Guilt Free TV

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Guilt Free TV

Do you love TV?  I'm not ashamed to say it (okay, maybe a little): I love TV.  

I love movies.  I love getting lost in characters, and costumes, and plots, and twists.  We’re living in a golden age of TV and content - there’s just so much out there that is absolutely delicious to watch.

And it’s not limited to just grown-up stuff either.  As I’m sure you know, there’s almost unlimited amounts of content just for kids, right at your fingertips (or theirs, once they’ve scaled the fireplace mantle to get the remotes that were purposely left out of reach).

But what about not being a total #parentingfail when it comes to TV?

Penelope Leach, the renowned British child psychologist, has an interesting (and warm, human, understanding) take on it in her book, Your Baby & Child:

“The more children enjoy TV, the more inclined their parents are to see it as a seductive time waster...The usually unmasked question though is ‘What would your child be doing if she were not watching TV?’  If the honest answer is, ‘Squabbling with her sister,’ or ‘Moping around waiting for me to come home from work,' it’s difficult to see how viewing is wasting her time, or to avoid seeing that it’s saving your sanity...And if using the screen as a babysitter isn’t exactly parenting to be proud of, it’s surely better than letting stress and irritation build to a point where you keep putting your child down or yelling at her.”

She goes on:

“The very qualities that make [TV] seductive also make it a superb medium for education in its very widest sense.  What matters, of course, is the balance between viewing and other activities, and the nature and quality of what your child watches.”

And finally:

“The child who will not yet sit still for a book on natural history may watch a wildlife program and emerge with mental pictures of otherwise inconceivable wonders.”

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

With all that in mind, if you're new to the screen time struggle, here are some things that have worked for us:

  • Before I let them watch TV (or use the iPad), I make them tell me what the rule is: “when it’s time to turn it off, it’s time to turn it off,” and “I won’t throw a fit when it’s time to turn it off.”  That way they're owning it, instead of me barking it at them.

  • Often (but not always), I set specific time limits, either with a timer, or by episode “you can watch this episode, and that’s it”

  • When they do start begging to watch more, sometimes I make them watch the same show (that they’ve already seen a million times) in another language, usually Italian.  At first they complained, but now they like it and feel cool that they know all the names of PJ Masks in another language.  Check it out yourself - lots of shows are available in Spanish, French and many other languages.  Just change the language setting while the show is playing.

  • Whenever possible, I watch with them.  This is to: help them understand what they're seeing, monitor what they're watching, and know what the hell they're talking about later when I'm supposed to build a submarine.

  • Rather than them getting overwhelmed and/or fighting over what to watch - and to keep them from watching absolute trash - I give them a choice of 3 shows or movies they can watch, and they’re usually educational in nature.

  • When I don’t want them to be watching TV, I set that expectation early (for example, on the way home from pickup, I mention that we’ll be doing something else).

  • In addition to laying out expectations when TV needs to be limited, I try my best to have some sort of interesting, child-driven activity ready for them (hey, lots of those in the members’ area, BTW!). By child driven, I mean something that’s simple and allows for lots of exploration and creativity on their part vs. “do steps 1, 2 and 3 exactly like this.”  Usually, they’ll get engrossed in it and forget about TV.  

  • In general, I try not to let them watch/use devices during the week.  This doesn't mean there aren't days when I'm exhausted, or sick, or just need them to sit still for 20 minutes or I'll lose my mind.  When that happens, I pretend Penelope Leach is sitting in my kitchen with a cup of tea, and gently and compassionately reminding me that I'm human.

  • No screen time or TV before bed

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Did you know there's a members-only part of the site?  For free?

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What to Watch

I remember when Sweetpea first got interested in TV, I had no idea what to let her watch.  Here’s a beginner list of shows and movies that are inventive, have enhanced the kids’ creativity + imaginative play, and that you may actually enjoy watching yourself.  They’re almost all slow-paced as well (why that’s important, from an expert).  

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Room on the Broom

Gruffalo

Gruffalo's Child

Leap! (this was panned by critics, but we love it anyway)

For the Birds

Partly Cloudy

The Little Prince

Tumble Leaf

Ask Story Bots/Story Bots Songs

Octonauts

Sarah and Duck

Shaun the Sheep

Wallace and Gromit

Peppa Pig

Curious George (narrated by William H. Macy!)

This obviously isn’t complete!  What are some favorites at your house?

Resources:

Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five, by Penelope Leach

NPR/Ted Radio Hour: When it Comes to Screentime, is All TV Equal?

TED Talk: Dimitri Christakis, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

American Academy of Pedriatrics' recommendations on TV + media

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Instant Pot Bolognese

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Instant Pot Bolognese

Do you love a good bolognese?  

There’s *nothing* like the homemade stuff.  So silky and salty and slightly sweet, clinging to stands of al dente pasta...damn, I can almost taste it right now.

Anyway, the reward is worth the 2+ hours, but with littles you may not have the time, desire or sanity to babysit a pot of bubbling sauce for that long.

So I pulled out my tome of Italian cooking, Il Cucchiaio d’Argento (The Silver Spoon) to see if I could craft a method for an Instant Pot, and still be I-can’t-stop-eating-this delicious.

What I came up only requires your focus for about 20 minutes.  The Instant Pot pretty much does the rest in a controlled and non-open flame/hot stove way, freeing you to do other stuff - or even leave the house.

Also: this recipe makes enough for about 16 servings/4 meals - so you can freeze the rest and save it for hectic/can't-make-one-more-decision evenings.

(that is, if you prepare your pasta the Italian way vs. the American way of piling copious amounts of sauce onto cooked noodles.  Trust me, the Italian way is so good you'll never want to go back.  Info after sauce recipe).

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef

2 carrots

2 celery sticks

2 cloves garlic

1 large onion (or two small onions)

4 tbs butter

4 tbs olive oil

2 tbs tomato paste

2 c water, or 1 c white wine + 1 c water

1 tbs beef reduction

Optional: 2-3 sage leaves, minced

Eliminations, Substitutions + Other Stuff:

Meat: you can replace some of the beef with ground pork, or sweet Italian pork sausage with the casings removed.

Butter/OliveOil: you can reduce the amount if you want.  It won’t be quite as silky, but it will still be good.

White Wine: I’ve made this recipe with white wine and without.  It’s still very, very, good without the wine, so don’t worry if you don’t have any on hand (that you want to dump into a sauce, anyway).

Beef reduction: If you don’t have this it’s fine.  Just let the beef brown a teensy bit more to add depth of flavor.

A note on salt: I never measure out my salt, and get all theatrical and Food Network-y by throwing it in from a little bowl I always keep by my cooktop.  Err on the side of caution when I say “pinch of salt.”  You can always add more at the end.

Bolognese is good on: tagliatelle, pappardelle, linguine, fettuccine, spaghetti - oh, who am I kidding...Bolognese is good on #allthepasta

Makes enough sauce for around 4 pasta dishes of 4 servings each, if you prepare your pasta the Italian way (more on that below).  I put the extra into 1 cup plastic containers and freeze for later use.

Some ideas for side dishes: simple vegetable salad w/citrus or mustard vinaigrette; roasted broccoli with a squeeze of lemon; kale, apple and walnut salad

Tips on chopping onions + peeling garlic: right here

For the sauce:

  1. Small dice your onion, carrot and celery. Place onion in one bowl; carrot and celery in another.

  2. Chop garlic; place in small bowl.

  3. Put your Instant Pot on the medium sauté setting.  Heat butter and oil.

  4. Add onions, and season with a small pinch of salt.  Cook onions until they’re translucent, about 5 minutes.

  5. Add carrots and celery.  Season with a bit more salt, and pepper, and cook for 5-10 minutes, until they’re soft and starting to brown.

  6. Add garlic and cook for one minute, until fragrant.

  7. Switch the Instant Pot to the high sauté setting, and add the ground beef.  Season with a pinch of salt and more pepper.

  8. Cook the beef on the high setting for about 10 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and stirring frequently.

  9. When the beef starts to brown, stir in tomato paste and beef reduction.

  10. Pour in water (and wine, if using), and stir.  Taste sauce to see if it needs additional salt and adjust if needed.

  11. Put the lid on the Instant Pot and switch to pressure cook on high for 30 minutes, making sure the “Keep Warm” setting is also on.  When it’s done pressure cooking, let it sit for 10 minutes (or indefinitely, if you can’t get to it right away) before releasing the pressure.  Some people call this a natural release, but that sounds like something that a douche canoe would request during a massage, IMO.

  12. Release the pressure, and take off the lid.

  13. The sauce will still be soupy.  Reduce it by putting the Instant Pot on sauté (medium) for about 30 minutes.  After it’s cooked for about 10 minutes, I start the pasta.

Cooking the pasta and finishing the dish:

  1. Bring a pot of generously salted water to boil.

  2. Add ¾ lb of pasta, and cook it one minute LESS than the directions on the box.

  3. At the end of the cooking time, scoop out ½ cup of the pasta cooking water and set it aside.  Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot.

  4. Ladle about 1 cup of the bolognese onto the pasta, and pour the reserved cooking water into the pot.  Stir to combine. (You could also add 2 tbs of creme freche, sour cream, or heavy cream at this point if you want - totally optional)

  5. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and clinging to the pasta.

  6. Serve immediately and top with parmigiano reggiano.

If you’re using rice pasta: rice throws off way more starch than wheat - so substitute ¼ c of hot tap water for the reserved cooking water in step 4.  Add more water if needed.

If you’re using zucchini noodles: this sauce trick won’t work quite as well.  You could either just put the bolognese on the fully cooked noodles, or you could follow the directions above and add ½ tsp of tapioca powder or corn starch to the reserved cooking water in step four to get the sauce to thicken up a bit.

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(two pages, formatted all pretty-like, ready for use)

 

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Lunch Box Love Notes

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Lunch Box Love Notes

Isn't it nice to get a tangible reminder that someone loves you?

A simple note is a great way to do it.  

I made you these little downloadable, printable, kid-friendly ones to stuff into lunch boxes, diaper bags, and back packs.

(even if your kid can't read, you can draw a heart with "Mama" + your little's name - she'll be thrilled)

It's in the members' area of the site, along with a counting/coloring activity, and a recipe for easy weeknight tomato soup.


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Mommy loves you *THIS* much.

Get the love notes + other goodies in this month's bundle.


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Make your 2018 more productive

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Make your 2018 more productive

Because you haven't slept in years, your iPhone is a stand-in for a functioning memory.

But you also miss a nice pen gliding over smooth, luxurious paper.

(I mean, I assume you do.)

I've waffled between my trusty Moleskine vs. my iPad/iPhone, feeling sad and a little ungrounded with meeting notes floating around rather than safely tucked inside my little black books.  Besides, research shows that you internalize something better when you write it vs. type it.

I think I may have found the perfect balance.  

I put meetings and appointments into my iPhone (duh).  Then, during meetings, I take notes in my Moleskine.  After meetings, I follow up with an email and/or a Google doc outline so all the vital stuff is now in the cloud where I can access it anytime, anywhere.  

For emails, I usually cover:

  • Key points that were agreed on (that way, people have the opportunity to see it in writing and say “Um, no, that’s not what I meant,” or “yes, let’s do this.”  It also protects you as decisions are made).

  • Deliverables that I’ve committed to, and/or a list of my deliverables and when they can expect them from me

  • Deliverables others have committed to

And, here is something that has greatly helped my productivity over the last few years:

Every day, before I start working*, I pull out a daily planning sheet and write down the three top things I want to accomplish that day.  I write down other things in a different area - because what mom only has three things to remember in a given day?  But I try to be as specific as possible, and pick the three biggies for that day only.  

Result: less overwhelm, more focus

Is your organizing nerd heart a-fluttering?  Awesome - try this: one day a week, write down a master list of everything you want to accomplish.  Loosely map it out over each working day of the week.  Then, use your weekly map as a reference when writing your daily goals.

I usually do my weekly planning (for the following week) on Friday afternoons.  At that point in time, it’s fresh in my mind what I’ve done, what still needs to be done, and any new things I’ll need to get cracking on after the weekend.

Result: not shuffling around in a daze on Monday morning, wondering what to do with myself (for real - that’s what I end up doing when I don’t plan).  

Really, you should try it!  And guess what?  I made you a mini-planner pack that you can download and use (it’s free).  It includes a daily planner, weekly planner, and year-long strategy planner, and you’ll find it in this month’s bundle in the member’s area of HWL.  This month’s bundle also has some cute and easy activities for your littles (also free).

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Get productive.

Free planner for you, mama.

BTW: I first learned of this technique (part of it, anyway) from Ned Hallowell, in his interview on Marie TV.  Lots of productivity gold there - check it out!

*I may or may not binge on news as soon as the kids are gone.  This is not productive, and I'm trying to cut down.  As soon as I catch up with my girl Rachel.

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Holiday TV Time

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Holiday TV Time

Movies + shows to watch with the fam and get into the holiday spirit.

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3 Pro Cooking Skills

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3 Pro Cooking Skills

To get you through the holiday cooking insanity.

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Holiday Planner

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Holiday Planner

To help you meet the ridiculously high bar you'll set for yourself.  Because you've forgotten how last year you were baking at 2 am.

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Nature Scavenger Hunt

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Nature Scavenger Hunt

And other fall goodies.

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Blue Apron Review

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Blue Apron Review

Is it a meal kit service that makes life easier, or extra pressure delivered to your doorstep on ice?  Maybe a little bit of both.

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Shut the front door!

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Shut the front door!

Getting out of the house, instead of GET OUT OF THE $%!ING HOUSE in the morning.

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Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

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Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

In my brain, there is a cycle that goes like this:

“Oh shit.  I’m feeding the kids nothing but processed food for breakfast.  I’m a monster.  I’d better fix that.”

For next 2-3 weeks: “Everything is made from scratch.  I rock.  The kids seem smarter already.”

 

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Planning + Packing for a Beach Vacation

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Planning + Packing for a Beach Vacation

Have you seen that article in The Onion: Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming all Household Duties in Closer Proximity to the Ocean?

Yeah.  That pretty much sums it up.

 

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What to do with these suckers.

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What to do with these suckers.

You know - the ones that are so overripe they make your teeth hurt.  Or, maybe your toddler insisted on having an entire banana, took a nano-bite and decided “DONE!”

Here’s an idea.

 

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Cut them, cut off your nose.

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Cut them, cut off your nose.

I was busy filling sippies with milk, making those Peanut Butter & Co Dark Chocolate Dream rollups the kids like (and coffee, always coffee), and getting our day started.  My ears perked up when Rachel Martin started talking about the current administration's proposed budget on Morning Edition.  As Orange Julius’s plan to eliminate the NEA, NEH and Corporation for Public Broadcasting unfolded, my stomach turned.  I wanted to punch him.  And scream.  And punch a few other people.

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3-Ingredient Italian Comfort: (Authentic) Pasta Alfredo

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3-Ingredient Italian Comfort: (Authentic) Pasta Alfredo

The real thing is incredibly easy, a real comfort food, and just as fast as making boxed mac and cheese.  Plus it only takes a few ingredients that you probably already have.

This is my go-to when life gets hectic and I realize - at 5:45 pm - that I forgot to take the salmon out of the freezer, soak the beans, etc.  

The kids love it and would eat the whole pot in one sitting if it were up to them.

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The Google Cake (don't let fondant scare you)

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The Google Cake (don't let fondant scare you)

When Sweetpea told me she wanted a Peppa Pig cake for her birthday, I immediately wondered if a cake pan could do all the work for me.  A quick check on Amazon yielded nada.  So then the next stop, of course, was Pinterest.

Shite.

Everything I was finding was with fondant, and I didn’t know shizzle about working with it.  As far as I was concerned, that was for other people, like the Perfect Pinterest Fairies.  Not me.

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Need a break from thinking about our impending doom?   Try this.

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Need a break from thinking about our impending doom? Try this.

So, here’s what I’ve had to do to keep my sanity intact.  If you’re feeling like I am, maybe this will help you too.

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16 Toys Your Kids Will Love for Years

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16 Toys Your Kids Will Love for Years

It starts with a tchotchke from the pedi’s post-shot treasure chest.  Then Aunt Karen visits and unloads her giganto bag of little plastic goodies.  A hideous roadtrip impulse buy (you know, to get them to be quiet long enough to listen to 3 minutes of a podcast) becomes a beloved heirloom that can *never* be thrown out. 

Then, it’s a holiday or birthday, and you’re contemplating what to buy for your kids that won’t be old news by the end of the week, inch you closer to a Hoarders intervention, or both.  

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Your kids' art cabinet: a starter list of supplies

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Your kids' art cabinet: a starter list of supplies

When you have to stay inside, crafting with your kids can be a sanity saver - and fun too.  Plus, it’s integral to their emotional and mental development (yay for you, awesome mama).  If you’re just starting out with this crafting thing, here’s a list of supplies that will keep you and your littles occupied for hours.

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How to be a better mom: be a shitty one

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How to be a better mom: be a shitty one

Today, Sweetpea has a very exciting field trip with her preschool class to a nature center.

When I was dropping her off, one of the other moms asked if I was going on the trip.  I told her that actually, parents had been asked to sit this one out because of some research thingy that was happening (Sweetpea’s school is part of a child & family research center).  

She said “Whew!  I was having *so much* mom guilt about not going.  I can cross that one off now.”

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