Six Divided by Two: Spending One-on-One Time With the Kids

It’s amazing how shifting from the toddler and preschool days of parenting into the school age days can radically change the way you spend time with your kids. One day it feels like you never do anything without the kids, the next day it feels like you never see them. And even though you do still spend a good chunk of time with them, the way you spend that time shifts as well. No longer are the days filled with books, games, puzzles and outings. Now it feels like an endless cycle of homework, dinner, errands and bedtime.

"The days are long and yet the years are short."

One of my favorite things in my home is a print that reads “The days are long and yet the years are short.” If anyone had nicely suggested that to be true when my kids were newborns, I would’ve punched them in the face. And yet it is SO true. We have less than 5 years left with Elena, and the time with Eli will fly by just as quickly.

In the quest to spend quality time with the kids as our years with them shrink by the minute, we’ve come up against one of the stumbling blocks of having our kids 5 years apart again and again: it’s really, really hard to find things to do they both truly enjoy. And while I believe forced family fun is a fantastic form of torture no parent should miss out on inflicting, I would like them to have some memories of fun times that were more tailored to their individual personalities. And so often we divide and conquer.

Spending one-on-one time with Elena and Eli is such a treasure. In the early years of parenting, it was a treat just to know you only had to deal with half the work. Now, it’s the opportunity to be with them fully – to hear what they have to say and experience the things they like. They are both keenly aware of when the other is around, and I can see them holding back at times because they don’t want the commentary from the other sibling. When we spend one-on-one time with them, Eli doesn’t worry that Elena will think what he says is stupid, and Elena doesn’t worry that Eli will tell the neighbor kids about that embarrassing thing that happened at school.

They've been in line since 5:45 am, been counting down the days to @twentyonepilots for months. God bless @mike_six for hanging with them all day!

We try to find opportunities to bond with the kids in ways where our interests overlap. Mike and Elena both live and breath music. He’s really interested in what she’s listening to. Recently she turned him on to Twenty One Pilots. When they were here in Indy the other week, he took Elena and her friend to see them. Not only that, but he drove them downtown at 5:45 am so they could wait in line for a spot close to the stage for the general admission show. He stayed with them all day and then rocked out right along with them that night.

Refuses to admit a selfie stick might be helpful in this situation. #indyturtles

Eli simply loves having undivided attention, so it’s easier to fill him up. We spent a morning at The Children’s Museum recently, and it was so nice to wander around with no agenda other than following his lead. He climbed the rock wall and I held his rope. We ate Chick-fil-A and I learned all about the three class pets along with their eating and pooping habits.

It’s tricky to find a balance between me time, family time, spouse time, friend time, let alone carving out space to spend with just one kid. We don’t have a tried-and-true system of making sure everybody gets their piece of the pie, and some days we fail miserably. But over time I’ve slowly realized that experiences are so much more meaningful than things, and so we’ve made an effort to say yes when presented with time or opportunities to spend time alone with each kid.

I hope that in just a few years, when the house is quiet and my calendar is empty of school events, choir concerts and basketball games I can look at my framed print and think, “Yes. The days were short, but they were very, very good.”

Tuttle Orchard Indiana

How do you find ways to spend one-on-one time with your kids?

The days are long but the years are short: a simple reminder to make one-on-one time a parenting priority, with simple ideas to spend quality time with your kids.


Why I Make Dinner

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We all know we should make family meals a habit, but it’s so hard to get everyone to the table with a hot meal and a good attitude! Despite the difficulty, here’s why I make family dinners a priority along with dinner ideas, resources for meal planning and tips for getting your family to the table. Family Meal Ideas | Family Meal Planning | Dinner With Kids

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

It’s 4:00 p.m. and you find yourself in the kitchen. You’ve checked the meal plan, and today’s the day you’re going to try something new. Now, it’s nothing crazy, like mussels in wine sauce or osso busco. You have kids, after all, and it’s Tuesday. Still, it’s a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s a new marinade for the chicken. Maybe you’re finally going to try that kale salad that all the food bloggers swear their kids devour like vegetable candy. Maybe you’re going to take that convenience meal everybody in your family loves, like Hamburger Helper, and make a homemade version of it. Whatever the scenario, you’re feeling good, on top of things. You even break out a glass of wine while you cook, and put on a cute apron. The dirty bowls, pans and cutting boards pile up, but you don’t care. You’re making dinner for your family! You present this lovely meal to your family and wait for the compliments to pour in. Instead you hear:

“I like the Target meatballs better.”
“I don’t like chicken anymore.”
“I tried it. I don’t like it.” (After the new thing touches approximately one tastebud.)

America's Test Kitchen Homemade Beef Tacos

Perhaps it’s 5:30 p.m. and it’s been a crazy day. Everyone is just rolling in and there’s still another shift of stuff to do: homework, walk the dog, a load of laundry, baths and books. You’ve got this, though. A few weeks ago, you were feeling good, on top of things. You made an extra batch of pasta sauce/homemade chicken fingers/pulled pork and stashed it in the freezer. You even remembered to set it out to thaw this morning. It’s rushed, and there’s box mac-and-cheese and a few sad baby carrots as a side, but you made dinner for your family! You present this perfectly adequate meal to your family and wait for the satisfaction to commence. Instead you hear:

“There’s too much sauce on my pasta. It tastes like tomatoes.”
“I don’t like chicken anymore.”
“I liked barbecue sauce last month. Now it’s too spicy.”

Cast Iron Skillet Bar Pizza

Or maybe it’s 6:30 p.m. and you just got home from basketball. Everyone clamored for fast food, but you held tight. The eating out budget is getting slim, and you know you can do better at home, even if it’s convenience food you heat up yourself. You’ve got a decent frozen pizza/all-beef organic hot dogs/chicken nuggets ready to go. It’s not ideal, it’s not super healthy, it’s chips and apple slices as a side, but it’s fast and cheap. You present this loose definition of dinner to your family and wait for the cheers from the kids for the kind of meal they dream of eating every day. Instead you hear:

“Oh, this is all we’re having? Are we missing another side or something” (This would be The Husband.)
“I don’t like hot dogs anymore”
“I like you’re homemade pizza, not this one.”

Quorn Chick-n Nuggets

If the rumblings I hear at the bus stop, book club, and on Facebook are true, then you’ve been there, too. You’ve felt my dinnertime pain as well. I don’t care what your work/life balance is, how old your kids are, how much or how little they’re willing to eat, feeding a family day in and day out is hard. We all seem to struggle with one or many aspects of it any given late afternoon. Until I had kids, I never realized the fear and dread the simple phrase, “What’s for dinner?” could strike in a parent’s soul.

If you’ve ever been to my house, you’ve probably seen the dry erase meal planning board on my fridge. For years now, I’ve dutifully set aside an hour or so every week to plan the meals for the week and make a grocery list. It’s part of my weekly routine. Through ages and stages, busy seasons, summers and winters, I’ve kept at it. But why? Why do I continue to make such an effort for a meal that’s often over in a fraction of the time it took to plan and execute, and that’s often received with grumbles instead of glory?


Because dinner matters. It matters in all the ways you think it does, and in a hundred tiny ways you could never anticipate.

It matters because you need to eat. Plain and simple, you need to eat every day. By taking the time to sit down with your family, no matter what’s on the table, you demonstrate that food is important and that it’s meant to be consumed (mostly) slowly and sitting down (or at least with some part of your body touching a chair).

It matters because it might be the only time of the day you and your family gather in one place and have a few minutes to look each other in the eye. For us and our schedule, this meal is dinner. Maybe in your family it’s breakfast or lunch or a late evening snack. Whenever it is, having everyone sit down together a few times a week is a powerful little thing.

Chicken Little

It matters because the ritual of the meal allows guards to be let down. It’s what you do, it’s where you belong. Some of the funniest parts of our day happen at dinner, because we know it’s a time and a place where we can just relax. I’d venture to guess 90% of Eli’s outtakes happen at the dinner table. Of course, it’s also where 90% of the farting and belching happen as well.

It matters because the laughter we share over a meal, whether it took hours or minutes to prepare, makes us feel safe and comfortable. And when kids feel settled in that way, they’re able and willing to talk about all kinds of tough stuff. We’ve tackled porn, cutting, drugs, drinking and sex at the dinner table. Let me just say, you can chase around an errant pea for a loooong time as a way to avoid eye contact and figure out what to say next when your kid brings up marijuana at the dinner table. Also, those nights call for dessert.

It matters because if you serve it, eventually they will come around to liking it. Or at least tolerating it without hysterics. Just a warning, though … eventually can be a very long time. I’ve been making some version of barbecued chicken for the entire 13 years of motherhood and then some. For 11 years Elena either refused to eat it or went through a pile of napkins painstakingly wiping every molecule of barbecue sauce off the chicken. And lo, in her twelfth year she decided she liked barbecue sauce. And then there’s Eli, dipping Goldfish into a thimble-sized bowl of tomato soup. “I wouldn’t say it’s, like, good? But I can eat it! I think you’re right, my food buds are changing.”

I’ve never been a fan of the clean plate club, and I never force the kids to eat all of something. But I do believe that you have to taste it every time … you know, in case your “food buds” decided this was the day to change. I like to make new things and I still cook things I know the kids don’t like. (The list is long: pasta, sloppy joes, grilled cheese, practically any casserole where things mingle.) But at the same time I always serve at least two things on the side that I know they like. I won’t play short-order cook and make more than one meal, but I’m happy to deconstruct a meal so that everyone is relatively happy.

Pizza Pizza

I’m happy to report that, like most things involving small children, it gets better. It just gets better at a ridiculously snail-like pace. If they say it takes 21 days to make a habit, then it takes approximately 4021 days to see the results of your hard dinner table work form into decent eating habits. So I completely understand if you’re ready to throw in the kitchen towel after 21, 221, or 2021 days. But don’t, because dinner – however it appears on your table – matters.

If you’re interested, here are a few things that have made meal planning and eating of said meals with little people slightly easier over the years.

Blogs: I adore food blogs, but many of them are better suited for dreamy photos and “someday” meals. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but dinner time with littles calls for desperate measures! These are the food blogs that, over the years, have been my trusted sources for recipes that work, taste great, and don’t require a stint in cooking school to execute.

Cookbooks: I still love a good old-fashioned cookbook. These are the ones that are food-stained and falling apart in my kitchen:

Pinterest: There’s no doubt that Pinterest can be both a fantastic resource for recipes and meal planning as well as an enormous time suck for recipes with disastrous results. In an effort to save you some time, here are my favorite Pinterest boards and Pinners for meal planning and recipes:

Meal Planning Resources:

Now it’s your turn! What’s your best advice for making dinner work? Have an infuriating food-related comment or a funny food story? Favorite resources, blogs or Pinterest boards? Please share!


The Short List: September

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links.

Last pool day of summer.

Labor Day weekend was glorious here in Indiana, and we spent much of it soaking up the last days at the pool. We have a membership at a local pool, and it’s one of the best things about summer. We see people there that we never really see September through May, but over the summer they’re some of our best buddies. The kids can buy ice cream and candy for super cheap (we save up quarters all year long for our “Pool Treat Fund”), and the grownups can bring in adult beverages. Many a Friday or Saturday night are spent swimming, eating pizza, and having drinks with friends. We have a Labor Day tradition that if the weather is decent, we’re there, closing the pool down. It’s a good life, and I’m always a little sad on that very last day the pool is open for the season.

In that time between the start of school and Labor Day, the pool cuts back their hours during the week. They’re usually open for a few hours during the day while the kids are in school, though. Every year I say I’ll treat myself to a solo weekday afternoon at the pool, but I’ve never actually followed through. This year I promised myself I’d do it! And so on the very last afternoon the pool was open during the weekday, I took a stash of magazines, a giant Diet Coke, a bag of Twizzlers and myself to the pool. It was sunny, hot and gloriously devoid of children!

Pool, book and Twizzlers

A few days later I was checking over my Fitbit stats. I’m slightly obsessed with tracking my sleep, and as I was scrolling through my sleep cycles, I noticed something unusual. It appeared I’d been asleep for 2 hours on a Thursday afternoon. I couldn’t recall a recent nap, and was stumped. Then I remembered my lazy pool day! I was such a sloth during my grownup pool outing my Fitbit thought I was asleep! Mike wasn’t nearly as amused as I was.

I promise I’ve been doing much more than sleeping and sunning myself since the beginning of September! Here are a few things I’ve come across this month I think you’ll enjoy.


Football, of course! I joked on Twitter that I clearly didn’t train adequately in the off-season for these late night Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. If you see me in person on Fridays, Mondays or Tuesdays you’ve probably seen the football-induced yawns and dark circles. I’m just so happy to have real games back on, even if my Colts have yet to actually show up for a game.

Other than that, I’m not watching much. I’ll share my Netflix pick for September later this week. Our favorites, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and The Good Wife are starting up. Do any of the new shows this season jump out at you? Not much is sparking my interest, but I do plan on recording the new Muppets show in hopes we can enjoy it as a family.


I’ve read some really fantastic books in the last couple of weeks that will surely make my Top 10 list for 2015. I’ll be doing another reading update post in early October (so far I’ve covered January-March and April-June). Stay tuned for my reviews very soon! Eli and I are about halfway through Wildwood by Colin Meloy. Some of the reviews say it’s too long and boring, but we’ve yet to feel that way about it. I imagine we’ll get through it faster as the days get darker and chillier. I just started Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper. Like yesterday. I’ve heard good things! I’m nearly finished with Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin. It’s everything I wanted my other Katrina book I read this year, Five Days at Memorial, to be. Well-written and gut-wrenching, it makes me both sad and angry at the unnecessary suffering and loss of life that could have been prevented.


Podcasts! Why did it take me so long to get into them? Other than my binge listen of Serial last winter, I haven’t really jumped on the podcast band wagon. But then I started listening to an audio book that just wasn’t working for me. I had lots to do that day and didn’t have time to research which audio book to listen to next, so I decided to subscribe to a few podcasts instead. My favorites right now are The MMQB podcast with Andy Benoit and Robert Klemko (of course!), Invisiblia from NPR, and Gretchen Rubin’s Happier. They might just replace audio books for me for the time being. Do you have any favorites I should be listening to?

Spark: Monument Circle Indy

If you live in or near Indianapolis, you MUST check out Spark: Monument Circle. Seven days a week through October 16 you can experience fun and free programming in the heart of Indy on Monument Circle. Spark is a partnership between the City of Indianapolis, Downtown Indy and Big Car Collaborative, and it’s fantastic. Eli and I visited last Sunday and spent a couple of hours on the Circle. We checked out the free lending library, built a giant ball track with foam building blocks, played ping-pong and foosball, and decorated Indianapolis-themed postcards to send to friends. Each day has a special theme, and there’s something for everyone. It was so fun to feel like a tourist in our own beautiful city, and the sight of so many people relaxing, playing and having a good time brought back the feeling of the Spanish plazas we loved so much! Definitely check it out if you can.

Spark: Monument Circle Indy


Very timely and wonderful for back-to-school, this piece from Momastary on the conversation we should have with our kids about being kind and brave in school is fantastic.

A hipster Barbie Instagram account. I don’t even want to know how much time this person is putting into this thing, but I’m SO glad they’re doing it. Hilarious.

Thanks to the terrible influence of my friend Katy, summer means drinking rosé. Lots of rosé. I was reading a piece about the rise of rosé and it was referenced as “the Hamptons’ Gatorade.” Between that and the hashtag I discovered (#roseallday), I’m on the bandwagon. Before I switch to all things pumpkin, I’m definitely using one of last bottles for this rosé lemonade.

What’s on your short list of favorite things right now?

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