Author Interview: Asha Dornfest

Asha-headshotHi Asha! I’m so thrilled that you are willing to be part of this new author-centric blog I’ve started. As our first non-fiction author, I feel like I’ve got to frame your interview totally differently, but in a GOOD way! Let’s get started.

First off, tell us a little about yourself, the 2-minute bio, if you will. And please be sure to include something that not many people know about you (i.e. your favorite song to jam out to, your least favorite smell, your favorite food to eat when you are sick, etc)!

My name is Asha Dornfest, and I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband, two kids (16 & 12) and a dog. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Portland right before my son turned two (we love it here). I’ve been a writer for over 20 years, and a blogger for over 10. My newest book is Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life With Kids. I’m also the co-author of Minimalist Parenting and co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, both with Christine Koh.

My favorite band hasn’t changed since 1984 (it’s still U2), I love to garden, hike, read, and talk to people, and I’m a chronic overthinker.

So, first we’re going to talk about your very new and Parent-Hacks_high-res.pngnoteworthy book, Parent Hacks, as taken from your blog of the same name, parenthacks.com. *Full disclosure: I was part of the launch team for this book, so I received my copy for free in exchange for a review. That being said, I’ve already purchased three additional copies as gifts for other mamas in my life.* I found it to be a wonderful treasure-trove of information. Kind of a greatest hits of the blog. It’s pretty easy to find online stories about how you started the blog, so I’m curious about something else: do you find there are seasons where blog activity waxes and wanes? Or a period of time (months or years) when it seemed like the hacks were coming in so fast and furious you couldn’t keep up? Has it increased again since the book or do you feel like you’ve seen the majority of “great ideas” come across your desk already?

What a great question. For sure, blogging has waxed and waned, I would say mostly because online reading has changed so much as the Web continues to mature. First it was websites, then blogs, then social media, and now any number of mobile apps. No doubt it will keep changing. The hacks continue to arrive every day — but no longer in my inbox as they did years ago. Now, hacks arrive via various social media platforms — mostly Instagram.

For a sneak peek at some great hacks and their illustrations, visit: Buzzfeed’s 17 Genius Parenting Hacks You Won’t Know How You Lived Without.

edit your lifeAlong with your awesome book, I’ve also been binge-listening to episodes of the Edit Your Life Show podcast. A friend of mine just recently got me back into podcasts, and I knew about yours from the blog, so I couldn’t wait to dive in, and now I can’t get enough. You and your co-host, Christine Koh (of Bostonmamas.com), have such a great friendship and rapport together. It seems like, between the two of you, you know about everything! Have you had any suggestions for episodes that you both said “no way, we cannot talk about that since we are clueless!” to? I feel like Edit Your Life is kind of like a more in-depth collection of parent hacks for parents of, especially, older kids. Was there any plan to make it a kind of continuation like that? Or has it just developed organically? (as an aside: after that email episode, which I listened to LONG after it aired, I was thinking “oh man, I could ROCK the Gmail chat with these ladies… not that I have a podcast voice or would be a good interview, since I’m a nobody mama, but I’d happily send along some of my favorite gmail hacks anytime!)

I am SO THRILLED that you enjoy the podcast. Honestly, it has been the biggest surprise to me — not that it would be fun, but that it is such a natural way to connect with people. Christine and I started it for two reasons — we talk about this stuff all the time as friends, and we wanted to find a way to keep working together after writing Minimalist Parenting. She and I have the kind of relationship that defies categorizing…we just love each other, and our skills and approaches so complement each other. She is dear to me in ways I can’t describe, and she also makes me step outside my comfort zone to try new things. I credit her 100% for getting our podcast off the ground; whereas I would have hemmed and hawed over the details, she just charged forward and said “we can do this.”

The podcast is definitely an organic thing. We’re talking about things we find interesting, but that we also think will help our listeners.

Episode 25 of Edit Your Life talks about your Inner Rebel. Have you read Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before? That’s one of her Four Tendencies, but the others are different. For instance, I am an Obliger, which means I can’t really stick to a habit unless I have outside accountability (almost impossible for me to do things for myself!). Are you or Christine a Rebel? It seems like you both are able to put together some pretty effective habits (with the exception of your referenced inability to tame the inbox!), so that would surprise me quite a bit! Other than the email issue, do you struggle with taking any of your own (or Christine’s) advice from the podcast?

I LOVE Gretchen! She’s an old blogging friend, and has minimalist parentingbeen hugely supportive of both Parent Hacks and Minimalist Parenting. I don’t feel like I neatly fit into those categories, as I have both Obliger AND Rebel tendencies! As for taking our own advice, the answer is…it’s a journey. I absolutely find myself going back and listening to episodes to reset. For example, I recently finished the first half of the Parent Hacks book tour, and I’m pretty out of balance at the moment. I want to charge back into my regular work routines, but what I really need is some breathing room to process what has happened. So I’m trying to remember to put some space into my days right now, and that’s a GOOD thing.

In 2011, I see that you decided to pull your oldest from school and try homeschool as a last-ditch effort to curb some issues he was facing. What does school look like for you guys now? Did you enjoy homeschooling? It’s kind of like the ultimate “edit your life” decision: trust your gut and do what works for you, and I see you came to that same conclusion in your Lean In blog post as well. Anything you would do differently looking back on it now? What would you tell other parents that are considering homeschool? (another aside: I’m a homeschool mom myself at this time, and so are many of my friends that read this blog, so there will be no side-eye from the blog audience!)

Wow, I really appreciate the research you’ve done. How interesting, as I recently reread that Lean In article to remind myself how far my family has come! In fact, it was our experience with homeschooling that cemented in my mind the central importance of trusting yourself as a parent. Everything you read in Minimalist Parenting and hear in Edit Your Life coalesced during those years. Today, both my kids are back in public school and thriving, but my 18 months as a homeschool parent taught me to open my mind and embrace the learning that’s all around us. As long as my kids are healthy, I’m no longer worried about school performance. I feel like I have my eye on the bigger picture now…not just school success, but life success.

Deciding to homeschool is a personal decision, and one I would never evangelize. But I do feel it’s an option everyone can consider (even those who say “I could NEVER homeschool,” because I was once one of those people), and it offers amazing opportunities for a family to explore, travel, and step outside the system, even temporarily.

Finally, as a fellow mama who has been bitten by the travel bug: your love of travel is pretty apparent in various venues (the book has travel hacks, there are podcast episodes about travel hacks, and other blog interviews about traveling). Where is the next trip (outside of book publicity stops)? What has been your favorite place to visit so far (I KNOW that’s an impossible question for a travel lover!)? Do you have a favorite for yourself and a favorite with the family?

We took our kids to India recently (my dad’s side of the family is there) and it was AMAZING. We’ve always traveled as a family, something I feel very lucky to be able to share with my kids. I feel like there is no better way to open one’s mind. We’ve been to different countries in Europe, India, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the US together.

Thanks again, Asha, so very much! As you all can tell, I’m a big huge fan, and it’s easy to see why! Asha is so down to earth and really believes in harnessing the collective wisdom for the betterment of all of us. I cannot agree more. You were a pleasure to interview, friend!

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