the bake-off

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 11.34.18 AMSummer is here and we all have days or parts of days to fill with our kids.  In that spirit, we thought we’d share an idea that you can adapt based on the age of your kids.

The Bake-off:  Brownies, chocolate chip cookies, 7- layer bars, let your kids pick one and find a couple of recipes for it – online or in cookbooks.  Depending on the number of kids you plan to include, let each make a different small – batch version.  Have discussions about the differences in the recipes and predict what effect each will have.  If it’s a smaller batch and your kids are up to it, work through the math to halve a recipe.  And then when the oven timer goes off, have a taste test – blindfolded if your group is up for that.  Kids can record what each tastes like and even guess which went with each recipe (if they looked enough alike going into the ovens). -n


ideas for family outings

the joy of doing one thing

Watching my older children do their homework is fascinating. And a little frightening to me, too. They will routinely have music or something playing through headphones, email or chat windows open, some kind of snack in one hand all while writing a paper. They are, what I guess I’d call, “multitasking.” Funny, though, I feel like I don’t hear that word as much anymore. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s just become the norm.

I don’t believe that that kind of distracted studying is as good as more focused, uninterrupted engagement. I just don’t. And I’m sure that there are plenty of studies to show that I am right, just as there are probably plenty of studies that show that they, too, are developing and practicing useful skills that will serve them well in the future landscape of technology and work. Who knows?

Enter: focus and mindfulness. While I don’t want to be the grumpy older generation suspicious of All Things Progress, I know–I KNOW–that the swirl and busyness that the velocity of our days has created for adults and kids alike is not a good place to be all of the time. Such frenetic activity requires balance. Periods of constant distraction and quick shifts of topic need to be balanced with quiet and stillness. Quiet and stillness, which is not the same as sleep.

For anyone who gets caught up in the buzz of the multitask, here I’d like to make the case for, once in a while, just doing one thing. Just do one thing. For kind of like, a long time. Read a book. Fold some laundry. Go for a walk. Write a paper. Cook something without needing it to be on the table in 25 minutes. It’s amazing how short attention spans can get when we become accustomed to email intrusion at work, Snapchat during study hours, or even the shorter chunks of time new parents get used to with the demands of a new baby. Restore and fight back every so often by just doing one thing. Try to do it without worrying what is coming next or what you’re not doing instead. It’s harder than it seems, and more satisfying than it looks. –t

music – to get out the door

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 1.23.45 PMThe end of a school year can be a time of mixed emotions and overburdened schedules. In our house, mornings have become a bit more chaotic.  To inspire some group buy-in and effort towards getting out the door in the morning, the kids collaborated to create a “get out the door playlist”.  It’s about 20 minutes long, starting mellow with an increasing beat as the playlist progresses.  We are a week in, and the kids now know that when a certain song  comes on, it means it’s time to head downstairs. Definitely more positive and playful than mom yelling! If this continues to work, I’m thinking we’ll create one of these per semester.  I love the memory power of music that harkens you back to a time period so definitively. Maybe for my kids, someday they’ll recall heading out for a school day with their sibs, right on time, in May of ‘14. –n

diy microwavable rice pillow

photo 1Know a mom who tends to overdo it at the gym, someone who could use a de-stressor, or a granny who would welcome some soothing warmth? The microwavable fleece Rice Pillow is a great DIY gift year ‘round, and a simple project if you’re looking for something to do with the kids (or by yourself) for Mother’s Day. A friend gave me one a few years ago for Christmas. While at first I missed her usual delicious baked goods, the Rice Pillow was truly a gift that kept on giving. I’ve used the thing a million times.

Here are some basic steps in making your own. This one will be about 16” x 8”, but you can make any size you’ve got the rice for.  You’ll need:

  • A piece of fleece (folded in half it will be about the size of your finished product)
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread
  • Rice (e.g. long grain, jasmine, basmati)
  • A funnel, pitcher with a spout, or paper to make a funnel to fill the pillow

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use instant rice – it may catch on fire when heated.
  • A microwave is necessary to heat the finished pillow (i.e. if your grandmother doesn’t own a microwave, this will be a lame gift).
  • Measurements aren’t critical to the success of this project!

The Step-by-Step:

1. Fold the fleece in half, right side in, and stitch the side edges closed. Sew the top, leaving about 3” in the center open. If hand sewing, make sure your stitches are close together so that rice can’t escape.








2. Turn the rectangle-with-the-small-hole you just made right side out through that small hole.


3. Stitch a few seams from the fold to about an 1-½”  from the top (parallel to the edge). The space at the top will allow you to fill the sections.


4. Fill each section ⅔ – ¾ full with rice using the funnel or pitcher. It’s easiest to fill the outer sections first. Over a sink is a good idea!








5. Sew the hole in the top closed.








6. Wrap with a card containing instructions! This thing can look like a blob, and a wide ribbon around a rolled up pillow really does wonders for presentation. Instructions: Heat on high in microwave for about 2 minutes–smaller pillows obviously will take less time than larger–add time in 30 second intervals until the heat is just right…aaaaahhhh. Kick back and relax.

for deserving moms – a mother’s day special!

MD gift wrapNeed a baby gift for a recent arrival?
Know a young family with a great mom?
Or want to have some pre-wrapped baby gifts ready
for when you get the good news?

Perfect timing – the annual Food for Thoughtful Parenting
Mother’s Day Special is on!

For each copy of Food For Thoughtful Parenting sold from April 22 to May 6, we’ll make a donation to The Watertown Family Network, an organization that supports families through educational classes and playgroups, “helping parents become the best parents they can be.” We’ll gift wrap for free and include a card to announce the donation. Great gifting and do-gooding all in one!

Offer good from April 22th through May 6th. Orders must be placed on this site. Unless otherwise noted, all books will be gift wrapped and sent to the buyer with a gift card included. If you’d like us to send the book directly to someone with a personalized note, please include the desired text in “special instructions for the seller” during PayPal Checkout and provide recipient’s address in the shipping section.

And please pass this along or share on Facebook with anyone else that might want to know about this offer. -n&t

let’s clean the house!

<<sigh>> I’ve found that one of the biggest deterrents to getting housework done is simply the bigness of the task. There’s just so much to be done. No surprise, kids, too, can feel overwhelmed–it would take, like, forever to get it all done!! It’s easy to feel defeated before the work even begins.

What we all know is that getting something done is an improvement, and even the smallest tidy up can greatly improve a mood, a homework session, or getting dressed the next day. In our book we talk about the importance of breaking a task down into manageable parts for children. Another tactic, to circumvent the feeling of being overwhelmed, is to settle on a certain period of time that everyone will be helping tidy up. It could be that each focuses on their own room or a particular room in the house. The session could be 15 minutes, 50 minutes, or “for these 3 songs.” Each does what they can during that time, and then stops. Stops! This small shift from “get it done” to “clean for 15 minutes” can work wonders. It’s amazing how efficient you can be when you know you’ve only got 15 minutes and the work isn’t stretching out endlessly before you. And the room you’re in? Voila! So much better!

I love better. –t

noticing along the way–a favorite outing activity

The sun is shining today after a long, long cold gray winter in New England. We get a little manic around these times, disproportionately thrilled at our sudden good fortune. It makes me think about getting out again into the world!

I live in the Boston suburbs, and one of my favorite family outings when the kids were younger was to take the T into the city, stroll through the Public Garden, and grab something tasty at a bakery or corner shop. Totally easy, and pretty low-budget.

For several of these outings I created simple scavenger hunts that kept the kids engaged along our low-key adventure. Not yet readers, I sketched out things that they could spot on the journey: the T logo, a Red Sox hat, a squirrel, a vendor cart…the kids loved it, a spark of magic each time something was spotted. There was no keeping score or tracking what was found, just noticing. Looking and noticing details.

I am a big fan of noticing details–really taking the time and explicitly noticing–which requires a certain kind of attention and focus. For children, nurturing that skill helps to develop increased ability to be aware of one’s surroundings (safety! beauty!), as well as tuning into others’ emotions and expressions (friendship! empathy!).

While every encounter with our kids needn’t be a “learning moment,” this activity tied to our downtown adventure was fun for all and educational, too. While I know it’s sometimes desirable to plug a child into any available technology–for even just 30 freakin’ minutes!!!–for everyone’s sanity (I have done it myself plenty of times), hooray for the moments when kids can look around and really take it all in.–t

P.S. This kind of general “find it” checklist can work for any adventure and for all ages. On a more recent day we set out with a list that included an afternoon coffee in an independent café; the wackiest candy we could find in a convenient store; and a photo in front of a random monument…so fun!

parent activity: what i like about us

i love usIt is all too easy to settle into a place of comfort and blindness when it comes to a partnership, and harder still to see and appreciate the subtle but essential aspects of teamwork that make a family work when life gets busy and loud.

Today we encourage a reflection on your parenting with your partner, and a challenge to identify things that would be on your list titled “What I like about us.”

Perhaps it’s the way one parent plays off of the other when a child needs a different approach. Maybe you appreciate the way you make hard decisions together, or simply the way the first one up warms two mugs for coffee.  Whatever it is, start the list and keep noticing things you can add. –n&t

best friends

Screen shot 2014-03-04 at 2.16.53 PMI got shut out of my medical benefits login the other day because 1) I couldn’t remember my password, and 2) when I tried to reset it, I was unable to answer the three security questions correctly: my mother’s maiden name. My favorite vacation spot. My best friend’s last name. Hmmm… I’m pretty sure I got the first one right, but I simply don’t know where I went wrong with the others. It could have easily been the one that asked something about “my best friend.”

A lot in our culture suggests that we all should have a best friend, that we should find our soulmate, that we should settle for nothing less. For children and adults alike, this can be a difficult and damaging message, particularly for kids who may not feel like they have a best friend, or who cling desperately to a friend for fear of losing that relationship to be be cast adrift.

When kids struggle with the “best friend” question, one thing to do is help them think about the contextual nature of friendship. Start with your own—I, myself, have friends who I enjoy talking about my family with. I have other friends who I will call to go running, share art, or who love to have a drink and listen to live music. I have friends who make me laugh all the time and some who will always have good advice. There are some great people who I really like spending time with, but with whom I probably would never share a deep secret. These are not one person. Sure, there is a lot of overlap, and a very special few who are many kinds of “friends” to me. But they each have their place, and my life is richer because of every single one of them. Does your child have someone special they like to play with on the playground, and another who they like to do crafts with? Is someone particularly fun at imaginative play, and another good at building?  Is there one friend who is fun to meet for lunch and another who is a great homework buddy?

Feeling like we have to find everything in one person is unrealistic. It puts pressure on relationships and makes us look too critically at what someone isn’t giving us. Better to focus on and value what each person brings to a friendship and what parts of ourselves we enjoy when we are with them. –t

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