Learning Based Toys Help Expand Little Minds and Facilitate Quality Time

Children’s toys are both blessing and a curse. They clutter up the house, make annoying noises and empty the wallet. At the same time, they occupy children when we are trying to make dinner, do chores and enjoy down time. I want my kids to get something out of their toys. I wrote a previous post on toys that inspire responsibility. I am also passionate about toys that inspire learning. My kids go to a little Montessori school in town and I love how focused they are with their “work” and decided to bring it home. The attention to detail, engagement and most of all of sense of pride for solving problems warms my heart. I recently bought a few for the house and not only are they occupied, our quality time spent together has increased. 

A few of my favorites:

Wooden Math Station. This toy aims to teach the basic concepts of counting and math while promoting hand and eye coordination. 

Phonetic Reading Blocks. Gain experience with words and rhyming. These interactive blocks help children see the connection between words. 

Pattern Blocks.Great for building early shape, color and number recognition. Inspires creativity and artistic exploration. 

Cutting Fruit Set. Not only will your children be able to learn more about different types of food but also the concepts and whole and parts. 

For more information on bringing Monetessori practices into your home, I highly recommend “Teaching Montessori in the Home” by Elizabeth Hainstock. This bestselling book helps parents connect with their children while utilizing Maria Montessori’s tools. The Montessori Program inspires discovery and awareness.  


Meetings, Meetings, more Meetings, O My!

There were days and weeks where every moment of my 9 hour workday was filled with meetings. I toured the office going from room to room to interface, gather information and pile on tasks for my to-do list. Meanwhile, hundreds of emails are pouring into my inbox that I do not have time to address. As a result, it leaves me obligated to check emails after I have put my little ones to bed. If I am describing your work day, here are a few tricks I started doing. I still have a lot of meetings but by being smarter about meeting protocol, I’ve gotten time back. Most importantly, family time back.

  1. Block off desk time. If you need to dedicate brainpower to a single project, block off time. This lets people know you are not available and it’s a visual cue to you reminding yourself to dedicate time to the priority.
  2. Color code your calendar invites. I color all in person meetings green. All phone calls are teal and desk time is blue. It has helped me to get to in person meeting on time because I know if it’s green, I must physically move around the building.
  3. No Meeting Days. Establish a day of the week where you do not take meetings. If your organization is meeting heavy, start with a half day. Block off the recurring chunk of time in advance so others know to plan around it. Even better, have your team or even the entire organization adopt the same chunk of time. The biggest benefit of an organization wide “No Meeting Day” is everyone will be at their desk so real time collaboration can take place. We have all been there. We really need to talk to someone but we can’t because they are always stuck in meetings. And because they are always in meetings, they never answer their emails. No Meeting Days will solve for this cat and mouse game.
  4. Require defined agendas in calendar invites. If you work with someone that sends you blank calendar invites, decline it (or ask for more detail). An efficient meeting can only happen if both parties are prepared. I recommend including an agenda and a desired outcome statement in all meeting invites.
  5. Meetings are for decision making. Al Pittampalli’s book, Read This Before Your Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done is genius. My biggest takeaway from this read is the overall message which is all meetings should be like a Daytona 500 pitstop. It’s a time to refuel, recharge and make decisions to progress forward. Question those boring status meetings that drain everyone in the room. If those status updates can be shared via another forum, do it. There are a plethora of tools like Asana and Monday.com where teams can communicate updates in a streamlined manner.


The beauty of Read This Before Your Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done is it will take you less than 45 minutes to read it. It’s an extremely short book filled with principles that will lessen your workload, relieve stress and yield productive workdays. At least for me, that’s what it did.


Boring Presentation — Image by © Corbis

Creating Little Helpers at Home Now Will Pay Off Later

My 3 year old already has his first “job”. We drive around our neighborhood picking up electric scooters to charge at home. He loves going on the scavenger hunt with me and asks daily if we can “Go hunt for birds”. When we get home he is in charge of making sure the scooters are plugged in and the red charing light comes on. The red light always gets a standing ovation by him. I pay my son a few cents commission that goes straight into his piggy bank. The pitter patter of his feet as he sprints to his piggy bank warms my heart every time. I deposit the rest of the earnings directly into his college fund. It’s not about making enough money to send him to college (that would take hundreds of thousands of birds), it’s about setting a foundation of responsibility, commitment and drive to succeed. Plus, we spend a lot of quality time together doing it too.

As the holidays are approaching, I have been thinking about what presents I will get him. He wants a bike which we will get him no doubt. I like to get practical gifts that are educational and create time for us to spend together.

Here are a few gift ideas that are fun, educational and instill a foundation for #adulting down the road.

  1. The classic piggy bank. Nothing is more rewarding than dropping in a shiny, new quarter and shaking the bank to hear all the money jangling around in song. I enjoy rewarding my son for a job well done. He enjoys cleaning up his toys, washing the dishes, emptying the bath, and folding laundry. After a job well done, he gets a few coins to save up for the next trip to the donut shop. When we pay for the donut he picks out all on his own, it’s a ritual for him to hand the owner the money all by himself. Talk about being proud for his hard work.
  2. Watch. Like father and mother, like toddler. Every toddler wants to be just like their parents and having a watch teaches important life skills. In addition to reading numbers, it teaches our little ones a sense of control, patience and time management. They look pretty adorable wearing one too.
  3. Tool Set. I prefer wooden toys over plastic if possible. Longer durability. My little one follows me around the house fixing things with me. The helper mindset goes along way and having a mini handy person around the house is too cute.
  4. Broom Set. When my little one isn’t hammering away he’s helping me sweep. Hand this kid a broom and he is thoroughly entertained for 30 minutes. Before I got his own broom, he’d get upset when he saw me sweeping and didn’t have his own. Now we each have one and everyone is happy. Cuts down on my sweeping time too. Win, win.
  5. Gardening Tools. Nothing gives me more joy than quality time with my little ones outside on a nice day. Last weekend, I had hours of yard work to do and enlisting my son to be my assistant was not only rewarding for me but the highlight of his day. He helped me to dig up weeds, carry sticks to the compost and beautify the flower beds.

Bottom line, toys aren’t just dolls and trucks that clutter up the home. Toys can be practical. It’s our job as parents to raise our kids to be self sufficient, resilient and contribute to society. Teaching life skills from the moment they can hold a toy garden shovel will pay off in the end.



Coach, Counsel and Correct

I had coffee with a CFO in town the other day that inspired me. As he coached me on how to drive performance in the workplace strategically, it boiled down to what he calls the 3C’s: Coach, Counsel, Correct. Driving performance is a process. An employee should never be surprised if served a performance improvement plan or worse, terminated. A lot of times when the shock of bad news takes place, it’s because the Manager is afraid of the confrontation. The foundation of a solid relationship is building rapport. With the rapport, comes trust. When trust exists, it allows a safe place for candid conversations. In thinking about the 3C’s, this is how I best interpreted it.

Let’s say you have a direct report that constantly misses deadlines. Your CEO is asking why and demanded you fix the problem. Follow the 3C’s.

  1. Coach. Put on your “helper” hat. No need to be demanding at this point. Positive reinforcement goes further than badgering. Be clear to identify the issue. “Hi Casey, I want to check in with you. I have taken note you missed the last 3 report deadlines. How is your workload? Is there anything I can do to help?”. Our job as Manager is to support our team members to do excellent things. Before jumping down Casey’s throat, find out if Casey is doing alright. I do not recommend prying into Casey’s personal life, but asking a high level question pulsing their well being will create a safe place for them to share. From there, you can determine how you can clarify, align and hold them accountable to meet deadlines going forward. Use language like, “I’d like you to meet your deadlines going forward so we can all succeed. Let me know how I can help you accomplish this so please keep an open dialogue with me. I want to see you succeed.” Set a check in date so Casey knows it’s coming. “We will check in on this topic in 2 weeks.” The tone of this conversation is positive.
  2. Counsel. Two weeks has passed. Casey is still missing deadlines. Now it’s time to be more stern. Here’s how I’d start, “Casey, we talked 2 weeks ago about meeting deadlines. I am still observing you are behind. It’s important to the business that the reports are turned in on time. We count on you and your reports move the business forward. I need you to start meeting your deadlines as of today.” During the Counsel stage, it’s important to stress the “why” statement. Tie in the value this person provides the company. No need to be overly positive. You tried that and it didn’t work. It’s time to be clear they let others down when they let themselves down. Clarify what you expect, gain alignment before the conversation ends and repeat how you will hold Casey accountable. Give Casey a clear check in date so they know it’s important to you. After this conversation, recap the conversation in an email so they can process the expectations clearly in their own time.
  3. Correct. During the counsel stage you defined the next check in date for 1 week out. The week has passed and Casey missed an important Executive report which left you scrambling at 11pm to pull it together. At the end of the day, if the direct reports don’t do the work, managers must pick up the slack. During any of the 3C’s, it’s important to remove yourself from the equation. Remain objective. Even if you are peeved because you had to pick up slack, it’s not about you. It’s about their contribution to the business. The Correct stage is where you tell Casey clearly, “You must submit your reports in on time. If not, you will be put on a performance improvement plan (or terminated). Set a clear expectation. “If one more deadline is missed from this day forward, you will be put on a written performance improvement plan.” There, you said it. A very difficult conversation but you followed the 3C’s consistently so the element of surprise doesn’t exist. You gave Casey plenty of opportunity to improve and/or share the reasons why they are not performing. It’s up to Casey to decide destiny.

Let’s hope Casey self corrected and you no longer have issues. If Casey didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, you must follow through with the correction plan you established. No stalling. It must be immediate once the deadline is missed. If you don’t, it sends a message to the rest of the team you don’t need to be taken seriously. Accept that Casey probably told their peers about the issues from their point of view. That is ok.  You have been fair and consistent the whole time.

If a 4th C could be thrown into this process, I would add Consistency. It’s stressful to work for a boss that slings from the hip and is unpredictable. Be steadfast, consistent and fair. Not too nice, fair.

For a deeper dive, I highly recommend the book, Crucial Conversations. Performance conversations are never easy. Crucial Conversations provides excellent tools and role play examples on how to communicate when the stakes are high. If someone’s job is on the line, the stakes are always high. I constantly remind myself not to judge the person’s character when performance slides. Be hard on the problem, not the person. During the recruiting process, I must have seen potential in them otherwise I wouldn’t have hired them. Not all hires work out and that’s ok. Having open conversations will help you figure that out where both parties walk away with dignity.

How do I know if I’m a great parent?

The golden question most mothers ask themselves daily is “Am I a good mom?”. Am I great if my son is satisfied even if he’s sitting content with a pile of leftover Halloween candy before dinner? Am I great if I got him to brush his teeth against his own will but at least the dentist is happy? The daily struggle of parenting greatness is exhausting.

There is no doubt, my kids come first. For me to accomplish greatness in the Mom Department, I center my focus on taking care of *ME* from time to time. If my focus is clear, my heart is open to fill up.

Between errands, shuffling kids around, working and being a wife is a juggling act. Here’s how I get back down to planet earth.

  1. Breathe. Deep breaths. Nothing is a quicker mood changer like a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Not just a regular deep breath. The kind where you breath in so deep you can’t take in any more oxygen. From there, exhale until you are empty. Not only is your physical body cleansed, your soul is too.
  2. Essential Oils. To make deliberate breathing even more relaxing, try diffusing essential oils. I put a diffuser in my bedroom, living room and office.  There are a lot of fancy oils out there. I prefer to stick to the basic headache relief combo,  peppermint and lavender. The oils I find on Amazon do the trick. However, if you want the best of the best in essential oils, Young Living is superior.
  3. Daydream. Anytime I get overwhelmed with the work day, I take 3-10 seconds to reminisce on a funny memory of my family. It’s amazing how the quick escape level sets the positive momentum of my day. This goes both ways. If I’m bogged down at home, I think about a great meeting I had earlier that week. Constantly check in with your well being even if it means hovering in a daydream state from time to time.
  4. Hug. Both of my sons love to hug. The power of a hug does wonders on the soul. How did I get them to be huggers? I hug them ALOT. Hugging our loved ones is one of the most powerful signs of community. Count how many times you hug in a given day. Now double it.
  5. Read for improvement. I don’t always read to learn new parenting tricks. There are times I read parenting books to validate what I’m doing is right. It feels good to know I’m not totally screwing it up. Parenting books didn’t exist a thousand years ago and miraculously our ancestors succeeded. We can too. If you do decide to read any book the hot topic of parenting, read How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It’s easy to digest and makes parenting feel “doable”.
  6. Read for fun. Reading is a great way to escape reality, learn a little, enhance your vocabulary, gain different perspective and seek entertainment. If you are like me and find it hard to sit down with a hardback book, Audible is second best. Admittedly, I prefer the satisfaction of turning physical pages, but with Audible I can listen in the car, while I workout and get ready for work. Sign up for a trial that includes 2 free books.

Bottom line, there is no way to know if we are crushing it in #parentlife. All we can do is stay laser focused on balancing self preservation while we take care of our families.


Are you Gritty?

I recently saw Angela Duckworth speak at a conference and from that day forward, my outlook on assesssing talent has pivoted. I take it personally when I hire someone for an organization that was promising during the interview process and fizzles out over time. Not because they are falling behind, but because they didn’t try hard enough. Success is measured by effort. Relentless effort plus dedicated time equals achievement. Angela would call this Grit.

Memorize this formula


For example, I take an interest tennis. Interest is where it stops me. I play once every few months and far from good. I’d say “just ok”. Outside of anatomical advantages, a tennis player isn’t a legend without effort. With a little bit of raw talent, the tennis player practices diligently and over time, they will develop skill. The problem is most people stop there. Not Serena Williams. Her secret weapon to arguably being the best woman tennis player of all time is her serve. Was she born with a good serve? No. She took the talent put in the effort to yield skill. With the skill, she puts in countless hours of training, conditioning and deliberate practice to achieve. Angela says deliberate practice day in and day out is the key. Serena Williams defines Grit in the tennis world. Grit is also found in the workplace.

If you influence the hiring process, it’s essential to assess Grit and make it your number one priority. I couldn’t put Angela’s book down because with every page turned, my mind was blown. Here are a few takeaways.

Ways to identify Grit in the interview process.

  1. Identify passion. Before hammering on technical qualifications during the interview, ask this simple question. “Tell me something you are passionate about.” Actively listen to the response. Do they convey themselves as a natural? Do they emphasize the dedication, effort and loyalty put into their passion? Is their passion an exciting topic to discuss? It’s impossible to find the perfect technical fit for any position. You will fail if you try.  Grit turns passion into achievment.
  2. Have the candidate define effort. Effort counts twice in the Grit formula. Effort is the driving force to achievement and if someone is striving to achieve effort being deliberate is a must. Nothing in life comes easy. I would never tell Serena Williams she’s a world legend because she’s naturally talented. She would say it’s the long, grueling hours of deliberate practice that yields her results. World class olympic gymnasts don’t show up on the mat and stick it. If there are roughly 1460 days in a 4 year period, you can bet they are practicing at least 1350 of those days up to 12 hours a day. That’s 16,200 hours for the short performance on the world stage once every 4 years.
  3. Ask about failures. Do they take ownership for their set backs or do they point fingers? How do they react? A gritty person takes ownership and looks at set backs as a learning opportunity to try even harder.

Deliberate practice translates across an entire organization. Every position, big or small, requires grit. Gritty sales people never give up chasing the sales. Gritty designers go back to the drawing board over and over again until they produce great work. Gritty nurses go above and beyond to provide world class care. Never settle. Don’t let yourself be swooned by buzzwords and their ability to win you over in a short interview. Technical skills are convenient. Knowing how a candidate applies their technical skills is where the bets will be hedged. Hire for Grit.

Clarify, Align and hold Accountable


If you are a people manager or someone who works with others, remember these 3 directives. Remember it in this order exactly. When driving performance, accountability doesn’t exist if clarity and alignment were not established.

  1. Clarify. If someone is giving you an instruction, clarify their ask. Repeat the request as many times it takes for the other party to validate you two are on the same page.
  2. Align. Once you are clear on the task given to you, share perspectives on each person’s approach. Alignment doesn’t mean automatically agreeing. Alignment means mutually committing to what will happen next.
  3. Accountability. Take a step back. If someone asked you to “wake me up before you leave” but you heard “I’m going to workout in the street”, how can you be held accountable if you two didn’t clarify the request and align that you both understood the expectations. What happened? The snoozing pal, never got woken up and the pal rushing through their morning routine bolted out the door thinking they needed to leave the door unlocked. In the rushing pal’s mind they knocked out the request successfully. Lose, lose situation. Now you have a sleeping person in the house alone with an unlocked door. Let’s hope they live in a safe neighborhood.

Let’s take it into the workplace. As a manager, use this formula to drive performance. When you think people are dropping the ball, entertain the thought they may think they are doing a great job. Before you jump down their throat, go back to clarify their point of view. From there, align on your expectations. Only after those two items have been successfully accomplished can you drive performance and accountability.


Day 1

I am no blog writer. I am even more terrible at writing emails. With every waking moment, I am wildly fascinated by the subtleties of human communication. The verbal, the non verbal. The grandiose, the slight. The positive, the negative. The words, the tone. Slight adjustments on how we communicate a simple phrase can be perceived vastly different.

I observe, I read and I live. Yes, read.

I hope you enjoy the content. Learn a little, laugh a little and reflect a lot.