Tech Tuesday: A Time Timer that Times

Once upon a time, we were all little kids who didn’t understand what “five more minutes” meant. But people said it to us anyway. After a while, we mastered the idea of time and began to use it to organize our lives. But that short window of life, during which there are only two times — “now” and “not now” — in the mind of a child, is a challenge to navigate.

My parenting coach, Amy, uses one workaround in her strategies, called “When/Then”.

“When X, then Y” is a tool to use for discipline. When your dirty clothes are picked up, then I will read you a book. And it’s also a way to use sequencing instead of duration for a child who cannot grasp the passing of minutes. When we have finished dinner, then Grandma will arrive.

There is a frequently retold story in my family that my aunt and uncle lived their lives in units of “Dougs” when their son was a little boy and didn’t understand time. Doug was a cartoon character from the early 90s whose show lasted 15 minutes. They would tell my cousin that the length of a car ride was “about two Dougs” to mean 30 minutes.

Now there’s an app for that.


Time Timer puts a graphical timer on your phone or iPad that shows how time is elapsing. This seems so simple that it’s not even interesting, but the positive experiences I’ve heard from parents who use Time Timer to show kids “how much longer” tells me it’s worth sharing. Watch the video to get an idea of why it works.

The advice I found useful for dealing with kids getting distracted or dragging their feet on chores was to blame the clock as the bad guy instead of parents. For example, if a child uses up time dawdling or tantruming instead of getting ready for bed, there will be less time for books. (Assume lights out is at a certain time, so not getting into jammies and getting teeth brushed is cutting into storytime.)

Time Timer allows you to set the clock for any increment of time. Parents can announce that shoes should be put on before the clock is done measuring 15 mintues and any leftover time is “free time”. My kids are highly motivated by free time, although to me it is just a positive spin on “I don’t have anything planned for you right now and wish you would play independently.” FREE TIME!

Timer App

See Time Timer on the iTunes store.

7 ideas for small world play with preschoolers

I’m in a Facebook group with other parents who have subscribed to the Positive Parenting Solutions coaching program. One of the tenets of the program is one-on-one time with each child in your household during which the parent lets go of other obligations, phones, and impulses to correct, and does exactly what the child wants to do. It’s called Mind, Body, Soul time (MBST) because the parent is supposed to be 100% present in Mind, Body, and Soul.

One of the threads that keeps popping up is brainstorms of things to do with your child for MBST.  Did I mention it has to be screen-free? So no movie watching, even if that is together time.

I sent my husband a list of ideas for our household, including playing catch, playing keep-it-up with a balloon, drawing together, looking at their memory boxes, and other ideas that suit the ages of our two kids. Although I’m not very interested in my son’s trading cards, I can participate with him if I offer to help him organize them in notebooks.

When I stumbled onto this concept of “small world play” on a blog from New Zealand, I thought immediately of MBST. Small world play refers to creating little environments for pretending, similar to Playmobil, but by combining objects from around your house, existing toys from play sets, and maybe some found objects from the outdoors.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Assign a large tupperware container to the world you create so you can put it away and get it out again. And contain things like pebbles.  (Alternative: make use of a divided container to inspire another style of play, like rooms or beds. These are meant for lunchbox purposes, but might be useful for a Zoo!)


Use fabrics to lay the foundation. Collaborate with your child to come up with the plans. We need green! Do you know where we keep the pillowcases? I think we have a green one.

Washcloths can be a body of water. Or rafts for cars that need to cross a river. Or anything.

Small World Play with Water

Or use real water!

Small World Play - Water Scene

Suggest a theme, such as Dinosaur World or Fairy Land. (Read all the educational benefits of pretend play with small worlds at I am so impressed by how she used a book to create a cave – just toss a blanket or cloth over it. Brilliant!


Small World Play Inspiration -

Then add layers of detail and texture. See that green cave back there? That’s the yellow book!

Small World Play Inspiration -

Rummage through holiday decorations and tchotchkes to find new props. Please enjoy this photo of my garage.

Small World Play - Ideas for finding toys in your house [Read more…]

Activity #342: Make some easy kids pants

How to make toddler pants from a tshirt: a 30-minute sewing project, start to finish

I did this project and wrote the post for the first time when my now ten-year old was as pictured above, after being inspired by tinyhappy who displayed inspiring before and after pictures of her tshirts made into pants!

Now, let’s celebrate my success, people. I took this long-sleeved t-shirt belonging to Ryan, and while Julian was asleep, I cut the two required pieces to make pants. About 5 minutes. It’s just a left leg and a right leg. Then, I sewed them together. Now ten minutes have passed. The kid was still sleeping! Then, Heather and Holden came over. Julian woke up, and while the boys wreaked havoc in my bedroom, tossing plastic shovels, cotton balls and Cheerios this way and that, Heather made 75% of a pair of lounge pants for Holden while I coached her and wrangled her baby. Sure, he had to sit in the Pack and Play for a few minutes, but we had a good time. Later that night, I sewed my elastic waist in. The whole project was about 30 minutes.

The full tutorial is here. If you don’t have the patience for my video, just keep scrolling for the instructions laid out in text.

[Read more…]

Father’s Day gift ideas for people in small houses

Like everyone else on the Internet, we are trying not to accumulate too much stuff. However, we do like to show the dad in our house a little appreciation on Father’s Day. There’s nothing I can do about the kids’ art projects (popsicle sticks!) he’ll be forced to keep forever and ever, but I can try to focus on clutter-free gifts for him.

As I made a list, I noticed three categories emerge: Edible, Digital, and Experiences.

Let’s do this.

Edible gifts for Dad

Candy, chocolate, and junk food.  Even a mature CEO with greying hair or a wise high school chemistry teacher enjoys shoving his hand in a big bag of kettle corn or Doritos. Whatever his poison, indulging in a super-sized serving on his behalf is a good move. When it’s gone, simply crumple the garbage that remains. Hooray! (If you’re crafty or just own a printer, you can print a dad-centric label to make it more fun. My husband loves Twizzlers and Good & Plenty.


Stuff to drink. I get completely overwhelmed in front of the beer section of Whole Foods these days. There are so many specialty items. But beer, wine, or fancy soda water are all consumables that can be bundled up as a gift. Or the really nice coffee beans you never splurge on.

Favorite meals. Bacon is a good way to start Father’s Day. Just a thought.

Digital gifts for Father’s Day

DVD players and CD players are banned from my house. We have gone completely digital, cloud-based, whatever you want to call it. So even a gift of a favorite movie, tv series or “album” is going to be weightless. Amazon and iTunes both make it possible for you to gift these things. I just print out a piece of paper with the cover image on it to create a gift card.

Content my husband might like:

Experiences for Father’s Day

Touristy activities are at the top of my list for a family outing to mark the day. Think museums, state parks, local boat ride tours. Crowd-averse partner? Pack up the backpacks for a hike.

Clutter-free gifts of experience can be tickets to an upcoming concert or live sports event; a food tour for the hungry man or a walking tour for the history geek; or, a bundle of hours from a handy-man or gardener to take over some responsibilities from which he’d enjoy relief.

Sources to check:


Links rookie moms should know about {Spring Edition}

+ I got oodles of compliments on this purple dress from Modcloth, so I thought I’d post the {affiliate} link here.

My favorite purple dress from modcloth
Pictured: Heather in nearly the same dress;  me in my purple one; Elan Morgan of; and Natasha, The Stay-at-Home Feminist.

+ This is cute for the nursing mamas: Dry Erase newborn feeding tracker. Pop in a frame and write on the glass.

+ Because most Boppy covers are ugly

Adorable gray boppy cover

+ While we’re shopping for summer clothes, I super heart this polka dot family of swimsuits, also from Modcloth. I bought two variations last summer, loved them both, but realized they were so similar, I gave the navy blue one I bought on Amazon to Karen, who also looked adorable in it.

Polka dot retro swimsuits that are cute on moms

+ When I saw these teething necklaces for moms, I became an instant fan of modfresh, who sells them on Etsy.

Teething necklaces

+ If you have never browsed CoolMomTech, check it out. Tons of truly helpful and intriguing articles about technology.

+ Pea to Pumpkin, who has pregnancy and baby journals with a little sense of humor and hand-drawn illustrations, has free printable Month signs to use for pictures. Cute!

Pea to Pumpkin journals

+ Do you need help with positive parenting? We have arranged a free webinar by parenting coach Amy McCready, and you can watch it in your jammies. Don’t miss it!

That’s it for this week!



Notes on potty-training a 21-month old

This post was first published in 2009 when I wanted a medal for having two potty-trained children. Since then, thousands of toddler moms have arrived at this page searching for the keywords potty-training a 21-month old. Here’s my story.

Well, the first note is that the deed is done. Miss Scarlett is wearing diapers only during her sleeping hours. She hasn’t had an accident for four or five days.

Next, I’m going to assume that no readers are judging me for potty-training a kid who is so young. I’m assuming you are simply reading with open minds, curious about my experience.

As with all experiences, when you come out on the other side, it’s interesting to consider whether you’d do it again. The answer here is: I don’t know.

On the PROS list, we are not changing yucky diapers, treating diaper rash (an uncommon occurrence for this kid), or paying for diapers, or putting diapers into the landfill.

On the CONS list, our little monkey is nowhere near being able to go to the bathroom by herself, so the effort of changing a diaper is probably about the same as the effort required to take her into the bathroom, get her on the toilet, wipe, pull up pants, hold her up to the sink to wash her hands. Did I mention that she is tiny? When she climbs up to stool in front of the sink, she must still hoist herself up, placing her whole torso on the rim of the sink to reach the faucets. To keep her clean and dry in a public restroom, I will have to hold her up the whole time, which can be a strain.

Hmm. It looks like my cons paragraph is larger than my pros. Let me think of more pros. Did I mention the environment? Oh yes, check. Ok, what about the money? Oh, I already said that.

At the end of the day, this is an anticlimactic event. I am not really liberated from anything, and in fact, I have to be even more attentive to her potty needs than before.

So why did we do it? Why not wait? Because she was ready. Because at 18 months she would pee on the floor on purpose and laugh. At 20 months she started announcing she needed to “pee on the potty” and when we put her there, she would.

I’m sorry this post does not contain a tutorial. I am not qualified to write a “how to potty train” post. I can only echo what everyone else says: The kid has to be ready.

Julian, now four-and-a-half, was more than three years old the first time he peed in the potty. So you know I’m not in a hurry about this issue.

Did we bribe her? Yes, we did. We offered M&Ms, as recommended by our pediatrician. (Hey M&M/Mars, how often do you get mentioned in the same sentence as “pediatrician”?) But she didn’t care that much about the M&Ms. I believe she really was intrinsically motivated and that we were just reminding her that she can pee in the potty and hold it when she’s not in the bathroom.

Girls versus boys? I am lucky to be conducting all sorts of social science experiments in my house by having one child of each gender. So based on sample sizes N=1 in each test group, girls are ready for toilet training earlier.

Julian, as some may recall, also didn’t poop in the potty for a few months after he started peeing in it. I called him half-way potty trained for a while. (Now I call him 100% potty trained, although Heather may not since he still sleeps in pull-ups.)

So there you have it. One small package of M&Ms later, I am a certified potty trainer.

Hello Flo: Care packages for new moms

The company Hello Flo made the rounds on social media with the launch of their mailed care packages for pre-teen girls, designed to support a first period experience with information and treats. If you didn’t see last year’s viral video introducing the “care package for your vagina”, here it is.

But that’s not all Hello Flo is working on. They sent me a new mom kit to check out.

Care package for new moms

Items in the New Mom Survival Kit include always pantyliners; a Chocolate Cupcake LUNA bar; 2 hair ties; lip balm; reusable heart-shaped nursing pads; sitz bath spray for your vaginal birth injuries; organic hard candy; nipple balm from boob ease; face wipes from Olay; and a zipper pouch designed to carry around pads or whatever else you need.

Care package for a new mom from Hello Flo

Not only does it have soothing balms and sprays for your bathing suit parts, it has an information packet with really helpful facts that most women should read before their fourth trimester begins.

Postpartum recovery care package

You can purchase a new mom kit for a friend at The upgraded version includes these awesome leak-free undies from a brand called Dear Kate.

Rookie Mom Did-Do: Emily Henderson hits the flea market

Maintaining hobbies, friendships, spontaneity, it all becomes more difficult after baby. That’s why we wrote up 52 challenges for Rookie Moms.

In Activity #45, meant for someone with a 9 or 10-month old, we challenge you to “do what YOU want to do”. In other words, don’t go to story time at the library or the baby swings at the park, but rather whatever you might do with a visiting girlfriend: brunch, a museum, a baseball game.

Emily Henderson, a stylist and HGTV host that I follow online, is a rookie mom to a toddler named Charlie. I loved reading her blog post about taking him to a flea market, which is both her passion and her job.

Rose Bowl flea market with a baby #rookiemoms

“As you can imagine he either wants to destroy things, run away, or wants carbs in exchange for good behavior. I would leave him home but the problem is that Saturday and Sunday are my two full days with him – the days where I don’t even have to check my email, and so even if it’s a massive pain to bring him, I’d rather suffer through it then not be with him. In case you are wondering what true love is, I think I just described it. Hey Nicholas Sparks, you’re welcome.”

Though Emily had her husband with her as an extra set of hands, I still give her props for doing what SHE wants to do. Read her whole story here >

What rookie moms need to know about nannies

Thanks to Oakland, CA mom of three Chantal Laurie Below for this guest post about discovering what really matters in a nanny.

As first-time parents, we hired a nanny with no understanding of what we needed. Sure, we wanted someone loving and CPR-certified; the ability to drive was a plus. But, we’d been parents for a whopping three months.

Our inexperience, combined with sustained sleep deprivation, meant we were under-qualified to choose diaper rash ointments let alone make an important hiring decision. So, we put complete faith and trust in references we’d never met and hired Alia.

My last day of maternity leave, I cried. The tears represented loss; the loss of uninterrupted time with my daughter (most enjoyable after my recovery from mastitis), the camaraderie of an artificially created (and fairly random but supportive nonetheless) mom’s group, and mid-day walks through the neighborhood (frequently cut short by blowouts). The tears also represented guilt and confusion.

Having been raised by a stay-at-home mom, I couldn’t shake the notion that hiring someone to watch my infant felt incongruous with my understanding of how one “should” parent. But, the taunting voice of mortgage payments and my need for a strong professional identity lured me into an office and lured Alia into our home.

Thank God.

It’s now my last day of maternity leave with baby #3. As I hand my third baby over to Alia’s care, I now know what we need.

We need a coach. As parents, we’re only vaguely sure of what we’re doing. Alia’s cared for children for over twenty years and is raising her own mature and respectful adolescents. We trust the loving and direct advice she offers about how to curb a hitting habit or wean a baby from a bottle, and we envy her limitless patience. Alia is our nanny deity who we turn to, in those frequent moments of parenting paralysis, and ask: “WWAD, What Would Alia Do?”

We need a sports enthusiast — and an equipment manager. We’ve got a two-year old son who pulls his socks up high to look like Hunter Pence and who’s still lamenting Panda’s trade to the Sox. Alia indulges his passion by pitching enough balls to induce carpel tunnel and never leaving home without his batting helmet and gloves. She doesn’t bore of his baseball obsession but instead revels in his joy and seizes on the chance to build connection with a toddler she loves.

We need a role model. Alia embraces a culture that isn’t her own (and revels in the trashiness of fine American shows like Nashville). And, she fights to ensure her children value and know their native language and cultural identity. When Alia proudly illuminates for my children the gifts of Mexico (by making a mean pozole and joyfully singing Dale, Dale, Dale at the countless park birthday parties that sport a piñata), she shows our kids the confidence that comes from defending your traditions and values, especially when a dominant culture denies their import.

We need a party animal. When my daughter turned one, I didn’t invite Alia “after work hours” to her birthday party; I wanted to respect Alia’s personal time. The Monday after the event, Alia let me know of her disappointment. What I viewed as respectful, she experienced as exclusionary. Alia has never defined her role as caring for our children during a 40-hour work week. She’s defined her role as being a crucial part of their lives; she wants and deserves to celebrate the milestones that shape who our kids are.

We need an advocate. Alia engaged in a tough negotiation when we hired her; she stuck to her guns about her needs and got them. She helps our children do the same. When my son turns to a playmate at the park who is twice his age and informs his peer that grabbing his shovel is, “Not okay,” I credit Alia. When my daughter, in a calm and commanding voice tells her brother, “I don’t like that,” when he’s screaming in her face, I thank Alia. Alia has equipped our children with the tools they need to have confidence and agency over their needs.

We need a brave outdoorswoman. Alia’s an adventurer. She won’t shy away from carting two kids in a Double Bob Stroller on two buses and BART to get to the zoo. She’s also an organizer. A few years ago, she convinced multiple families to pool money together and buy a parachute so she could create a Gymboree-like class at the park. Then, she distributed Mexican children’s song lyrics among parents and caretakers so the whole park gang could sing together. Alia’s actions show our kids that being a passive bystander in life isn’t nearly as fulfilling as rolling up your sleeves and engaging fully.

What do you really need from a nanny?

We need a comedian. And a teddy bear. Few interruptions do I welcome more in my home office than the uninhibited belly laugh I hear from Alia when my son, with fierce abandon, pretends to ‘run the bases’ after hitting an imaginary home run. Few sights do I treasure more than, in his rare moments of quiet, seeing my son and Alia snuggle on the couch. And, at the end of the day, few routines do I appreciate more than the “I love you,” Alia offers each of my kids before she heads home.

Five years ago, I thought a nanny was a second tier option to me being at home with my little one. I now see Alia’s presence in our life very differently. She has informed and clarified our parenting values and has surfaced for our whole family what matters most: being passionate, courageous, and loving. I see that my children are happier and more confident because of her influence. I see that I’m a more patient and deliberate mom because of her.

Five years ago, I couldn’t articulate what we needed from a caregiver. Now, I recognize that Alia has shown us what we need by being what we need.

A few years from now, my youngest child will go to preschool. At that time, I will likely be the unknown but trusted reference who will articulate the gift that is Alia to a family looking for childcare. I will hope that the family she chooses appreciates that she is more than they need and everything they want. And, at the transition point when Alia leaves our family, I will, without a doubt, cry over loss.

Thanks, Chantal, for sharing your love for Alia in our space today. Hiring a nanny with only two months of parenthood under my belt is one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced as well.


What it’s like to have a nanny
On being a working mom: Practice makes imperfect okay
How to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle

Mother’s Day Ideas from Shutterfly {Whit’s Picks}

Shutterfly has some great stuff and good deals for Mother’s Day gifts. See it all here >

Use promo code MOMSDAY to save 20%.


Do you know they can print photos on a sort of plaque with a stand so it has a frameless appearance?  It makes a nice gift – a little bit different than the usual.


For my go-to, a personalized card that is mailed directly to the recipient, I like a recent picture uploaded with a simple decoration.



I kinda love all the stuff on this landing page, but don’t think my mom needs any more mugs or serving trays.

I do really love the idea of preserving some keepsakes with new prints. The pillows with handwriting on them in this room are a great idea: scan some handwriting from a loved one and use the image in a photo collage or on a pillow. I mocked up this one.



The pillows on Shutterfly have surprisingly good reviews. I had never considered a photo pillow, but they have some good ideas.

Order now to meet the Mother’s Day deadlines.

Kids’ guide to gardening (sponsored by Tree Top)

Tracking PixelBest invention for babies in the new millennium? Apple sauce pouches. We are proud to have our writing sponsored by Tree Top today and help introduce their mess-free, pure fruit pouches.

Tips for planting for kids

Healthy snack - Tree Top Pouches

RGA-LogoTree Top, the apple juice company I grew up with, is committed to raising good apples, which means they want to encourage families to grow things together and learn more about where food comes from and the joys of growing.

That’s why they’re teaming up with, a site that helps parents and teachers use gardening as a resource for learning.


Having just completed a project in my backyard — we have a new deck and pergola with those cool globe lights hanging across it — I wanted my kids to spend more time out there this weekend. It was easy to entice them when I pointed out all the plants with which they could actually interact. I do not have a precious attitude toward my garden.

Healthy snack in my Tree Top Backyard

Scarlett + Chloe require snacks before playing

A few months prior, we visited the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland where we had fun walking through the paths and seeing all the landscape features. More than anything, however, we had fun with our senses.

Here’s what I learned makes a good sensory garden:

First, telling your kids it is a sensory garden. Now that they know it’s not just about LOOKING at the plants, consider these elements of a garden that may appeal to kiddos.

1) Smelly. Flowers usually offer something to the nose, but I especially like rosemary, mint, and lavender in a garden because you can grab them and then smell your fingers. Something toddlers may do anyway.

2) Pretty. Think about color combinations offered by both blooms and succulents. Going to the nursery and checking out the varieties is seriously fun with a kid who digs dirt. (See what I did there? Digs!)

Tree top sensory garden

3) Touch. Lambs ear, grasses, even spiky things are inviting to fingers. My friend and neighbor Nila’s drought-tolerant yard, pictured above, is a great example. Who can walk by without running their hand through those wispy grasses?

4) Listen. A ritual of opening your ears when you visit your garden is a super zen parenting move. Hopefully you’ll hear birds, insects, and if you have a water feature, you win.

5) Taste. Yes! Put stuff in your mouth. Grow herbs, berries, or go full on vegetable garden if you’ve got the space.

In my own backyard, I encouraged Scarlett and her friend Chloe to experiment with whatever they liked to make “perfume”, something I remember doing as a little girl.

Sensory Garden: Ingredients for an engaging garden for kids

They stayed at this table for over an hour, squishing lemons from our tree, mixing the juice with not-yet-ripe blackberries, rosemary, and flower petals.

Sensory table with kids making perfume

I gave them some kitchen tools and a pair of clippers to help them stay busy. They tried to convince me to drink the resulting perfume, as they were tasting it themselves, but I declined this generous offer.

Tree Top Giveaway of garden goodies

Are you feeling lucky? We’re giving away a bundle of goodies to 40 lucky entrants.

  • “My Gardening Journal”
  • Red Tubrug pail
  • Kids gardening gloves
  • Watering can
  • Soft touch hand tool set
  • Favorite Five Sprouting seeds
  • Tree Top Apple Sauce Pouches

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thanks to Tree Top, a grower-owned co-op, deeply rooted in the communities where we work and live, for sponsoring my writing today. For every purchase of Tree Top Apple Sauce Pouches, Tree Top will donate a dollar to to help fund community garden projects and raise good apples across the country.