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Connecting the Dots

A book that will get you out of your head, and one that won’t.

By KJ / Monday, April 8, 2019

Sometimes my own head is a cruddy place to be. It’s noisy, for one thing. And really very—close. Like a hall of mirrors all parroting my least appealing inner voices back at me. (Let’s just say they aren’t all waving little “Yay” flags and singing “THIS GIRL IS ON FIYYY-RRREEE.) I mean, it’s not like that all the time, but when it is, or when I really need some serious distraction, there’s no better cure for being too much all in my headthan the chance to spend a […]

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Wanna Be Happier? Go Rube. (Works for Kids, Too)

By KJ / Wednesday, March 27, 2019

There are worse things than tapping an oak tree your first time out. Like never making syrup at all.

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Writing for Listeners

By KJ / Friday, February 8, 2019

It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that KJ Dell’Antonia and Jessica Lahey are winging it. Both women pull out pages of notes as they meet in a hastily tidied upstairs office in Dell’Antonia’s sprawling, well-appointed farmhouse to record the latest episode of their podcast. Both, too, are distinguished writers who know their way around an interview.

Still, there’s a sense of breezy spontaneity in the room, a feeling that unrestrained curiosity is in the driver’s seat, as they chat via Skype with Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life, on a recent Friday afternoon.

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Why I Didn’t Answer Your Email

By KJ / Thursday, February 7, 2019

I’m 47 years old. Two days ago, you sent me an email, which I did not answer. I didn’t answer it, in part, because I am 47 years old.

I appreciated your email. You are a person, who has written an email, and I am a person, who should reply to that email. However, your email arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and just as I opened it, my 16-year-old son came in. He wanted to describe to me an app he is in the process of developing. Then he showed me a funny article someone had sent him, and I showed him a funny article someone had sent me, and then I explained that I had work to do, that I needed, in fact, to respond to your email, and also to write 3,000 words in the next 36 hours. “I’ve only written 300,” I said.

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Happier Parent Mantra: What you want now isn’t always what you’ll want later

By KJ / Thursday, February 7, 2019

This one is really biting me in the butt lately.   What you want now isn’t always what you’ll want later.   That’s one of my 10 Mantras for Happier Parents*, and it is killing me.   Honestly, I’d really rather just give in and make my child happy right now—on whatever it is. Lately, it’s been biggish stuff (hello, report card season), but it’s also been a pile up of all the stuff. Come back here and put your […]

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Sometimes Happier, Sometimes …

By KJ / Friday, November 30, 2018

If you had your crystal ball handy yesterday, and chose to peek in at me and my three younger kids around 3:30, you would have judged us all pretty harshly. One was on the floor, surrounded by a mess of their own making, kicking another, who was nastily mocking the mess and the sibling and anything else. Another was wildly defending some earlier transgression. As for me, I was yelling mightily at anyone in sight. They were horrible people, all […]

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For Happier Family Holidays, Recite This: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

By KJ / Wednesday, November 14, 2018

  Bracing yourself for family visits and family travel over the holidays? Me, too–and I’m prepping my kids as well. Happier family holidays means balancing expectations and planning for, well, pretty much whatever went wrong last year and then some. My tips, below (with my favorite bits highlighted in red). Know why you’re going Not everything about a family holiday trip might be precisely a dream vacation for parents or teens, but if we hold our reason for going close to […]

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Happier Parents leave wiggle room

By KJ / Friday, October 12, 2018

  I had an amazing morning today, which can be summed up as follows: got child to doctor’s appointment on time. Let’s back up. Why would that constitute an amazing morning? Because it’s something I rarely achieve. The doctor’s office is a 25-30 minute drive, at the end of which, just as you’re thinking hey, we’re just in time, you encounter the parking garage. The parking garage takes a minimum of ten minutes to navigate, because it’s a narrow structure […]

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Things happier parents know: you don’t really “have to” do that much

By KJ / Friday, September 28, 2018

I have to get up at 5:00 AM tomorrow—to do all the things I want to do. I’ve got have-tos in my day, of course. There’s a big block of work to be done that’s not optional, farm chores, and a business meeting. I would put getting my home ready for a family visit and prepping a couple of meals for that visit in the “have-to” category as well, although that’s arguable. We could eat take-out (like we did tonight). […]

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Two Steps to Happier Parenting: Zero in on a Problem. Try to Make It Better.

By KJ / Friday, September 21, 2018

  Mr. Tantrum is, of course, loud and noisy and demanding. So it’s tough to have him around sometimes—anyone can see that. And he tries to sneak up on us, but the truth is, he’s kind of predictable. He shows up at the end of long days and during transitions. If you can predict Mr. Tantrum, maybe (maybe) you can do something about him. A reader wrote me about Mr. Tantrum last week, because she noticed something in her parenting […]

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A Happier Parent Mantra that even works when things suck (and I wondered)

By KJ / Friday, September 14, 2018

Here’s one of the four things happier parents do: they soak in the good. Which means that when things are pretty decent—not necessarily great, just fine, thanks for asking—they look around, and they notice, and they take a minute to let that soak in. They observe. They say to themselves, yep, dinner’s on the table, 5-year-old’s having a tantrum because the sippy cup is wrong, gotta go back to work and get to all those emails after bedtime, but overall, […]

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#AmWriting NaNoWriMo Countdown: 7 Weeks and Starting a New Project from Scratch

By KJ / Thursday, September 13, 2018

Nanmowrimo (National Novel Writing Month, held annually in November and challenging writers to draft a 50,000 word novel in a month–that’s 1666.66 words a day) is exactly 7 weeks away as I write. 49 days. And I need a new story. My agent has a draft of the novel I wrote over the course of NaNoWriMo last year (I’d estimate that about 10K words of that draft remained in the final draft, which went through another 5-6 iterations and benefited […]

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Happy Children Do Chores

By KJ / Thursday, September 13, 2018

Children should do chores. That’s a controversial premise, though not everyone will admit it. A few parents will declare outright that their children are “too busy for chores” or that “their job is school.” Many more of us assign chores, or say we believe in them, but the chores just don’t get done. That’s a problem. For starters, chores are good for kids. Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of […]

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Things Happier Parents Know: Family is the Place to Say Things You Don’t Mean

By KJ / Friday, September 7, 2018

  I HATE SCHOOL AND I AM NOT GOING! I’M QUITTING THE TEAM! I AM NEVER COOKING DINNER FOR YOU PEOPLE AGAIN! I HATE YOU YOU RUIN EVERYTHING! I AM NEVER SPEAKING TO YOU AGAIN! IF YOU COME IM MY ROOM I WILL KILL YOU! OUR CHILDREN ARE THE RUDEST CHILDREN IN THE WORLD! Yeah, yeah, yeah. In this, the first week after school starts here and a fairly early week of the school year for many of us, I […]

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kids on way to school in goofy hats

The One Thing Happier Parents Know That Makes Back-to-School Mornings Better

By KJ / Friday, August 24, 2018

  MORNINGS! They’re a madhouse. So much at stake—those kids have to get to school on time! With their gym shoes and their violin and their homework and six manila folders and two cans of green beans and a ball of yarn that they didn’t mention needing until 6:30 am! It’s crazy and it’s painful and it’s chaos—and there really is one secret, one thing you can know, that makes it all better: There’s actually nothing at stake. Nothing. Zero. […]

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How I’m Celebrating the Official Launch of How to Be a Happier Parent

By KJ / Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It’s here. Anybody who wants to can just walk into any store or click any link and get How to Be a Happier Parent right now. I’m happy and proud and freaked out all at the same time—which is, I’m told, exactly the state of mind you want to be in before you walk out onto the set of the Today Show. That’s my big news of the day—if you’re reading this before the 8:00 hour of the Today Show, […]

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Three things happier parents say when their kids whine about chores

By KJ / Sunday, August 19, 2018

Children should do chores. That’s a controversial premise, though not everyone will admit it. A few parents will declare outright that their children are “too busy for chores” or that “their job is school.” Many more of us assign chores, or say we believe in them, but the chores just don’t get done. That’s a problem. For starters, chores are good for kids. Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of […]

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parenting is a duet not a solo act

What’s the ideal size for your happier family?

By KJ / Friday, August 10, 2018

What’s your ideal family size? There is, of course, no ideal family size. Only children aren’t lonely children. Kids with lots of siblings don’t feel neglected. And if fate deals you a family that’s not the one you expected, you’re very likely to end up perfectly happy about that. Humans are very good at reframing, and when you look at the wonderful family you end up with, well, it’s hard to wish things were different. I have 4 kids. My […]

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David Sedaris school of happier parenting

The David Sedaris School of Happier Parenting

By KJ / Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Reading David Sedaris—and particularly his new book of essays, Calypso —is reading about family, about families of origin and families of choice and how they shape us. And to read Calypso is to understand that that shaping can take a thousand forms—more—and still result in adults. Functional adults who still have relationships with those families of origin, even when they were arguably less than ideal by today’s standards. Outsiders might feel differently, but I think David Sedaris would tell you his […]

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How to have a happier family vacation

How to have a happier family vacation: take turns being grumpy

By KJ / Monday, July 30, 2018

Vacations are stressful. I hate that as a sentence, because of course they’re not supposed to be stressful, and lots of vacation advice is to let all the things that go wrong go and just somehow refuse to be stressed. Which is very difficult advice to follow, because it’s hard not to be stressed about some parts of vacation. You’re in a strange place, at the mercy of airlines and train schedules, surrounded by strangers, often accompanied by young children […]

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How to Be a Happier Parent Pre-order Bonuses

Why Pre-ordering Books is Great for Authors and Readers (and makes a great birthday gift). Plus, Pre-order Bonuses!

By KJ / Monday, July 23, 2018

Happy Birthday to me! It really is my birthday. And—my personal celebration—I’m finally actually asking you to pre-order my book, How to Be a Happier Parent. I love it, and I think you will too—it’s a practical, thoroughly researched guide to bringing more joy into our everyday family life, not by doing more (please, no) but by doing things differently. I’m also telling you why pre-ordering the book matters, and what I’ve come up with to make those pre-orders fun […]

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Happier family travel

Happier Family Travel: Tech Hasn’t Changed Road Trips as Much as You’d Think

By KJ / Friday, July 20, 2018

For our family vacation this summer, we drove, with another family, from Phoenix to Las Vegas, hitting assorted national parks and forests and monuments along the way. The trip itself was spectacular, and if you haven’t done it, I recommend it. The road trip aspect of our travels was spectacular too, in a whole different way. It’s been a long time since we’ve packed the four kids into the car and driven for hours through spectacular scenery. They’re older (17, […]

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How to have a happier family vacation

Do something fun on your vacation (even if it’s not fun for your kids)

By KJ / Friday, July 13, 2018

It does kids good to do what you want to do—and not just once in a while. Who’s in charge on your family vacation—you, or your kids? Here’s something I learned while researching How to Be a Happier Parent: well over half of parents who travel with kids say they make their children’s happiness the first priority on vacation. And here’s something else: happier parents don’t do that. Instead, they plan trips (among other things) around everyone’s interests, and (within […]

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Sibling Fight Survival Guide

A Sibling Fight Survival Guide

By KJ / Saturday, July 7, 2018

Disagreements among brothers and sisters aren’t just inevitable – they’re educational. Angry footsteps upstairs. Screams. “I hate you!” Slam. Fists, on a bedroom door. Then, inevitably, the unified shriek: “MOOOOMMM!” That was the soundtrack of the year when my daughters were 11 and 12, shared a bedroom, and fought like caged tigers. As a parent, I was at a loss. It seemed like every meal or car ride ended in misery, and I was convinced that our family life was […]

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Say Yay.

Say Yay.

By KJ / Friday, June 29, 2018

Sometimes it helps to celebrate the very little things. Last night, as I closed the dishwasher, knowing that the last kitchen straightening was done, that I’d taken the final things off the counter and wiped the sink (the one thing the kids never manage to do when they clean up after dinner), I set its fancy timer and shut its door and happily said “Yay!” My daughter happened to be standing there, and she looked at me in shock. “Yay […]

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Parenting tips for happier vacations

A secret to a happier vacation: plan some nothing.

By KJ / Friday, June 22, 2018

We tend to fill our vacations with plans and projects. What if the plan was not to plan at all? A funny thing about Americans is that we can be a little afraid to do nothing. Our Puritan ancestors (who are absolutely not my direct ancestors and probably not yours either, but they still managed to dump this on us) were all about getting the things done. Milk that cow, tote that bale. Want some rest? Why not sit here […]

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Happier parenting tips: A mild mental state is great for parents

Mild. Lame for hot sauce, great for parents.

By KJ / Friday, June 15, 2018

It’s not just the lamest flavor of hot sauce. It’s the tone and the mental state you want to reach for when your kids shake on the Extra Hot.

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Chores for kids

The two things I learned about chores that made a difference

By KJ / Thursday, June 7, 2018

Okay, one of these just kind of sucks. And the other actually helps. Here is perhaps the biggest takeaway from the chores chapter of How to Be a Happier Parent: kids will do chores. Seriously. They’re all capable. The only difference between a kid who doesn’t do chores and the 5-year-old in Peru’s Amazon region hauling “logs bigger than her legs” to help build a fire is (I hate this, I really do): Us. Man, that blows. But there really […]

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Wet, Cold, Miserable–and Memorable

By KJ / Friday, May 25, 2018

Here’s how a wet, cold, miserable Memorial Day weekend might make you happier than the one you’re imagining. I know what Memorial Day is supposed to look like. Maybe yours won’t. Maybe your view looks more like this one: And maybe–bear with me for a minute–that could actually make you happier. Here’s the thing about vacations and holidays: they’re weighed down by the burden of expectations. That means times we really really feel like need to be happy have to […]

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Oh, Just Join In Already

By KJ / Friday, May 18, 2018

Some things are just cheesy. I was at a conference recently, and I went to a session where we were first asked to draw our inner monster. (The voice that tells you you suck all the time, and if you don’t have one, then, well. That’s great. I was going to say something snarky but that would be contrary to the spirit of this missive). Next, we went on an inner meditative journey to meet ourselves in 20 years, and […]

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I don’t mean to frustrate, but

By KJ / Friday, April 27, 2018

I always make the same mistakes. I’m not bad at love (and that’s a Halsey lyric, in case you don’t have a Top 40 loving kid in the house), but that always make the same mistakes part? I got that down. I burn nuts and garlic toast, every single time. I always believe I can get places faster than I actually can (and sometimes, at speeds that would require me to travel backwards in time). And if I told you […]

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Why Is My Laptop WiFi Default “On?”

By KJ / Monday, April 23, 2018

I use my laptop, and other digital devices, for a lot of things that don’t require them to be connected to any outside sources. I listen to podcasts, although I sometimes discover to my surprise and dismay that they aren’t actually downloaded. I use a meditation app. I read on Kindle and iBooks. Most importantly, I write books, essays, blog posts, lists and even social media posts and emails–and to write those things, I don’t need the dubious “help” of […]

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1 is better than 3 is better than 20

By KJ / Friday, April 13, 2018

Turns out more stuff equals less focus, for toddlers, and for us.

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8 Reasons Why There Is No Salad with Dinner

By KJ / Tuesday, April 10, 2018

There is a leek in the soup, thus covering the vegetable requirement. Made salad last night. It’s Caesar salad! That counts! What if every body just eats an apple? Can we do that? Can that be okay? I broke the salad spinner. I put out carrots and cucumber and dressing after school and they ate that. That lettuce looks wilted. I just can’t, okay? I don’t exactly hate salad. I eat salad other people make. But I hate making salad, […]

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chocolate dipped peeps image

My Day, By the Numbers

By KJ / Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hand-dipped chocolate-covered Peeps eaten: 3 (1 pink, 2 yellow) (yellow are better) Words added to novel: 1,125 Children who had annual physical: 2 Milkshakes purchased to make up for shots received at annual physical: 1 Texts sent to Jess and Sarina:15 Texts sent, other: 26 Emails sent: 22, not counting misc replies within conversations or those sent via magical phone Children driven to or picked up from school, sports or activities: 6 (2 more than once, 1 not mine) Children […]

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#DrivingTwoCars

By KJ / Monday, April 2, 2018

Episode 100 Show Notes: #DrivingTwoCars kjdellantonia.com NY Times Well The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, Jess Lahey #AmWriting with Jess and KJ The Atlantic Vermont Public Radio Grown and Flown KJ’s How to Be a Happier Parent (even when I’m not)   #DrivingTwoCars Sarina Bowen Laurie Abkemeier KIWI Magazine Bittersweet (True North #1), Sarina Bowen The Creative Penn Podcast, Joanna Penn The Art of the Book Proposal, Eric Maisel […]

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So I wrote this mantra

By KJ / Friday, March 16, 2018

I wrote ten mantras, actually, and I dubbed them Ten Mantras for Happier Parents. (Ten secrets? Ten sayings? Aphorisms, mottos, truisms? Sometimes thesaurus.com is not your friend.)  Number seven has been giving me a really hard time of late. Here it is: You can be happy when your children aren’t. I’ve been struggling to live that lately. One of my kids has been unhappy, for reasons biggish but not catastrophic, and it’s been bringing me, and all of us, down. […]

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Why You Need a ‘Buy It Later’ Button

By KJ / Monday, March 5, 2018

This is from my weekly email. Normally, I like to have the email essay go only to subscribers, but I had so many requests to share this that I posted it here. If you’d like to get my weekly short essays on How to Be a Happier Parent (even when I’m not), you should subscribe! It’s free and fun and usually cheerful. Except for that one time with the car thing.) Here’s what we did last week: swapped rooms. One […]

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Guest Room, or Bedroom?

By KJ / Monday, January 22, 2018

Ok, I’m torn. Here’s the issue: we live in a 4 bedroom house. That’s a nice big house, right? One bedroom is mine and my husband’s (that would be non-negotiable). Our two sons sleep in one, our two daughters in the other, and the third (much the smallest, but with a bathroom) is a guest room. There have been complaints. My daughters are very different people, and they would much prefer not to share a room. So one concocted a plan. […]

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I have a book cover! How to be a Happier Parent arrives for pre-order.

By KJ / Thursday, January 18, 2018

  How to Be a Happier Parent appears for the first time in online bookstores this week! I’m so thrilled. I love the book, and I’m looking forward to sharing it. For now, here’s what my publisher has to say about it: An encouraging guide to helping parents find more happiness in their day-to-day family life, from the former lead editor of the New York Times’ Motherlode blog In all the writing and reporting KJ Dell’Antonia has done on families […]

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For Kids (and Adults) Habits and Plans Beat Resolutions

By KJ / Friday, January 5, 2018

Goal-setting feels overwhelming to many kids. Try these simple steps to help them make a change feel do-able for a new year.

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How to Buy Better, Fewer Holiday Gifts for Kids

By KJ / Thursday, December 14, 2017

This year, spend less, stress less and make everyone happier.

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Rules for Happier Parents: Children Change. When We Let Them

By KJ / Friday, November 3, 2017

  Here is a list of some of the labels I was given as a child: Always Late. Picky Eater. Hates All Sports. Makes Excuses. Messy and Disorganized. Doesn’t Play Well with Others. It took time (decades, in some cases), but I’ve outgrown every one of those. (You’re still welcome to use stubborn, impulsive and loud-mouthed, however). I’m a foodie, an athlete, a hockey fan, and a reliable worker who never misses a deadline. But when my parents are around, […]

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You Are the Parent I Wish I Was.

By KJ / Friday, November 3, 2017

We’re all doing what we think is important, and we’re all doubting, wondering if another road is smoother or more likely to include a bus stop for success.

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Rules for Happier Parents: The Road to Jack O’Lantern Glory is Paved with Pumpkin Guts and Tears

By KJ / Friday, October 27, 2017

Cook a simple meal, do a load of laundry, clean a bathroom, carve a pumpkin. Life skills, man.

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The Blessing of an Ordinary Week

By KJ / Friday, October 20, 2017

Soak up the joy of ordinary days, and you build up a reservoir of peace and contentment that keeps you strong when the storms come.

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October Book Recommendations, Part 1

By KJ / Friday, October 6, 2017

  A memoir from an accomplished novelist is always a gift, but this one stands out. When you tell me it’s about growing up in and marrying within the Orthodox Jewish culture, I’m hooked–but when you tell me it’s some of the best writing I’ve seen about growing up, evolving your beliefs and finding your own way outside of the stories you’ve been told—and have told yourself—then I’m blown away, and I was.         How many real […]

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You Do Not Have to Go to a Bad Party

By KJ / Friday, October 6, 2017

That kid who is yelling at you from the kitchen, ranting and angry? He’s throwing a bad party—and you don’t have to go.

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September Book Recommendations, Part 5

By KJ / Friday, September 29, 2017

  If you’re a fan of practical parenting books, especially the kind with lots of amalgamated-from-my-client-list-with-real-identity-disguised examples of people who are doing it worse than you, I highly recommend this one. The “13 Things” in question really are things that we’ll all be happier if we don’t do (make your child the center of the universe, take shortcuts to avoid discomfort) and will often make you pause and take a hard look at what you really do as a parent […]

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Man wakes woman with bugle

Say Good Morning.

By KJ / Friday, September 29, 2017

For a long time, when I head upstairs to make sure everyone is up in the morning, I’ve been walking into my sons’ room saying, cheerfully, “time to get up!” or “time to face the day!” And for the past week or so, my oldest son has been rolling over and saying “Good morning.” I answered him, of course. “Good morning!” I liked it. It’s so much nicer, I thought, when he says good morning instead of something like, “I […]

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