18 December 2014

Balancing output and input

Hello, friends! I hope your holiday preparations are going well. I've been on a surprise writing hiatus. "Surprise" because I didn't plan for it, even though it has been just what I needed.

Hanukkah menorah
Hanukkah has begun.

Not long ago, I turned in the first draft for the Parent Hacks book. It felt so good to complete this huge step in the long process of creating this book. Two days later was my 46th birthday. It was a good week. It felt like exhaling after months of holding my breath.

I had no idea how mentally tired I was. My expected short break turned into an unexpected longer one.

Discovery: after long periods of focused, productive work -- "output" mode -- I need a balancing period of "input" mode.

New journals
New journals for brainstorming.

I need to read, listen, and plug back in. Reconnect with friends (I've been a social media fiend). Go through the piles of mail. Read my blog feeds. Disengage from linear, project-driven thought and float back into ideas and metaphors and plans.

By now I should know myself better and plan for a break. But it caught me by surprise yet again.

My first impulse was to scold myself for not being more systematic and disciplined in my work. I often envy those habit-driven writers who have daily writing goals and productivity systems.

But I'm trying not to be too hard on myself. I do have goals and systems, and my life is more-or-less in order. It just takes me a while to change gears. I'm coming to accept my way of working so I can better plan for it next time around.

Things will be pretty mellow here the rest of the month. Good things are brewing. January 2015 is gonna be fun around here.

In the meantime, if you feel like chatting, come find me on Facebook (click "follow"), Twitter and Instagram. You know I love hanging out with you.

Happy holidays to you and your family...and a bright new year for us all.



P. S. If you need a little help with your holiday preparation, here's a great list of holiday hacks.

18 December 2014

Best of Parent Hacks: Holiday Edition

So! The holidays are upon us. Hopefully this collection of hacks will help you streamline so you can relax and enjoy the holidays a little quicker (which means enjoying them a lot more).


Getting organized for the holidays

Let your calendar remind you to try new seasonal activities

Let Santa take away the old toys, too

Working at home while the kids are on holiday break

How to organize a holiday gift for your kid's teacher

Christmas trees and decor

Paper clips as ornament hooks

Mardi gras beads as Christmas tree garland

Turn your kid's art into a Christmas tree decoration

Use "Baby's First Christmas" blankets as Christmas tree skirt

Baby shoes as Christmas ornaments

Use outgrown Christmas outfits as holiday home decoration

Turn fast food prizes and cereal box toys into kid-friendly Christmas ornaments

Childproof your Christmas tree with jingle bells

Christmas tree light switch delights kids AND protects the tree

Toddler-proof the Christmas tree by decorating it with her old toys

Holiday shopping and gifts

Sew simple, inexpensive gift bags out of sale fabric

Reusable gift box can be "opened" over and over

Simplify shopping with kids by taking pix for the "wish list"

Toy-store-with-kid strategy: Email Santa with gift ideas

Kid art + mailing labels = unique gift tags

Use small photos of gift recipients instead of labels

Wrap each child's Christmas gift in different paper

Use your coin jar to buy gift cards with Coinstar (with no fee)

Laundry basket keeps holiday gifts contained

Perfect present: what's your family's? And: a word about kids' mags

"Cookie of the Month Club" makes a great holiday gift

Best teacher gift ever: Homemade chai concentrate

Holiday traditions & rituals

What are your holiday traditions? Talk amongst yourselves.

How to encourage family conversation around the table

Seal your Christmas card envelopes with an Aquadoodle marker

Turn present opening time into a fun game of its own

Spread out the gift-opening to keep Christmas morning manageable

If you want a little more sleep on Christmas morning, make stockings "fair game"

Holiday-themed crafts & projects

Bread dough ornaments

DIY window clings with fabric paint

How to turn a backyard evergreen into a Christmas gift for the birds

Salvage wrapping paper scraps and rolls for a fun toddler diversion

Make a pomander or an ornament out of an orange

Holiday Peppermint Bark recipe (people LOVE this and it's so easy)

Tie-dye tissue wrapping paper

3-D snowflake templates

Cut wrapping paper scraps and seasonal catalogs into paper snowflakes

Decorate an outdoor tree with birdseed pine cones

Easy holiday cards kids can make themselves

After Christmas

How to involve your kids in Christmas tree cleanup

"Label" Christmas decoration storage boxes with old gift wrap

Pack seasonal books away with the decorations

Store seasonal recipes and serving pieces in the same place

Beer case inserts as Christmas ornament dividers

Advent calendar as potty training reward chart (buy at a discount right after Christmas)

01 December 2014

Gift ideas that simplify holiday shopping (or don't require shopping at all)

The joy of giving. It's not just a holiday catchphrase, it's REAL. We've all felt that particular warmth that comes when we tap into our generous nature.

But as the holiday season rachets up, giving translates into shopping which, depending on the length of your gift list, turns into a slog. Even the name "Black Friday" sounds bleak, don't you think? And "Cyber Monday." It sounds like the Terminator's birthday.

I'm not against shopping or buying stuff, and I'm certainly not suggesting you stop giving gifts. But if it's already feeling like too much, there are some simple ways to streamline your gift list without stifling your desire to give.

Holiday gifts
Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

Here are a few gift ideas that will simplify your holiday shopping, or don't involve shopping at all.

For teachers: a handwritten card

Year after year, I hear from teachers that their favorite gifts are handwritten cards from students. Give your child the opportunity to express her gratitude (or at least her respect) with a personal note. Why not turn a school art project into a unique card?

For service providers: a card + a tip

A generous tip and a personal thank you note is the most practical way to show your appreciation to the hard-working helpers in your life.

For out-of-town family and friends: a donation in their names

A donation is good for everyone who already has everything they need (and is probably trying to declutter).

Did you know that tomorrow is #GivingTuesday? Let this official counterpoint to Black Friday inspire you to combine giving and gifting.


For neighbors: a homemade food gift

Thoughtful, inexpensive, no clutter! Plus: you can turn the making of the gifts into a family activity.

Is there something seasonal you make every year? Make extra for gifts. My friend makes Julekake, a Norwegian Christmas bread, and every year and my family fights over it. (Curse you, mini loaf pans.)

How about homemade vanilla extract? (Click through and read Catherine Newman's post; she's a food lover AND a magnificent writer.) My other favorite: homemade chai concentrate.

For your kids: 1-2 gifts (instead of many)

The initial WOW of a full stocking plus piles of wrapped boxes can turn into overwhelm or lack of interest. Down the road, it can turn into greed and entitlement.

Instead, turn the gift-opening into a drawn-out special occasion. Light the fire, serve warm drinks, and turn on the music. Take turns opening gifts and admiring each others' treasures.

For your spouse: an experiential gift

You've been meaning to go on a date for months. Here's your chance to level up to something special. An experiential gift with your spouse is a treat and a relationship boost all in one.

On the other hand, perhaps what your partner needs most is alone time (if your kid is under 3, I can almost guarantee it).

Some ideas:

  • Theater or performance tickets
  • A massage
  • A night in a hotel (together or alone)
  • A full day of child care

Finally, a caveat

For me, simplifying -- in all ways -- is the direct route to increased happiness. But you may not feel the same way.

There's nothing inherently noble about simplicity.

My #1 tip for enjoying the season is to plug into your own unique preferences. If you love shopping but hate decorating, perhaps your Holiday Joy prescription involves skipping the lights or the tree this year.

Whatever it is, go forth and do it. A joy-filled holiday season awaits.

What are your favorite no-clutter or simple holiday gifts? I'm always looking for good ideas.

24 November 2014

21 November 2014

Book update: First draft SUBMITTED (and a thank you gift for you)

I JUST SUBMITTED THE FIRST DRAFT OF THE PARENT HACKS BOOK TO MY EDITOR. CAN YOU TELL I'M EXCITED ABOUT THIS? A photo posted by Asha Dornfest (@ashadornfest) on Nov 11, 2014 at 8:44pm PST This site exists because of hundreds of you were willing to share. People I didn't...

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10 November 2014

Flying with kids: 5 smart family boarding strategies

Given all the airline policy changes in recent years, I figured it was time to revisit the topic of flying with kids. Here are some ideas for streamlining the boarding process, but I hope you'll chime in, especially if you've recently flown with your kids.

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07 November 2014

Book update: First draft almost done

So much goodness swirled around this week, but I've barely looked up or shared any of it. I'm heads down finishing the manuscript for the Parent Hacks book, which is consuming most of my conscious thought at the moment. This is only the book's beginning; my first attempt to transform...

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31 October 2014

Not ready for Halloween? Here's your 2-item to-do list.

There's still time for this to be the best Halloween ever.

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30 October 2014

In support of teenage trick-or-treaters

My teenage son is going trick-or-treating this Halloween. I'm happy about it, and here's why.

Read more

29 October 2014

6 last-minute Halloween costumes you can make using stuff you've already got

None of these costumes will they blow you away with their cleverness. That's the point.

Read more

ALL hacks in December 2014 →

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