Homemade Mother of the Week: Meredith Magee Donnelly, founder of Homegrown Friends

This post is the tenth in the series “Homemade Mother of the Week.” If you know a woman who is thoughtfully sharing her passion for the planet, families or the well-being of others, please nominate her for this special recognition.  Send an email with all the details to maureen@homemademothering.com

As a Homemade Mother, I am always looking for ways to engage with our community and meet new people.  When I heard about a new on-line community sprouting up in my husband’s home state of Connecticut, I knew I wanted to get to know the founder a little better.  So, this week I am very excited to introduce you to Meredith Magee Donnelly, mom to 3 and founder of Homegrown Friends, an on-line match-making service for families.  Meredith founded Homegrown Friends to help parents and children find meaningful friendships while using her expertise in Early Childhood Education to create age-appropriate activities to help playgroups run smoothly.

Membership includes playgroup placement, exclusive access to an online forum to pose parenting questions, offer insight, suggestions and buy and sell items and weekly emails providing activity suggestions to help guide the playgroups.  Homegrown Friends is launching August 20 in six US locations: Connecticut (West Hartford, Farmington, Bloomfield, Avon, Simsbury and Glastonbury), Brooklyn, NY, Madison, WI, Austin, TX, Philadelphia, PA and Des Moines, Iowa.

Sounds like fun to me!

Homemade Mothering: Welcome, Meredith! To start off, tell us little bit about yourself.

Meredith Magee Donnelly: I am the child of a very large extended family.  I think of it as the Irish-Catholic version of My Big, Fat Greek Wedding.  My mom, Trish, is one of 10 children and my dad, Mike, is one of 12 children.  They have been together since they were 15 years old.  Originally my parents wanted 12 children.  They settled on 4!  I am the youngest and the only girl.  Needless to say family reunions are large and loud and I love them!

Even though I left Massachusetts at the age of 11 I still consider it to be my home.  I have lived in New Jersey, New York City, New Hampshire, Ireland and Connecticut, but Massachusetts will always have my heart.  Currently, I live in West Hartford, CT with my husband, Dave, and our three children.  My son, Quinn, is three years old and my twin daughters, Luca and Charlotte, are 18 months old.

I received my Masters in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education in 2004.  From 2003 to 2007 I was a classroom teacher in both private and public schools in New York City with ages ranging from 3 year olds to first grade.  In 2007 I became the Director of Development for Rocking Chair Project, as well as a curriculum consultant in Rhode Island.  Currently, I am stay-at-home mom to my “three under three”.  Daily life is messy, silly, exhausting, and rewarding!

HM: Why did you decide to start Homegrown Friends?

MMD: Homegrown Friends is an idea that has been developing in my mind since I was pregnant with my son.  Because of my Early Childhood Education background I am often asked for parenting and child development advice.  I wanted to find a way to share my knowledge in a more professional forum.  Almost all parents are trying to do what is best for their children.  I believe supporting and nurturing each other is crucial to this success.  Originally, I envisioned creating a center in my town that would act as a sanctuary for parents.  A place where parents would let their guards down and come together to support each other and make friends.  Then one day a commercial for Match.com was on the television, and I casually said to my husband “They should have that service for parents”.  I think five seconds passed before I said the sentence that would change my path.  “I’m going to do it”.  I started surveying parents from all walks of life (stay at home parents, full time working parents, males and females) about their interest in a playgroup matching service with age-specific curriculum and was encouraged by the positive responses. All parents deserve to benefit from a fun, supportive group of parents and children.  Playgroups are a wonderful way to create social opportunities for children outside of a formal school setting, while also acting as a way to meet fellow parents.  It was important to me that Homegrown Friends be a national business that is a constant in parents’ lives no matter what town they move to.  “I’m going to do it” turned into “I have to do this”.

HM: What has been the biggest challenge to starting Homegrown Friends?

MMD: I am a mom first.  My full time job is to take care of my children.  I do not have babysitters so the biggest challenge is finding the time to create this business.  After putting my children to sleep I bring out my laptop and get to work.  The nights are longer than I would like, but I am energized by Homegrown Friends.  Being a mom is such a joy, but I also love being an Early Childhood Educator.  I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to share my passion for both.

HM: How did you decide which cities to start in?

MMD: Greater Hartford Area, CT was chosen because it is currently where I live.  The rest of the cities were chosen because of their reputation for being family-friendly.  As I started to research different family-friendly cities I wanted a wide range of areas.  Part of this initial launch on August 20th is a learning experience to how different cities react.

HM: What do you like to do in your free time?

MMD: What’s free time?  Just kidding!  With three children three and under it is difficult to find moments for myself, but I am realizing the importance in doing so.  I like to exercise whenever I can.  Running with non-kid music playing on my iPhone is a joy!  Pilates helps me clear my head after a long day.  I love reading anything from fiction, to biographies, to educational philosophy books.  I just finished reading Little Bee and Beyond the Sling.  I am currently reading Mem Fox’s Radical Relfections, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot is sitting on my night table.  Cooking is another passion.  I actually find it relaxing to bake at night.  Chocolate chip cookie dough cures all!

HM:  I have to agree – nothing better than cookie dough!! Can you share one of your family’s favorite recipes (my readers love trying out new dishes!).

MMD: I would love too!  Lately I have been cooking vegetarian and vegan dishes.  This is one of the dishes everyone in my family enjoys.  I pair it with rice and sautéed broccoli and garlic.  I call it meatloaf so my son won’t balk. Shhh, don’t tell!

Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf

(from Jenna Weber’s Eat, Live, Run)

makes 1 loaf to serve 6 people

1 cup green lentils

3 cups vegetable stock or broth

1 large yellow onion

1 large carrot

1 stalk celery

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp minced garlic

1 cup breadcrumbs

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

3 tbsp ground flax mixed with 1/2 cup water

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

for topping—

2 tbsp ketchup

1 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the ground flax and 1/2 cup water. Set aside.

Simmer together the lentils, broth and a pinch of salt for about 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the broth.

Meanwhile, prepare your veggies. Chop the onion, grate the carrot and dice the celery. Saute the onion and celery in the olive oil over medium high heat for six minutes, or until tender, not caramelized. Add the garlic and carrot and cook for about another four minutes.

Toast the walnuts in the oven for six to seven minutes. Add them to the onion/carrot/garlic mixture on the stove and stir well.

Add the oregano, salt and pepper as well and then take the mixture off the stove and transfer to a large bowl.

Add the breadcrumbs, flax/water (or egg white) and cooked lentils and toss well. Press mixture into a greased loaf pan and set aside while you make the topping.

In another small bowl combine the ketchup, maple syrup and vinegar. Spread on top of loaf. Bake for 40 minutes and then out on a plate.

 

 

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Written by Maureen

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