Dakota Midnyght Art Giveaway!

4/24/15 Update: Congrats to Dawn W. and Leila C., the two winners of the Dakota Midnyght Art Giveaway!
Thank you all for participating, and I hope you enjoy the 20% off code CuppaCocoa2015, valid until 5/1/15, at her store here on Etsy!
Robot with Heart Balloon

May is just around the corner, which means it’s almost time to celebrate two people who are very near and dear to our children: mothers and teachers! Mother’s Day is on May 10th, and Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8 this year. I shared some ideas last year on gifts that teachers would appreciate. This year, I’m topping that off with a giveaway!

I am thrilled to introduce to you one of my favorite artists in the world: Dakota Midnyght! Continue reading

Don’t Plan So Much

I think I’m about to contradict a lot of what I just said in my last post about Backwards Planningbecause as much as I endeavor to plan out every last detail in our lives, I ultimately believe that I cannot control All The Things. And I don’t want to encourage you to try to, either. It will not only be a failed undertaking, but I don’t even think it’s wise or good. I don’t always live that way, but this is something I strive to believe in my heart and live out in my life. I know there are parents who don’t overthink their parenting half as much as I do, and their kids turn out just fine. The first example that comes to mind is my own parents.

While my husband and I researched the district and schools and city demographics before purchasing our home, I’m pretty sure my parents stumbled across what became my childhood home by accident and ended up purchasing it by God’s grace alone. Something about getting lost and running out of gas. It was really on accident. They never had ambitions for us to be athletic, musical, or at the top of our classes. It was never a goal for them to have their children attend two of the most highly-sought universities in the world, and if you asked them twenty years ago, they probably would not have imagined people would be seeking them out to instruct parenting courses in the years to come. Continue reading

Backwards Planning

I came downstairs to find my mom watching my daughter and our friend’s child playing at the sensory bin. It’s literally a bin full of dried beans, where kids can stick their hands in and grab and feel and push and scoop and play.

A bin of beans and other simple ways to add a variety of play to your child's day!(Pinterest it– it’s a thing.)

Now, think about it for a moment. Toddlers + a bin full of beans = beans everywhere, right?? That’s what I used to think, too.

I walked into the living room and smiled at the girls, “Having fun?”

They continued in their play, and then my mom made a remark about how nicely my daughter played with the beans. She was impressed with how my daughter would keep the beans over the bin and even cleaned up if they fell out. I explained that this was simply a result of training her.

There is no way you can stick a toddler with a bin of anything and expect things to stay neat and tidy unless you intentionally trained them to do so. I smiled with satisfaction. All those years of teaching in the classroom were really paying off. I hadn’t even realized it at the time, but months ago, I had used backwards planning to train my early one-year-old to have at it with a bin full of thousands of beans without making a mess.

What is Backwards Planning?

It’s just what it sounds like, and it’s something we all do at some time or another. It’s basically coming up with your final goal first, and then plotting out the steps backwards, one step at a time, to make that goal a reality. I first came across the official term for it in my teaching program. We practiced coming up with entire projects and units, first envisioning the end product, and then working backwards to make a unit to achieve the final goal. Ultimately, I think it helps you be intentional with everything you do. You waste less time doing thoughtless activities that don’t serve a purpose, and you add meaning and purpose to activities that would have otherwise been thoughtless and useless. Continue reading

Chocolate Eminence Cake

Chocolate Eminence Cake Recipe

This is a celebration cake to make for somebody you really love.

For me, that was my friend Lily, though I will say I made it for her pre-baby. Two days pre-baby, to be exact. I was on maternity leave and had just a litttttle more time left on my hands before our little bundle of joy came along (and completely changed the meaning of “free time” (and how I spent it)).

I think it made her happy, so that made me happy. I was also happy to eat it. Yum. It was so good. Several people remarked that it seemed like bakery quality, and even Eric told me he liked it, and he normally doesn’t even like chocolate cake. (But don’t worry. I love chocolate cake and I looooved it, too.)

That night, as our huge group celebrated at the restaurant, who did we run into but my dear brother and sister-in-law! Naturally I wanted to share my chocolate creation with them. They liked it so much that they later requested it for my niece’s 1st birthday party several months later. So I made the cake once more, again for somebody I really loved. And this time, it was with my own baby in tow… so methinks that’s somehow even more love than Lily got. Because spending all day making a cake pre-baby is not the same as spending all day making a cake post-baby. It was a hit, and even though my niece never got to try a bite, I know the guests enjoyed it! She’ll have to wait a little longer before she’s allowed processed sugar, but if she’s anything like her aunt, I think she’ll take to it pretty quickly :). Continue reading

If You Had Two Hours…

I had fully intended to spend my afternoon type, type, typing away at my computer to get another post out by my self-imposed deadline of Tuesday.

But… I wasn’t feeling so well, so instead I lay in bed, thinking about which topic to write about. The cheater? Conversations? Side-by-side time? And then, in an impulsive moment of selfishness, I pulled out my Kindle and instead started reading a novel. All the Light We Cannot See, in case you were wondering (no spoilers, please!). I had started it back in December, and had only made it 4% in before I returned home from Quebec. I haven’t indulged in pleasure reading since then… until now.

A little nagging voice kept urging, “Post, post, post, JoEllen! You have to write a post!” But soon I got lost in the novel and bloggy duties took a back seat.

Hence this post.

Maybe it’s because I just read a friend’s piece on self care recently, and she talks about indulging in pleasures as simple as eating fruit and going out on days when the sun is out. While the drought is a serious problem here in California, an upside is that we’re not really hurting for sunshine. I realized how often I fail to appreciate these small-but-big pleasures in life, and how easy it would be to throw in a few of my own. Like reading :].

How about you? If you had two hours and decided to shirk your duties– be it laundry, cleaning, cooking, email, etc.– what would your impulsive pleasure be?

Simple, Refreshing Appetizer!

IMG_2337We had just had our babygirl, and Danny and Akemi were so generous to drive an hour to visit with their baby AND prepare us a delicious Japanese meal! Japanese is our FAVORITE cuisine, so we were ecstatic as we watched them cut and slice and prep their superfresh ingredients in our kitchen. So spoiled, I know!

Surprisingly, one of my favorites of the night was this simple appetizer. I had just never thought to eat tofu uncooked before! The photo above is missing the splash of soy sauce to finish, but otherwise it’s exactly what you see: soft tofu, grated ginger, and green onions. It’s so easy, so bright and refreshing, and lovely to eat!

I’ve made this myself a number of times since, especially on nights where I know I have something fried (like tonkatsu) on the menu. It feels fresh and bright and it’s so simple to prepare– definitely a good one to keep in your back pocket for quick dinner nights! Continue reading

Blanket Time for Babies and Toddlers

blanket time

My husband is out of town this week, so I’ve got babygirl allll to myself. While I am blessed to have family and friends nearby to help out, there are still many, many hours to the day where it’s just me and her, so I am SO THANKFUL that I trained her on blanket time these last few months! Not only has it allowed her to learn to play more independently, develop her ability to concentrate, and given her the space to develop skills she wouldn’t normally work on when playing with me, but it has also been a lifesaver for me! Each day, I can carve out 30-45 minutes of time to do my own things, whether it’s getting dinner ready, cleaning, or working on my own projects (*ah hem* blog). I LOVE IT.

Continue reading

Smoked Salmon and Egg Salad Tartines


This one is lookin’ mighty good for an Easter brunch. We’ve actually never had one, since we’re always at a long church service that morning… but if we did, this would be on the menu! Mm-mm. This is GOOD STUFF.

My husband is a lover of all things salmon, and all things egg, so this is right up his alley. He also loves appetizers, so it pretty much makes his day when this is served up! The egg salad is just perfect– slightly creamy, with a hit of mustard and dill, which complements the smoked salmon so nicely. Whether you’re having a brunch or a bridal shower (smoked salmon won’t do for pregnant mommas at a baby shower though), this is a beautiful, perfect little finger food to serve up! Continue reading

How to Gain Two More Weeks of School (Without Working a Single Extra Day!)

soldier straight

I got to teach two extra weeks’ worth of material to my students without working a single extra day. Here’s my secret!

One morning I walked out to bring my students into the classroom. They were chatting away in line as usual, some with their backs to me, others clumped in groups. Most standing placidly, not thinking about anything in particular. On a whim, I suddenly called out in a commanding voice, “Soldierrrrr straight!” while slapping my arms against my sides, standing tall and proud. I said it with the sing song call and response tone that made everyone impulsively repeat it in the same manner, copying my words and my actions. Suddenly, I had 29 still, silent, serious, and focused students.

I looked at the students, pleasantly surprised, and they stifled smiles, trying to look serious as they stood erect and at attention.

I sly smile crept across my face and I ducked my head down as if to tell a secret and whispered loudly, “AWEEESOMMMEEE. NOW LET’S SEE IF WE CAN GO IN THE CLASSROOM LIKE WE’RE SOLDIERS– QUIETLY AND IN FORMATION!” Continue reading

The Best Pizza. Ever.

IMG_6383This is not a recipe. This is a technique. One you should skim, try, and then thank me for later. Trust me, there’s no turning back once you’ve tried it! It makes even the least exciting slice of pizza better, and elevates good pizza to a whole new level. It makes freshly delivered pizza even more mouthwatering and transforms leftover pizza into better-than-fresh-from-the-pizza-oven. Seriously!

I’m all about the crispy crust and hot, gooey cheese and toppings. Give me a limp crust and I give you a sad face. When I was a kid, I microwaved my pizza leftovers, resulting in melted cheese with a crust that was too hard and chewy at the edges, and too limp and soggy toward the middle. No good. When I was older, I reheated it in the toaster oven. The top would have nice, bubbly cheese, but the crust was still inevitably soggy… especially with thin crust pizzas.

Now that I am all grown up, I only reheat on the pan, with a simple piece of foil on top: Continue reading