’re dragging on the road with you – but it’s not that comfortable for everyone to have bags under their feet, and you end up blocking your rear-view mirror, and if you are particularly over-stuffed you may just end up breaking your minivan liftgate the first time you ever try dragging four kids and a dog and three adults on a three-day trip into a market where Toyota literally has ZERO dealers within a 350-mile radius.
  • Or you can learn from your tragic and expensive mistake that first time out and buy a great carbox like the Yakima SkyBox we finally bought this year. And then the dog will actually have space to spread out and not breathe her doggy breath in your face while she’s forcibly spread across your lap … you get the picture. Get one of these. Then lock everything you don’t need while you’re on the road in that thing and forget about it until you get to your final destination. Angels sing, people. Angels sing.

If you’re traveling with a dog:

  • Get her groomed the night before you leave. (See “car breath” etc. above.)

We curate in-car entertainment.

  • In car, we go with magazines, music, and snacks snack snacks snacks snacks snacks snacks. Like, constant snacks. Z-bars, bags of nuts, something sweet for the afternoons. Fruit. Basically, snack time is a great driving-activity. It just is. Don’t forget your trash bags. And here’s a GREAT idea for keeping water at the ready, too, over on my Pinterest boards.
  • We don’t do screen time in the car. There is a lot to see out the windows. Really, truly. That’s what we all did, right? My kids are under the impression that our minivan video system only works for trips LONGER than 300 miles, and that you have to get a special access code at a gas station to turn them on. (Yes. Fine. Sometimes I lie my tail off.)I’m not saying there is NEVER a time for those video screens – endless, horrible traffic jams call for videos. They absolutely do. But the rest of the time, if we choose your route to take us to-and-through interesting places, we tell our kids to LOOK OUT THE WINDOW already.
  • Oh and, with the screens off, the chances of your kids actually napping go WAAAAAYYY up. Naps mean no kicking, screaming, whining. Yay naps!

We never enter restaurants without notebooks and pens.

  • Before each trip I hit Target for notebooks and Crayola washable marker sets for each kid. They live in my purse and we use them at meals and in hotel rooms to keep the kids quiet-ish.
  • (Oh hell, who am I kidding? In hotel rooms we ditch the no-screens rule and turn the TV on for the kids THE. WHOLE. TIME.)

CHK hotels with kids

  • Oh and, in restaurants with a billion kids? Beer helps. Believe you me.

CHK restaurants with 4 kids

We gas up every time we hit half-a-tank.

  • This is good practice year-round, but especially on the road, when you’re not sure if the next gas station is 75 or 200 miles from the last one. Plus, stopping to gas up means you have more opportunities for bathroom breaks and for tossing the trash you’ve collected since the last stop. And for coming up with your in car screen “license” should you really need it  …


Want more insight into how we road trip? We’re hitting the road again Monday morning and I’ll be Instagramming the whole thing … hint. Hint. Hint.

Sarah Kate Levy

Once upon a time I wanted to be a novelist in NY. FOUR KIDS LATER I'm a
screenwriter in LA who blogs about parenting, partnering, and the decline of civilization / my home.

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