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.

(Small Home Edition. Because MY SISTER!)

CHK champagne (1)

I hope everybody had a lovely Thanksgiving or is still enjoying a delightful Thanksgivikuh as I type. Ours was and has been NUTS — 32 people for Thanksgiving dinner, fabulous evenings out to celebrate my brother’s seemingly endless 33rd birthday (I mean, seriously, dude, THREE MEALS? I barely rate a DVD at home around here), brunches and Chanukah parties and ENDLESS leftover magic-making with the remnants of the feast for 32.

There's another table on the deck. Eek!

There’s another table on the deck. Eek!

CHK trois mec

CHK stuffing eggs

I instagrammed the whole thing like crazy (as you can tell) and I’ve even blogged all about it but as we seem to be ending the last possible moments of the leftover-cycle, I’ll save my notes and recipes for next year when people can actually use them.

Till then, and drum roll, please:

Not too long ago my sister posted THIS on Facebook:

CHK sis preggers

She’s pregnant!

I’m thrilled.

I get to be an aunt. Aunt-ing sounds LOVELY. Brand new adorable blood-related bundle of joy who is NOT my responsibility? Count me in.

Plus I’m always excited when someone I love has babies and can join me in my bitching about all the ups and downs of caring for those babies. Always need another mama at the bitch fest. And this one is getting off to a great start. I am loving getting to listen to her complain about being tired and cranky and hungry and enormously breasted … those were the days. (Ha!)  So glad it’s not me, lemme tell you. NEVER. AGAIN.

But I do love complaining about it.

But perhaps MOST THE MOST EXCITING THING OF ALL is that all those boxes and boxes and boxes of baby clothes I’ve been saving for her are FINALLY exiting my garage. I may park my minivan in there yet.

The thing is, though:

All those boxes are on their way to her charming and lovely but kinda tiny, fourth-floor-walkup, two-bedroom apartment in Park Slope.

My sister and her husband are planning to totally reconfigure their space in order to accommodate their new baby. Office equipment is moving to the living room, guest beds are being shifted about. Supposedly they are getting started on all this shortly after the New Year.

That said:

It will be better organized after all this moving-and-a-shaking, but at the end of the day it’s still gonna be a fourth-floor walk-up tiny two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

Which has me thinking about ways to minimize baby crap in their lives for as long as possible, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

BARE MINIMUM NECESSITIES for bringing home baby and living with him awhile (SMALL HOME EDITION)

  • PACK N PLAY – so he has somewhere to sleep that isn’t her/your bed, but can still sleep nearby
  • SWADDLING BLANKETS – to encourage the sleeping
  • SWING– so he has somewhere (almost) guaranteed that he WILL sleep, for when he won’t sleep in the pack-n-play
  • BREAST PUMP / BOTTLES – gotta feed the kid
  • DIAPER PAIL – if you feed him, you’re gonna need to change his diapers
  • PLAY MAT – somewhere else to put him down
  • STROLLER / CARRIER – so you can get him out
  • CAR SEAT – so you can take him farther afield
  • DIAPER BAG or equivalent – so you’ve got what you need when you take him there
  • BABY CLOTHES – so he won’t be naked

Niceties, but not necessities, include:

  • CHANGING TABLE or DRESSER – I vote for a dresser to hold baby’s clothes, with a changing pad on top. But if you have closet space, you don’t even need the dresser. You can put the baby stuff in the closet (try to mac it out with double rails and drawers if you can) and then change baby on a pad or towel on the floor or on your bed. As you get better at it, you won’t even need the pad or towel.
  • ROCKER / RECLINER – I would have said, before the twins, that a recliner was a necessity. But I couldn’t use ours with the twins. Generally I cuddled up on a mattress on the floor with the boys, and they didn’t seem to notice the lack of rocking motion. In a small house, I might eschew the chair for a bed, mattress, or couch already in place near the baby’s bed.
  • CRIB – a  pack-n-play is generally a bit smaller than a crib, and more portable. You might even be able to get away with using a pack-n-play until baby is ready for a toddler bed. I only advocate buying a crib in a small space if your baby is NOT sleeping in your room. If he’s got his own dedicated nursery that you intend to use from day 1, then go for a crib. Absolutely. If he DOESN’T, however, as is the case in many smaller homes and apartments, stick with the Pack-N-Play as long as you can.

My kids are growing up fast – this morning Pancake explained that turning 3 next month means he’s going to be a big boy as tall as Daddy – but my sister’s pregnancy is giving me TONS of ideas for back-to-baby posts over the next few months, so if you wandered over here because you’re pregnant or just had your first baby, pull up a chair. There’s gonna be a ton of new content just for you!

In other news: I have recently changed my Twitter account from @checklistmommy to @sarahakatelevy. If you were following me @checklistmommy, please make the switch as I will no longer be using my old handle. But don’t worry — @sarahkatelevy still intends to post information relevant to ChecklistMommy readers. I just wanted a little more latitude to tweet about writing, politics, and whatever else hit my fancy that wasn’t strictly Mom/Baby/Kids news. 

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.

Except When They Don’t.
So We Made a List For That!

CHK sisters rock

Recently Gaga complained to me that Diddy likes to read to EVERYBODY but her.

The thing is, she’s right. This year, Diddy went UPSTAIRS to the elementary school while Gaga stayed DOWNSTAIRS in the preschool, and it drove a little bit of big-kid/little-kid wedge between them where there hadn’t really been one before.

Before, they had a pretty typical little-sister/big-sister vibe, with Gaga loving her Diddy A BILLION PERCENT and chasing after her and imitating her and grooving on her all day long, and Diddy putting up with it about 40% of the time and the rest of the time doing everything she could to shake her Gaga shadow.

I figured I’d try to stay out of it – I know how sisters go, and it’s a bumpy ride up and down the love/hate spectrum on the way to WOOHOO SISTERHOOD! – but Diddy’s refusal to read to Gaga REALLY UPSETS my Gaga, who can’t help but notice, uhh …

CHK no gagas

… Diddy’s got no problem reading to the boys.

So last week at Family Meeting we started talking about how Gaga was sad that Diddy didn’t want to read with her –


We talked about how it made us feel, when our friends excluded us.

We talked about how Diddy and Gaga would be sisters forever, how they were a team against the world for the rest of their lives.

We talked about how Diddy just wanted a little privacy.

We talked about how Gaga just wanted to hang out a little bit more with her big sister —


Now, I’m a big sister. I totally get where Diddy is coming from.

But I’m also Gaga’s MOTHER, so obviously I see her point too.

And I think most talk about most things is pretty damn cheap.


So I told Diddy to make a list of things she actually LIKES doing with Gaga.

Here’s what Diddy came up with:

  • Making tents
  • Making big messes that she cleans up
  • When she helps me up the stairs
  • Going on the monkey bars
  • Playing restaurant
  • Making up stories while Gaga watches … she loves my stories
  • When she helps me hit a piñata so the treats can come out
  • Doing climbing walls together
  • Playing on the iPad together

Then I had Gaga do it. She said:

  • When she reads to me
  • When she climbs big rocks with me
  • When we swing together and go on the monkey bars
  • When we play on phones
  • When we play on the iPad

At which point Diddy said:

 I like to do a lot of things with Gaga that I didn’t know! I thought I hated Gaga, but I really love her!

Seriously, folks?

Is there ANYTHING a list can’t do?

And tasty!

CHK family meetings


We have made a lot of stabs at family meetings over the last few months, mostly prompted by my reading – and ADORING – Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families.

I loved the idea of sitting with my kids and spouse, discussing the upcoming week, setting family goals, modeling how we handle daily disappointments, celebrating daily successes.

And I have friends for whom family meetings work great – in fact, I first started kicking around the idea of a family meeting after reading about them on Donna Tetreault’s blog.

So  a few months ago, we tried having our first family meetings over Friday dinners, thinking our low-key Shabbat was a nice time to take a look at the week behind us, and the week coming up.

Ummm …

Family meals are a terrible time to have a family meeting.

There’s too much nagging about napkins in laps and forks in hands and move your cup further up the table before it spills and mopping up the spills and all the kids screaming over each other and it’s just too friggin’ hard.

Plus the boys are just too young to get it. Sorry dudes.

Then I read a great little piece over at Parents. 

Which got me thinking about a better way to do family meetings and really make them stick.

1. Make them a regular part of your family routine.

Our calendar is a mess. Fridays we do Shabbat dinner followed by a family movie, or head out to evening picnics during the summer. Saturdays MrBigIdeas and I go out NO MATTER WHAT, HELL OR HIGHWATER. Sundays are usually chockfull of birthday parties (Jewish school rules say no Saturday parties), or we’re having friends over for early dinners at home. After spending a TON of time looking over our calendar, I decided to set the meetings for Monday nights, after dinner.

Then I went over to the calendar in our kitchen Command Center and wrote them in for every Monday night for the rest of the year.

2. Make them special.

Parents suggests using a team-builiding exercise as the intro to family meetings. I hate team-building exercises. Seriously. Ugh. Gag me.

Instead, I marked the first Family Meeting as a SPECIAL OCCASION by handwriting invitations and placing them MrBigIdeas’ and the kids’ Command Center inboxes.

The invitation set a weekly dress code (PAJAMAS AND SLIPPERS) and announced that all meetings would feature a special dessert item.

3. Trim the guest list.

The most useful thing I got out of the Parents’ article was the idea that ANYONE UNDER 4 was too young to attend family meeting.

Duh. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t figured that one out already.

So I set our weekly Family Meeting for Mondays nights at 745, after everyone was bathed and in their pjs, and most importantly, after the boys were in bed.

4. Set a productive agenda.

CHK weekly agenda

Our regular agenda items include:

  • Looking ahead to the following week:  Making logistical decisions such as who is making dinner on what nights, who is taking the kids to what activities, what special needs the kids have for those activities, etc.
  • Setting goals for the following week:  Last week, Gaga mentioned she was sad that Diddy won’t read to her or play with her as much as Gaga would like. Diddy countered that she didn’t enjoy playing with Gaga. (Yikes. Sisters.) Now, this is not true. There are tons of things Diddy likes to do with Gaga, most of which involve making Gaga the Monster, the Boyfriend, or The Baby. Diddy’s goal for this week’s meeting was to come up with a list of things she likes to do with Gaga.
  • Discussing any new agenda items that have been listed on our Family Command Center wipeboard over the course of the week. On this week’s board, Diddy has asked we discuss additional chores she can do at home to earn more cash. I’ve asked that the girls  help set up a penalty system designed to make me stop saying the F WORD. I really am trying, people. (In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t cursed yet, and I’m at least a third of the way into this post!)
  • Reviewing the girls’ Morning Checklists. The girls’ updated Morning Checklists have checkboxes for each item and each day of the week. Any item they fail to complete is a $0.50 penalty.
  • Reviewing other weekly checklists. Currently, we are working on flushing toilets in our house. We have a weekly chart up on the Command Center wipeboard, and now instead of nagging the kids about flushing the toilets, or trying to figure out which kid is responsible for which unflushed toilet, we just keep count of how many we see over the week. Each unflushed toilet is now work $0.50 ACROSS THE BOARD, meaning both girls are penalized for each unflushed toilet.
  • Distributing allowance. We are now doing allowance at Family Meeting because it keeps me from constantly forgetting to dole out allowance and then having to play catch up with large sums of $1 bills.
    • Also, doing allowance at Family Meeting lets us draw a concrete connection between goal penalties and the girls’ weekly cash intake. For instance, last week, the kids racked up $4.50 in unflushed toilets. Gaga only gets $4/week, so she actually had to PAY ME from her spending money, which was really upsetting for her. Diddy gets $6, so she had to split the remaining $1.50 among her spending, saving, and tzedekah jars.

Yes, there were tears. And protestations that the unflushed toilets were “HER FAULT!” “NO, THEY WERE HER FAULT!”

At which point I said,

The point of this exercise, the rules to which you both agreed to, was to encourage you both to flush the toilets. Punishing you BOTH is meant to encourage you to pressure each other to FLUSH THE TOILETS. You know what else it’s meant to do? PRESSURE YOU BOTH TO HELP EACH OTHER! If you see an unflushed toilet, your goal is to flush it before I see it, even if it’s not your fault! You guys are a TEAM. Against ME! Your team goal is to keep toilets flushed. Period. Together. Because you are SISTERS! And you will be a team for the rest of your life!

Okay, fine. In some instances, I am all for team-building.

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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