August 1, 2015

How to make cold brew coffee (9)

I stumbled upon this cold-brew recipe a few years ago and was dying to try it. But I disciplined myself and kept putting it off due to being pregnant or nursing. But my will eventually crumbled (years of pregnancy and nursing will do that to you) and I finally gave it a go! Now I daily face the temptation of sweet, delicious iced coffee every day in my refrigerator… ai yah. What have I done. But it’s SO GOOD! And SO EASY. You can just use the recipe linked above, but it’s kind of long so I figured I’d break the basic information down into two parts: 1) How to make a simple cold brew (this post), and 2) A great recipe for Vietnamese iced coffee using your cold brew (post coming soon!). YUMMMMYYYY!!!!!!

How to make cold brew coffee (2)

Back when I first read the recipe, I mentally boiled down the 1,242-word post down to these simple directions: steep coffee grounds in water. I guess nowadays the hip term for this process is making cold brew. It’s such an easy way to prepare coffee, and results in a smooth, less-acidic coffee after. After you filter out the grounds, then BOOM. There’s your cold brew. Done. Now you have coffee concentrate at your fingertips, ready to refresh you morning after morning! I love her idea of making a big batch so all you have to do in the days (or weeks) to follow is pour it over a bit of ice and really, you can be done. Anything to keep the mornings more simple!

After making your batch of cold brew, check out this recipe (link will work soon :)) for a great Vietnamese coffee using condensed milk. MMMM. Soooo creamy, perfectly sweet, and delicious! Enjoy!

July 29, 2015

Reading Strategy - Asking Questions

Back to school sales have been happening which can only mean one thing: IT’S ALMOST TIME TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL!! For some, that is great reason to celebrate, and for others, it’s a little too soon to be thinking about it (What?! Didn’t school just let out a couple weeks ago??). Either way, it’s almost always a good time to clock in some extra minutes of parent-child reading time together!

As you probably know, I’ve been in the middle of a series on how to read well with your child. Yes, straight-up reading out loud to your child is great, and is already more quality and productive time than a lot of other things you or your child could be doing. But if your child happens to be struggling at all with reading, there are a few simple things you can do to make the reading time together even more effective! If you’re hoping to get more bang for the minutes you are spending reading with your child, bookmark this parent page and try some of these simple strategies to help your child grow as a reader.

Today, I’m going to go more in depth on teaching your child the reading strategy of asking questions while reading. I have spent weeks teaching this strategy alone in the classroom. There are so many ways to talk about asking questions that I was tempted to break this post into two parts, but the OCD part of me wants to link just one “Asking Questions” link everywhere, so… here goes!

July 24, 2015

Reading strategy - making connections

A couple months ago, a handyman came by to give us an estimate on some jobs. Somewhere in the middle of that, I learned that he had a daughter in fourth grade so I mentioned that I had taught fourth grade for several years. I asked him how she was liking it, since well, I loved it… and then I heard it all. His frustrations with the grade level. His frustrations with his child’s teacher and the new Common Core standards. How upsetting it was to suddenly hear that his daughter– who was doing just fine last year– was suddenly performing and reading below grade level. The teacher blamed it on the new Common Core standards, and he didn’t know who to blame it on. He was just frustrated.

This is a common thing I’ve heard from parents– “What do you mean my child is behind? He was doing just fine last year! His state test scores were just fine!” Maybe they don’t phrase it quite like that, but I can hear the alarm and disbelief in their voices. If their child performed decently on state tests, that must mean they’re getting it, right?

I’m afraid not. It’s not that simple. Reading fluency and comprehension doesn’t boil down to answering a few multiple choice questions about a passage. Good readers are engaging in a number of reading strategies all the time when they’re reading, considering questions far beyond Who is the main character? and Who won the race? Good readers don’t just answer questions while reading– they ask them. They consider their existing knowledge on the subject, and they are aware when they aren’t understanding the text well. In my current series, I am sharing reading strategies that we teach at school in the Reader’s Workshop to help students deepen their reading comprehension skills.

Today, I will share one of the most accessible strategies: making connections. This is the one nearly universal strategy that nearly every reader is already doing in some way, so it’s one of the easiest to teach. This is also one of the most effective in helping readers remember what they read, because when you can connect new material to existing knowledge, you are much more apt to remember it, as I described in this post. Making connections is exactly what it sounds like: you read something, and consider how it is connected to something else you know about.

The goal of making connections is to help kids attach new text they read to things they already know about. They can use that pre-existing knowledge to help them remember the new material they come across. This strategy makes texts more meaningful to readers, and it also makes texts easier to understand. This is usually an easy and enjoyable strategy for children to practice and use. When we talk with students about the reading strategy of making connections, we usually break it down into three types of connections: text-to-self connections, text-to-text connections, and text-to-world connections.

July 21, 2015

Lord, help me. It’s been one of those weeks. I’m so. tired.

Sorry, blog,I have no energy for you right now. I’ll be back soon!

Garlic Lemon Aioli Recipe (4)

In the meantime, here is something I’ve been meaning to share for a long time: Giada’s Garlic Lemon Aioli recipe. It’s fanTASTIC. It’s my own little “dirty sauce” that I love to spread on anything, especially on paninis or for dipping veggies in. It’s the extra MMM you’re looking for to bring your sandwiches to the next level, and seriously pairs wonderfully with so many things. I mean, lemon, garlic, salt, and pepper– can’t really go wrong there, right?

Garlic Lemon Aioli Recipe (1)


Garlic Lemon Aioli Recipe (2)


Garlic Lemon Aioli Recipe (3)This is our favorite panini setup right there with focaccia, pepperjack, arugala, tomatoes, pastrami, and some garlic lemon aioli.
I sprinkle some salt on top before grilling them and mm-mmm they always hit the spot! 

Anyway I’m way overdue to get this on my blog, because I reference my own blog for frequently used recipes and I always tell myself “I really need to get the aioli recipe on there!” So here it is. Enjoy!

July 16, 2015

Busy box pushing pipe cleaners through holes (4)

I’m pretty sure my little bear went through a Wonder Week recently. Yes, I’m still keeping track of those things. She came out of it pronouncing words more clearly and starting to put together longer phrases! Woohoo!

But I was not woohoo-ing during those few weeks. I wanted to cry. Mostly because she would not stop crying. She was super clingy, and would not pause even when I was mere inches away (or even touching her) across a baby gate. I had to be interacting with her on her side of the gate or she’d throw a fit. So naturally, when hubby came home, I was tempted to throw a fit, in my own quieter grown-up way. This wasn’t really working out for any of us, so I decided it was time to look into something new to snatch her attention, in case this “Wonder Week” lasted for more than a week. Which it did.

I have been wary of caving into TV time (though truth be told, I’m thisclose to giving in), so I started looking for other solutions online. Toddler activities, including “busy boxes” and “quiet bags” filled my screen. Many boxes were labeled by day of the week, filled with craft doodads like feathers and pom poms and pipe cleaners which I had not touched since my own elementary school days. I can’t say I was the best about doing crafts as a teacher, so this is not my forte. So it’s time for busy boxes and quiet bags, huh?  I thought to myself. I had always seen them on Pinterest, but I guess when you have an infant, those things seem way too advanced. But I no longer have an infant. I have a full blown toddler, and God knows this age group is not my area of expertise. Especially from 4-6pm.

So I skimmed a few blogs, pinned a few ideas, and started shopping away on Amazon. Here are some themes I’m finding for the 1-2 year old set:

So I picked up plastic shoe bins, gathered an assortment of craft knick-knacks, and started foraging for empty containers. Here’s the first thing I came up with:

Busy box pushing pipe cleaners through holes (2)+Busy box pushing pipe cleaners through holes (1)

All I really had to do was punch some holes into the top of an old oatmeal cylinder and twist some pipe cleaners together. Little girl took to her new toy immediately and was pushing away for at least half an hour the first day, and about twenty minutes the next day when we brought it to church to occupy her since we had to keep her with us during service that Sunday. A friend of hers, who is about a year older, also enjoyed the activity, and was able to match the pipe cleaners with the colors of the holes as well! It occupied him a good twenty minutes before he lost interest, which gives me hope that this will keep her occupied decently well in the next year!

Here are the basic instructions to make it yourself!

July 13, 2015

reading strategy - activating background knowledge

What do you remember about reading as a child? Do you recall doing whole-class reading, with one child reading out loud while everybody else followed along in the thick anthology reader? Did your teacher read aloud to you after lunch, letting you rest your recess-sweaty head on the cool desk while watching Ashley make faces at you? Did your whole class do units on a book together, working through packets and making book jackets at the end?

We all have memories of what it was like to be taught to read in school, and even though the format may be different, reading continues to be just as vital of a skill as it ever was. You already know a lot about what it’s like to learn to read, and that information will help you as you learn to teach your child to read!

…See what I did there? :) Before jumping into my lesson, I activated your background knowledge. CLEVER HUH? 😀 (Yes, I am really feeling quite pleased with myself right now :D).

What does it mean to activate background knowledge?

When you activate background knowledge, you are basically helping a child unearth information she already knows and pulling it to the forefront of their mind. If you’re reading a story about dogs, then you’re asking the child what experiences she’s had with dogs before. If you’re starting a unit on the planets, you can ask them what things they’ve seen in the sky before. If it’s a unit on the Gold Rush, then you ask children to think about ideas they’ve had to make money (selling lemonade, doing chores, etc.).  Activating background knowledge will help your child make sense of new information and also help them remember new information that they read. And what’s the point of reading unless you are going to remember what you read?

I think the reason this is such an effective strategy has something to do with brain theory. I remember learning in college that new information sticks better when it is connected with old information. Sometimes, I even draw my students this diagram and tell them, “You already know a TON of stuff. If you can connect the new stuff you learn to the old stuff you already know, chances are you will remember it much better. If you just learn new stuff without connecting it to something you already knew before, it will be harder to remember.”

retaining new knowledge

July 11, 2015

reading strategy - monitoring comprehension

“Okay, son. It’s 3pm. Time for reading. Get your books, I’m going to set the timer!”

Your child drags his feet away from the snacks and pulls out a thick, pictureless book from his backpack. Nice, you think to yourself with satisfaction, that looks like a serious chapter book! 

He settles down onto the sofa and starts thumbing through his book. You settle down at your computer and click away while he reads away. Getting those 20 minutes in of required reading every day isn’t so hard, right? But here’s the thing: A compliant, quiet kid in front of a thick book does not mean useful reading is happening. Here are the telltale signs your child is just enduring those minutes without processing many words at all:

Sure, if you have plans to take him swimming with friends in an hour, then time may feel like it’s passing slowly for him while he’s reading… but if these are regular characteristics of your child during silent reading time, it wouldn’t hurt to check in and see if this book is the right level for him.

When I first started teaching, I was surprised to find how frequently students chose books that were too hard for them. Some chose them because their friends recommended it and liked it, and they wanted to try it out. Some chose the too-difficult book because they wanted to look like they were reading at a higher level than they actually were able to. Others chose it just because the title or picture on the front cover looked interesting, with little regard to whether or not they could actually understand the text. Choosing a “just right” book merits a couple mini-lessons all its own in the beginning of the year!

As a teacher, I always made it a point to keep an eye on what books my students were reading. If I saw any of the telltale signs listed above (boredom, disinterest) or simply knew that a book was beyond a particular students’ reading level, I’d pull them back for a quick check to make sure they really picked a “just right” book. Most often, the book was indeed too hard. Ideally, though, it doesn’t take a teacher or an adult to tell a young reader that a book is too difficult for him. Ideally, a child will be able to tell himself that a text is too hard within the first page of reading it. Many students do pick up on this quickly, but others won’t pause to think about it unless I point it out for them. These students are weak in monitoring their comprehension: they don’t get that they are not getting it!

What does it mean to monitor comprehension?

July 7, 2015

What is guided reading

We started reading to our infant from Day 1. Okay maybe Day 3 or 4, after we got home from the hospital… but it was soon. Even though I knew she was a mere infant, teacherness oozed out of me as I held her in my lap:

In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of… Sweetie, what do you think they’ll say next? Can you make a prediction? If you look at the illustration, they give some great hints– what pictures do you see? Oooh, a COW? Yes, I think they might talk about a cow… or maybe some bears! Let’s see! The cow jumping over the moon and there were three little bears sitting on chairs. Look at that! Cows and bears! Just like we had predicted!

It’s a simple enough text, but every night, I found myself delving into various reading strategies with my infant, making connections to other books we’d read, encouraging her to make predictions on what would happen next, or posing questions as we made our way through the pages. I couldn’t help it. Reading strategies ran through my veins, and reading out loud without teaching them felt stiff and awkward.

My husband always  marveled when he overheard the discussions “we” had during these reading sessions. “Wow, you’re so good! How do you even think of all these things to talk about? This is so great! I’m so glad she has you to teach her!”

Isn’t he nice? 😀 I mean he could have laughed and reminded me that most 10-day old babies don’t appreciate doing guided reading every day, but instead he was encouraging and excited that our little daughter would have a teacher mommy to help her think well while reading.

Sometimes he expressed disappointment in himself, “Man, I’m so boring when I read. I just read straight through the text. I don’t know what to talk about while we read. You should do a post on your blog on how to read with kids!”

“You think so?”

“Yeah! That’d be great! I’m sure other parents would want to know better ways to maximize reading time with their kids, too!”

And the more I thought about it, the more I was sure this was something that needed to be shared. After all, twice a year at parent conferences, I found myself wishing parents could just sit down and do guided reading with their kids the way I did. Johnny was “approaching grade level standards,” and I made sure to work in small reading groups with him twice a week for 20 minutes each time, but MAN, if his parents could sit down with him every day for twenty minutes one-on-one and do the same thing with him, I know he would make TREMENDOUS progress.

So here is my mini training program for you, parents! Not just one post, but a whole series. Teachers, please feel free to share this as a resource for your parents! I certainly can’t cover everything about guided reading that teachers know and do, but I’ll do my best to give you the basic tools to up your reading game with your child. Hopefully you will find that this makes your reading time together more enjoyable and more beneficial for your growing reader!

July 3, 2015

Cashew Milk!

I promise I’m not becoming a super health nut (har har). But a friend wrote glowing reviews about making cashew milk on Facebook, and curiosity got the best of me. Plus, the recipe was promisingly simple: 1) Soak cashews for 4 hours, then 2) Add water and some simple flavoring and blend.

As she wrote about various types of nut milk, all-capped words like “SO GOOD!” and “AMAZING” stood out to me, not to mention “It tastes like chocolate milk even without the chocolate!!” (hazelnut milk, that is). Well if that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will.

Plus, I had this huge tub of cashews I had bought at Costco to make these grain-free waffles (thanks to a tempting photo from a friend on Instagram) and had plenty to use up. So last week, I threw a cup of cashews into some water and the next morning, I whirred it up to make the lovely bottled concoction pictured above.

It was YUMMY! Creamy, cool, refreshing. It reminded me a lot of how I like to jazz up my vanilla almond milk, since I add honey, cinnamon, and vanilla extract to that, too. But much creamier. Although I’ve never attempted a nut milk from scratch before, it was a much easier process than I had expected. No straining or anything. That means few dishes, little hassle, and no waste! I thought my Vitamix had something to do with the super creamy and smooth consistency of the milk, but the original author of the recipe says any ‘ol blender will do.

I thought it’d be a one-time recipe experiment, but after I finished the last glass, I found myself craving more, so not only did I blend up another big batch and finish up the last of my cashews, but I got a WHOLE NOTHER TUB of the nuts so I could keep going! I’ve made several batches now. I’m kind of addicted to the stuff now. Who would have thought?? I feel healthy adding a glass to my morning breakfast– it’s easy protein and tastes darn delicious! I recommend. Try it and let me know what you think!

June 30, 2015

Reader's workshop

We all know it’s important for kids to read. I already made a push for you to get your kids in front of some books this summer, and I’m guessing many of you already do that… mostly because I’m willing to bet most of you are readers yourselves (you’re here reading my blog, aren’t you? :)). As I’ve shared before, one of my goals this summer is to teach you how to teach your child to be an even better reader! If you haven’t seen the introductory post to this series, please take a look-see over here before you continue. I’m going to continue building on previous posts, so there will be a lot of linking back to help y’all stay caught up if you’re just joining the party!

Today’s topic is an overview of the Reader’s Workshop model. Many schools are doing it, and understanding the model better will give context to the rest of my reading posts since this is the approach I used as a teacher. I really like the Reader’s Workshop model. Maybe it’s because that’s how I was trained to teach reading in my teaching program. Maybe it’s because I only applied to school districts that I knew were using it. Maybe it’s because that’s the only way I’ve ever taught reading. But I really, really like it! Good thing, too, because with the new Common Core standards, it looks like a lot of districts are moving in this direction. I’m happy to know that my children will probably be taught with this model, and that if I ever decide to reapply for a teaching position, I at least have this under my belt!

You’ve probably heard about the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop model before, but do you know what your child actually does during this time? While specific activities and lessons will vary from teacher to teacher, day to day,  I’d like to give you an overview of what this is all about. You can find a wealth of information about the program online, so for this post I’ll simply walk you through one typical day in my Reading Workshop period. Hopefully this will give you some context for what many of your children are experiencing in the classroom and also give you some helpful background for some of my upcoming posts!