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)


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I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...

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.

I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...

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!


I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...


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.

I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...

(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. 

I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...

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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