Happy Birthday, Blog! :)

Congrats to the winners of the Cuppacocoa shirt giveaway:
Wendy H., Hazell P., Dakota N., Irma O., Michelle P., and Sydney A.!

I’m HONORED that you would wear my shirt. Even if it is to sleep. :D.

In other news, today, my blog turns ONE! =D Exactly one year ago, I hit the “publish” button on my first post, and a week later, I had a grand total of eight readers, including myself, four family members and three friends. That was cool.

cuppacocoa turns 1
If you’re actually counting, one of my bff’s is also now a family member (SO COOL, RIGHT?! (She married my brother! (I set them up!))).

You can imagine how delighted I was when more people decided to join! Hooray! Welcome, and thank you for reading my stuff each week! I am honored that you’ve stayed on, and I will continue to try to publish more interesting and useful content!

more people decided to join!

For cuppacocoa’s first birthday, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned from blogging this year. I’m no expert, and there are definitely millions of way more experienced bloggers… but it’s the start of a new year, so I figured it was a good time to reflect back and look forward!

1. Family first. No matter how cool it is to interact with people around the world through my blog, it is way cooler to interact with my loving husband and cooing, cuddly baby (who is now a jabbering toddler! *SNIFF*) here at home. I didn’t quit my job to become a blogger– I did it to be a stay at home mom, so those responsibilities come first! Set boundaries that show your priorities.

2. Bloggy friends are awesome. They know better than anyone how precious an encouraging comment is, and how to boost you when you’re feeling a little slumpy in your writing. They’re fun to bounce ideas and share goals with, and give great tips for improvement! They also remind me that the world is full of kind and warm people!

3. Thick skin is hard-earned. When I was in teaching school, I remember Toni laughing at me and saying, “JoEllen, you are going to have to grow some thicker skin if you want to stay in this profession!” And when I stared blankly, she had to explain herself. I mean, I knew what “thick skin” meant, but I didn’t know why she thought I’d need it. Hah. Well, same goes for anyone who hopes to get a lot of people reading her writing on the Internet. I mean, it’s really cool if it happens, but be prepared for some harsh words. Don’t let mean words from people who have never met you stop you from speaking your heart. Tough lesson. Glad I kept writing anyway. Thank you for your kind words along the way that have kept me going! Your personal messages and comments have really meant a lot to me!

4. Clicking “Save” is not enough. When writing a post, you should always at least highlight (ctrl+a) and copy (ctrl+c) everything before clicking any buttons like “Save” or “Publish…” or else one day (or in my case, many days), you will sorely regret it. WordPress is great, but things aren’t always perfect with the Internet and computers, yanno?

5. Write stuff you’re passionate about. Don’t try too hard to write what you think people want to hear. I mean, you have to consider your audience, of course, but try to do that only within the things you really care about. This also kind of explains why I still share food recipes, even though I think I actually lose a few readers every time I do that. I know it’s not really within the “parenting/education” niche I’ve got going on, but it’s something that really makes me happy, so… I’m just going to keep doing that. Noms.

6. Have an engineer bff/husband. So he can save the day again. And again. And again, when the Internet is ruining your life. <3 . Thank you, Ben! This blog wouldn’t have made it very far without your help, encouragement, and support.

Going forward, I really hope to continue to write useful and interesting content! I also hope to update the look and feel of my blog this year. As you can tell, art isn’t my forte, so I don’t even really know where to start on this… but it’s going to happen! :)

Thank you for all your support (i.e. letting my posts into your inbox every week :)) this year! Please feel free to drop a comment someday and say hi sometime. I love to hear from my readers!

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Cuppacocoa’s American Apparel T-Shirt Giveaway

This Saturday is Cuppacocoa’s ONE YEAR BLOGGY BIRTHDAY!!!! Wooooooo!!

Cuppacocoa's 1 Year Birthday!I wanted to do something cool to celebrate. My original thought was to revamp the look and feel of my blog– something lovely and white and clean. And maybe finally throw in a photo of myself somewhere. Well, 2/28 is fast approaching and I have made exactly zero progress on that front, so instead, I’ve decided to commemorate the occasion with a special Cuppacocoa t-shirt giveaway! I’ll be giving away 6 of these shirts:

American Apparel T-Shirt GiveawayAnd, friends, these aren’t just any old shirts–they are super comfy soft and shmumpfy Women’s American Apparel Poly-Cotton Scoop Neck T-shirts, valued at $34.95 each. Only the best for my readers! Seriously, even if you’re not into stick-figure fashion, this makes for an AMAZING lounging/pajama shirt! It is as soft and comfy as it looks.

You want one.

Some notes on the shirt:

  • American Apparel
  • A 50/50 blend of polyster and combed cotton
  • Slightly scooped neck and form-fitted design
  • Slim fit. Runs small; for a more relaxed fit, order one size larger
  • Features a slightly scooped neck
  • Machine wash
  • Design inspired by this post
  • The grey part of the logo (“www.” and “.com”) doesn’t really show up too well

I got six of these shirts for y’all– three in white (S, M, L), and three in apricot (S, M, L).

Cuppacocoa tshirt giveawayPlease want one, and please enter the giveaway! You can enter once a day until the giveaway ends; the more entries, the merrier! Rafflecopter will help me randomly choose 6 winners, who will select their shirt colors/sizes on a first-come, first-serve basis. I’ll announce the winners on Saturday, 2/28!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The fine print
Giveaway ends February 27, 2015 at 11:59 PM PST. Open to residents of the US only. 6 winners will be selected randomly by Rafflecopter.com and be notified by email. Winner has 48 hours to respond to email before a new winner is selected. Sizes and colors will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no guarantee that you will get the size and/or color you desire. The item will be shipped to you directly. Winner will be announced on Saturday, 2/28/2015 on www.cuppacocoa.com.

Activities to Do with a Toddler

20 simple and fun ideas for your toddler

Not gonna lie. This one’s for me. I currently have about 50 tabs open on fun activities to do with babies/toddlers between 14-16 months, and wanted to summarize them for myself and my husband. So I thought to myself, Hm. Where should I make this list? Microsoft Word? OneNote? Email? …I wish I could just put it on my blog so either Ben or I could find it really quickly on our phones whenever we needed. Oh heyyy… there’s an idea. I do actually search stuff on my own blog (especially recipes) pretty frequently, so I decided to compile my list here for me and for you :).

Anyone with a young child (or expecting to have one in the future) can benefit from this list! Experienced parents, pleasepleasePLEASEpleaseplease add ideas to the comments below! You of all people know how wonderful it is to come across a tried-and-true activity to change up the long afternoons with our little ones!

I sorted the activities into easy, medium, and hard. The easy activities are things you can do pretty much anywhere, anytime. They require little to no purchases or material preparation. The medium activities are still fairly simple, but require you to dig up some materials (scarves, clothespins) or purchase others (blocks, bubbles). Once you have the materials, though, you can consider it one of your “easy” activities. The hard activities are more involved– for the parent. They require more preparation (finger paints), cost (sand and water table) and/or clean-up. They are the kind of activities I would choose on my more ambitious days. Continue reading

A Love Letter

IMG_1432Last weekend I went to Lake Tahoe with some good friends and you know what I got? A big, fat early Valentine’s Day card from God. It came in the form of pouring rain, magnificent boulders, a river of water streaming over our rocky hiking path, a gushing waterfall, a shimmering and misty lake, and gorgeous snow-capped mountains. He took my breath away, and I felt his love as tangibly as I ever have. Continue reading

How to Save Time (and Keep Students Engaged) with Popsicle Sticks

IMG_1253I used popsicle sticks in my classroom all the time. I used them during math, during social studies, during reading– you name it. If there were a large number of students, I had a use for popsicle sticks. Here’s what I did. First, I wrote each child’s name on a stick, then color-coded the tip of each stick– one color for boys, one color for girls:


Then I put them all in a jar, mixed them up, and voila! I just created one of my most frequently-used teaching tools. What could you possibly do with this jar of names? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Continue reading

Stop Grading Papers (and Let the Kids Do it!)

Let students correct their own papers

I think it’s good to have kids correct their own homework as much as possible. When they correct their own homework, they get immediate feedback on their mistakes (or lack thereof). They also have an opportunity to immediately ask how a problem they got wrong is done correctly.

Immediate feedback is key in student learning. Think about your own learning– if you’ve learned a math concept wrong, would you want to keep practicing it wrong for days before someone tells you otherwise? Or would you prefer for someone to immediately fix it ASAP so you can practice correctly from then on? Of course you’d rather have it fixed right away.

This method of paper correcting is more effective in catching misunderstandings than having the teacher collect a pile of homework, take it home over the weekend, and then hand it back on Monday. Sure, some kids immediately check to see how they did– they’re usually the ones that got everything right. Others just stuff it in their desks without even taking a second glance; oftentimes, those are the kids who need the most help. Continue reading

The Secret Game

The Secret Game-- an easy, fun, contained, and active game to play with a large group of kids! A valuable addition to your parenting and teaching toolkit!

Parents: It’s your son’s birthday party. On the invitation, you wrote that the party would go from 12:00-3:00pm. It’s 2:00pm, and you’ve already gone through all the activities you had planned. You told the kids they could just “play” until their parents arrived, and now you have twenty kids running around your house wreaking havoc on your newly polished floors and white walls. EEK.

Teachers: It’s field trip day, and the bus just dropped you off at the museum entrance. For some reason, all the doors are locked and no staff is there to greet you. After waiting ten minutes, you call the main office and are told they’ll be there in twenty minutes. Your students are entertaining themselves– some sitting in small groups chatting, others running around and playing a violent version of tag. Chaperones make a half-hearted attempt to calm some kids down, but let’s be honest– everybody wants to be the cool chaperone, so they won’t go too hard on the kids. Their behavior is already spiraling out of control, and you have another twenty minutes to wait. EEK. What do you do??

Play a game. A simple, quiet, but active and FUN game! Sound too good to be true? Read on and try it, my friend, and be won over. Continue reading

The Heart of the Matter

How to talk about the heart of the matter in changing behavior

A few months ago, I led a teacher training on how to use a new behavior system in Sunday school at my church. I outlined how the system of consequences would work, with the consequences progressing from a simple verbal warning all the way to stepping outside for some time out. Then one of the teachers shared her situation with me, “What if the kids want to go outside? When I threaten to send them outside, they say, ‘Oooh, can I go now?’ as if it’s a treat!”

First of all, ouch. That is a low blow, and hard for any teacher to hear– especially when she has volunteered time on her Sunday morning to serve children!

Before I had a chance to respond, another teacher chimed in, saying that we needed more severe consequences– stepping outside the room wasn’t going to motivate the kids enough to stop poor behavior. Ack. This was not the direction I was hoping to head in!

I think I gave some response about the real purpose of consequences (not to punish but to provide consistent reinforcement of boundaries), and how we shouldn’t make kids behave out of fear. But I knew my answer was incomplete. I also offered an example of what I might have said in response to the child, but still… there was something more to it, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Shaping hearts shapes behaviors

Months later, I started reading Don’t Make me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman, and I saw what the missing piece in my teacher instruction was. I realized it was missing not only from that training session, but also in previous posts I’ve written on shaping children’s behavior! Continue reading

Guess My Number


Parents and teachers, this one’s for you. If you are regularly around kids, you know there are frequently pockets of time when you need to keep them occupied. Whether it’s the last few minutes at the end of a school day or you’re waiting at a restaurant, resist pulling out technology to quell their boredom and try this game!

“Guess My Number” is a simple, fun, easy, and educational game for kids 7 and up that you can play anywhere that you have pen and paper. It’s a flexible game, and can be easily adapted for young elementary aged children or your middle school math whizzes. I played it often with my fourth graders and they always loved it.

Teachers: this is a game that almost any child in any level in your upper-grade class can happily and confidently participate in. Parents: this is a great anywhere-game that will engage their minds in a way that is really fun for them while working their mathematical brains– parenting WIN!

Continue reading

Pork Tonkatsu Recipe

0Pork tonkatsu! (Plating and photo creds to Chris C.)

Last week, I bought about a million pounds of sliced pork tenderloin from Costco. On top of the usual Costco bulk discount, there was a “manager’s special” which brought the price down an additional ~20%! I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with twelve huge hunks of pork loin, but there was one thing I did know: pork tonkatsu was definitely on the menu this week!

Tonkatsu is a Japanese food where pieces of meat (usually pork, but I’ve also seen chicken) are breaded and fried. It is key to use panko (bread crumbs), which are Japanese style bread crumbs. They give a delicate and very satisfying crispy crunch. The tonkatsu is usually served with tonkatsu sauce, which totally makes the dish, so be sure to pick some up before making this! Continue reading