2015 CHK Mealtime Madness

I wasn’t a good eater, growing up. I could happily starve for days at a time if I didn’t like the way a meal looked, or smelled. For breakfast, I wouldn’t eat anything but ice cream with milk poured in it — my pediatrician assured my mother that at least I was getting my RDA of calcium each morning — and I didn’t eat a single school cafeteria meal for my entire K-12 education.

Well. You know that thing about what goes around, comes around?

About chickens coming home to roost?


Four picky-ass chickens who all happen to be picky about different things.

One kid won’t eat anything with tomato sauce but loves sushi. Another won’t eat any meat or poultry showing grill marks but hand her a hot pepper and she’s good to go. Ever heard of a kid who hates cream cheese AND pizza? I’ve got one at my house. His brother only eats bread products and peanut butter (at least he’s getting his RDA of plant-based protein). He believes poptarts are a fruit and honestly if the government thinks ketchup is a vegetable, who am I to tell my kid he’s wrong?


Recently, we decided we were going nuts keeping all of this straight / all of them happy.

So we came up with some workarounds to keep all of us from (further) losing our minds.


This was actually Mr Big Idea’s idea. He got tired of hassling the kids for breakfast orders at 630 am – and by hassling, I mean, him nagging them and them screaming “I don’t knoooooooow yet I’m so tiiiiiiiiiiired why did you wake me up I’m sooooo tiiiiiiiired.”

Fun stuff.

So then he tried letting each kid take turns picking a single breakfast for themselves and all the other kids, who could like it or lump it.

For the most part, they all lumped it. At top volume.

So we decided to take the time pressure and the peer pressure out of the equation.

Now we take orders at bedtime, and I write them on the wipeboard in our command center, just under the dinner plans.

2015 CHK Mealtime Madness breakfast orders

Each kid can pick whatever they want within reason – usually it’s some combination of bagel and cream cheese, eggs, or cereal.

Now, while he’s waking the kids each morning, I run the short order kitchen, and all four breakfasts are on the table when the kids get there. They can eat or not eat, but there’s no more whining or nagging at the breakfast table.

Bravo, Dad!


I am happy to make any variety of sandwiches. If it’s in the house, I will smack it between two slices of bread or bagel or English muffin, no problem. Everyone gets the same fruit and salty thing on the side and I don’t want to hear another word about it.



Or you eat peanut butter.

No, seriously. My way, the highway, or Skipp-ay.

Family dinner is a big deal for me. I grew up with family dinner, and Mr Big Ideas and I naturally fell into the rhythm of eating as a family when we had kids. We eat early, 6-ish, and we eat real food, generally home cooked.

I cook what I like, gleaning recipes off the internet and organizing them on my favorite meal planning site, PlanToEat . (I love this site. Truly. Check it out .)

Yes, I try to choose recipes I think the kids will like, but I know I can’t satisfy everybody all the time, so when I put dinner on the table, I also set out a jar of peanut butter and a pile of spoons.

Again: no nag. No fuss.


As long as you sit at my table with your napkin in your lap and you use your fork instead of your fingers, and seriously how is it possible to get HAMBURGER IN YOUR HAIR, HOW IS THAT HUMANLY POSSIBLE?

Okay, so maybe there’s still some nagging and some fussing.

But I’m pretty sure when they gave me this Mom gig that was sold as a pretty big part of the job.


* Full disclosure: this is  not a sponsored post, but it does contain affiliate links. Those links help support the operation of this blog. 


Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off My Ears


2015 CHK I Cant Hear You v2


Ours is a very loud house.

For one thing, it’s an uber-modern, glass and wood and concrete bunker. Not a lot of rugs, or window treatments, or anything else that might dampen sound. (Whoops.)

For another, six people, two dogs, and a cat live here.

We make a lot of noise, even in the best of times – every footfall echoes and reverberates, but add the TV in the family room and the cat whining for water and the dogs barking at passers-by and the kids screaming at each other and us screaming at them to stop screaming …


Mr Big Ideas has taken to wearing ear plugs much of the time.

The problem with the ear plugs is that he now often can’t hear ME.

Unless I’m yelling and screaming at him.

Now, I come from a family of yellers and screamers, so I understand that much of this is my problem, that I am perpetuating a cycle of yelling and screaming.

And to be fair, Mr Big Ideas is willing to cop to his own part in this problem – he does his fair share of bellowing, too.

He just thinks I do it more.

You know what that makes ME think?

I’ll become the quietest, calmest, most effective Mama EVER. I will stop the yelling. The kids will stop the yelling. And then YOU, Mr Big Ideas, will be the only one still yelling. And THEN YOU’LL SEE WHICH ONE OF US YELLS MORE!

As you can tell, this hasn’t been easiest thing for me to get a handle on.

I’ve tried mindfulness. I’ve taken a few mindfulness classes offered to parents at our school, and most days I manage 15 minutes or so of mindful breathing using the guided meditations at insightLA.

I’m a big  fan of mindfulness in short doses.

I enjoy breathing. In solitude. (What Mom wouldn’t?)

And on the days when I manage my 15 minutes, I do much LESS yelling and screaming, absolutely.

But not ZERO.

And while my own attempts to be mindful and calm IN THE MOMENTS of stress and conflict have improved tremendously in the last year or so, I have noticed a little problem with this method:

Man does it seem to piss other people off when you stop and take five deep breaths to stay calm when they are being big jerks.

All that said, I love the IDEA of mindfulness, even if I’m not the world’s best practitioner, and I’ve tried to get my kids into it, too.

Dan Siegel’s great book,  The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind has been a great help. All of his books are grand — truly.

But still, we needed more.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a pretty neat solution. Jury’s out on the long-term effectiveness of this plan, but so far, so good —

The moment anyone around here starts whining or screaming, I say:

I Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off My Ears.

Strangely – and completely unexpectedly — this seems to have the IMMEDIATE effect of making ALL the kids stop and re-think how they are approaching me.

Sometimes I have to say it twice, or three times, but I am telling you, eventually, it works.

They stop. Re-set. Take a breath.

And talk like normal people.

You wanna know the coolest thing about all this?

Keeping my mouth busy SAYING

I Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off My Ears,

keeps me from SCREAMING





Even when I DO find myself yelling or screaming at the kids, they now say the same thing to me:

We Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off Our Ears.

And you know what?

Being called out like that really works.

I actually stop, reset, re-phrase, re-approach.


Even Mr Big Ideas has been slowing down on the ear plugs.

In fact, I’ve even heard him saying it a few times … maybe he can hear what I’m saying around here after all …

I Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off My Ears!


*Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. Affiliate programs help support the content of this blog. 

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.

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!



CHK night nurse

Short answer:

No one NEEDS a night nurse.

Even parents of TWINS don’t need a night nurse. (That said, holy moly if you are having twins and you can swing it, GET A NIGHT NURSE. I have done it alone, and let me tell you: NIGHT NURSE IS BETTER.)

Longer answer:

If you can swing the costs – and they are high – night help is AMAZING.

You can hire night help on a 12-hr (night nurse) or 24-hr (baby nurse) contract.

  • Night nurses are generally SLIGHTLY less expensive than baby nurses, but they all tend to charge in the neighborhood of $15-20/hr, which on a 24-hr clock can be a bit much.
  • Night nurses tend to live out, and arrive in the evenings for their shift. They feed and change baby overnight, and some do baby-related dishes or laundry overnight, too.
  • Baby nurses live in, and work around the clock, generally sleeping for a few hours in the mornings when baby sleeps. They do baby dishes, baby laundry, nursery organization, take baby on walks – basically, old school Downton Abbey nanny-with-a-capital-N care. It’s amazeballs.

In both cases, you get some sleep, so that you are better equipped to care for baby during daylight hours (night nurse), or so that you can go back to work or run errands or go out to lunch if you want to (baby nurse).

But no, none of this is necessary.

I have done it solo, and here’s what I know:

  • When I was pregnant with Diddy, I was TOTALLY against having night help. Diddy was my first baby, and I wanted to be the one providing for her around the clock, so I declined my grandmother’s kind offer of paying for night help, and hacked it solo.
  • I managed alone with Gaga, too – which was kind of hell because she was up all night every night, far more than her sister, and for many more months.  But it was do-able. Even with a toddler (Diddy) running around.

In both cases, I relied upon adrenalin, caffeine, and attempting to sleep when baby sleeps. You can too.

Then I got pregnant with the twins … and night help started sounding better.

The boys arrived slightly earlier than planned, and our baby nurse was still on another job, so I had 2 weeks to test my hypothesis that doing nights on my own with twins would SUCK.

And OMG IT WAS AWFUL. Nursing twins takes about a zillion times as long as nursing one, and you can’t just latch two kids on and fall back to sleep. You have to get up, and arrange TWO babies on the boob, and burp two babies, and then most likely change TWO diapers afterwards, and then settle two babies back to sleep.

It takes forever.

I was a wreck by the time our amazing baby nurse arrived.

The first night, every time I woke to feed the twins, she sat with me, and then SHE burped them, and SHE took them to change diapers, and SHE settled them back to sleep, and I went and pumped for fifteen minutes.

All day, I pumped post-feeds, too.

The second night, she used the bottles I’d pumped for one feed and I slept THROUGH that feed, and it made a WORLD of difference.

Twenty-four hours later I was rested, showered … and then I went out and got my nails done.

The following day I had lunch with girl friends.

The day after that I got a cut-and-color.

Maybe a week later our baby nurse woke me up because she was worried Sausage’s head cold was becoming something more serious. She told me to take him to the ER, and it turned out she was right: Sausage had RSV, and spent 2 days stabilizing in the pediatric ward thanks to HER catching what I might have dismissed as a bad cough.

Four days later, she sent me back to the ER with Pancake. He did a night in NICU.

Not only do I believe our baby nurse saved my sanity, she may also have saved my sons’ lives.

So here’s the more NUANCED  answer to DO YOU NEED NIGHT HELP?

If I had to do it all over again, I would be ALL OVER getting night help for each one of my babies.

And if I couldn’t afford night help, I’d manage. Because parents just DO.

That said:


Even if it’s just for one day a week – or even just one afternoon a week – having someone come in to do dishes and laundry and watch your newborn for a few hours while you GET THE HELL OUT for a bit is, in my mind, indispensible.

Maybe that person is your Mom, or your uncle, or your partner.

If not, start budgeting to pay for a person like that for NOW.

Because my biggest most important piece of advice to new parents is:

Don’t forget your village.

Friends can bring you meals. Family can babysit for a few hours at a time.

And even if you live far from friends, and farther from family, the village is still available to you. You just might have to pay for it. You can order in, or find a babysitter a few afternoons a week, or trade babysitting hours with another new mom.

No matter what you can or can’t afford, tap into WHATEVER variety of village that you can.

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.

I Love My Advertisers (You Will Too)

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Subscribe To Get Posts via Email