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cuppacocoa
April 1, 2021

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Instant Coffee + sugar + hot water. Blend. Dollop onto milk.
So. Good.

I was pretty sure I was the last person to hear about this delightful coffee concoction, but when I texted a photo to one of my friend groups last year, 4 of the 5 didn’t know what it was. When I posted it to my IG account, enough people asked what it was that I decided there were definitely more people that needed to know about it. And bloggers don’t let readers miss out on recipes that are both super easy and super yummy (and extremely Instagrammable). So I wrote this post up for y’all, and then… I forgot about it? I don’t know what happened, but here we are a year later, and I will now think of this as my “1-yr anniversary with Dalgona Coffee” celebratory post. If you haven’t tried it yet, this coffee whip is everything you are hoping it would be: creamy and frothy (without using any cream), tasty, and EASY.

It’s been about a year now since I started making it. As we had all started to adjust to the new normal of hunkering down at home last spring, I watched the world learn new things: how to bake banana bread, how to bake sourdough, and how to make Dalgona coffee. Dal-what?? What was this beautiful creation, and how could I get it in my life?!

It’s really as easy as this picture says:

I use Bustelo instant coffee and 1 tablespoon of sugar (I prefer my milk tea with 50-75% sugar, for reference)

The ingredients are easy to procure, and it’s a texture and taste I would pay good money for. But I don’t have to! You can totally make this at home!

What do I use to blend it?

The main question is how you plan to blend the coffee whip. If you have a hand immersion blender with a whisk attachment, I definitely recommend that. It’s what I use, and it takes about 30 seconds to whip up (unless you’re ridiculous like me and try to do it one-handed while taking a video and end up splattering it on everything within a 2 ft radius).

If you don’t have a hand immersion blender with whisk attachment, the most common recommendation seems to be to use a hand mixer (but you’d have to wash a big bowl afterwards) or a milk frother. Though… if you have a milk frother, I wonder if you might be too fancy for instant coffee. Then again, I have a milk frother and I still like this particular drink very much.

The other option is to use a wire whisk and blend it manually. I’ve read online that it is taking people upwards of 20 minutes when using a whisk, and someone even told me it took an hour. And I honestly couldn’t imagine why. Maybe he tried a little bit of liquid in a big bowl? So I tried it myself and timed it, just so I could tell you here.

First I put the ingredients into a glass, then spun the whisk around with my hands like I was trying to start a fire. I stopped when it was about 3-4x the volume of the original mixture, which took exactly 5 minutes. I dolloped half of the coffee whip into a glass of milk for Ben, and the other half for myself. Stir, sip, and…

It was delicious!!! True, the final result is *slightly* less pretty, but it tasted just as good and still had that wonderful creamy texture. Honestly. And if you were willing to do the fire-starter method for longer (maybe tag team with someone), you could probably get more volume/fluffiness. But I don’t think it’s necessary.

So if the lack of a hand mixer or milk frother or hand immersion blender is keeping you from trying this, and you don’t have 20 minutes of whisking strength in your arms, then try this fire-starter whisking method!

Also, make sure you stir everything up nicely before you drink it to get that whipped texture mixed in, and use your fat boba straw to get nice big gulps of that creaminess!

March 23, 2021
Illustrated by Garth Williams in Little House on the Prairie

When I was young, I used to wish I could step into my books and live in them. I read American Girl books and wished I could knock on Samantha’s door and walk into her beautiful 1904 Victorian Christmas home. I devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of traveling west in a covered wagon in the late 1800’s, and imagined going to town to pick out ribbon for my hair or going on merry sleigh rides with friends. I read Pride and Prejudice and thought wistfully about how lovely it would be to dress up and attend one of the many fancy balls. I imagined it all through rose-colored glasses and thought someday it would be fun to dress up and pretend to live in the old days: at a farm, in a charming pioneer town, or at a ball.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but one day it dawned on me that actually, I would look really out of place dancing at Netherfield or walking along the streets of one of Laura’s childhood towns. Even if I wore a big, beautiful gown and put my hair up in lovely curls, I would stand out, and probably not in a good way. As reality settled in, I was sad to realize it probably wouldn’t be very fun at all for me. People would probably give me funny looks because my hair was black, and I would generally be out of place. Would Laura even want to be my friend?

When I was older, I saw pictures of Chinese railroad workers and learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented Chinese from entering America during the time my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder was making her way out West. I learned that Chinese women were viewed as immoral, and had actually already been banned from America several years before the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.

…Wait, what?!

Ok, nevermind, I don’t want to live in history. I didn’t want to live as a girl in China’s history, where women had to bind their feet and where baby girls were not valued as much as baby boys. And I certainly didn’t want to live anytime during American history, where racism abounded to the point where Chinese people were not even allowed into the country, and the few Chinese women that were present were treated horribly. But that was all in the past, right? Wow, I thought to myself, there is no better time and place to be a Chinese girl than in present-day America. I felt so fortunate to exist right here, right now.

If I admired America as the best place to be a Chinese girl twenty years ago, I love it with an added sense of pain and betrayal today. The recent uptick in hate crimes against Asians and the shootings in Atlanta show that a lot of that ugly old racism is still here today. I’ve long been familiar with the fear that comes with being a female walking alone at night: I stay aware of my surroundings, I grip my keys tightly between my knuckles, and I sometimes run to my car in a flurry of fear and anxiety.

This past year has presented me with another layer of fear to live with: being Asian and leaving my house–at any time of the day. In broad daylight, I keep a close eye on my surroundings, especially if I am in an unfamiliar (and less diverse) city. Instead of gripping my car keys more tightly, I brace myself for a racial slur or a comment and try to stay mentally ready with a possible response. I wonder to myself, Would I push back and defend myself in order to fight against the stereotype of the passive Asian? Or is it better to simply protect myself and leave? What if my kids are with me? Does protecting them mean to flee, or does it mean showing them what it looks like to say something and stand up for yourself?

When I hear about racists harassing Asians at local grocery stores and gas stations, a common theme that pains me is learning how nobody stood up for them. If anyone were to target me and spew racist comments my way, I would be upset. But if there were other people around and nobody intervened or said anything to me after, I would be devastated. Silence is complicity. And then I can’t help but wonder: What would I do if I were a bystander? Would I say something to the harasser? Would I step in? Would I say something to the victim afterwards?

I like to think I would do something, but I know that if I don’t really think it through and come up with a plan, the easiest response would be nothing. In all my mental preparation, I imagine myself with sharp and silencing comebacks, but I know that the real JoEllen would probably be tongue-tied and terrified. My heart rate increases just imagining myself in such a scenario.

What should I do if I see racism taking place?

So when my friend shared a link to “Hollaback!’s Bystander Intervention Training to protect others from harassment in public settings,” I gave it a click. It turned out to be just what I needed:

The Five D’s are different methods you can use to support someone who’s being harassed, emphasize that harassment is not okay, and demonstrate to people in your life that they too have the power to make our communities and workplaces safer. 

Surely out of the five options, I could find at least one that felt realistic and doable. And I did. The 5D’s are: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct:

These are just snippets from the website, which is super well-organized and full of helpful graphics, examples, and tips. I highly recommend taking a look, especially if you have ever found yourself wondering what you would do if you saw someone being harassed in any way. After reading through the options, I felt like Distract and Delay were two things that I could do. I was mentally rehearsing, “Excuse me, do you know what the next stop is?” when I realized that the only time I’m on a train is when I’m traveling, so I mentally modified it to, “Excuse me, do you know where I can find the milk?” (grocery store) and “Excuse me, do you know which way the library is?” (gas station) and “Excuse me, have you seen our red ball?” (park). Whatever the situation, I feel better knowing that I’ve got a method in my pocket to use instead of simply relying on my own bravery and wit (though if I’m honest, I think even this would require some bravery from me).

This organization has full on trainings you can sign up for, but even taking five minutes to scroll through their page and think through which ones feel accessible to you is a worthwhile way to spend your time. It would mean a lot to me if you did. Any one of you. Because even that act of preparation is a way of saying you care and have sympathetic intentions.

And if someone ever says mean stuff to me in the future, I really hope a bystander will show that they care. The website shares that “Research shows that even a knowing glance can significantly reduce trauma for the person who is targeted. One of the most important things we can do is to let the person who is targeted know, in some way, however big or small, that they are not alone.” So if you ever see someone yelling “China Virus!” or “Kung Flu!” at someone, please do something and be one of the helpers.

Let’s stop it before it begins

You know what would be even better than seeing a bystander step in and stand against harassment? If there were no harassment in the first place. If the person spewing unkindness had instead been taught, at a young age, to treat others with respect, compassion, and empathy. If that person had been exposed to all sorts of different people with different skin tones and different traditions and different backgrounds, and learned to appreciate the differences rather than to use them as a way to feel superior.

This is something that is super important to me as a parent and educator. One accessible way to teach this to my kids is with books. I have always valued having my bookshelves full of diverse authors and characters, and I want the same thing to be accessible for families everywhere. I was delighted to learn that my husband’s coworker Tony had compiled an extensive list of diverse book recommendations into a tidy spreadsheet, and I was even happier when he said I could share it with you all. You can search for books based on the reader’s age, the character’s appearance and skin tone, and even whether the protagonist is female or not. There are nearly 300 titles listed, but this list is actually a portal to many more books than that since oftentimes only one book is listed to represent an entire series. I’ve already checked out several titles from the list that our whole family has enjoyed, and encourage you to do the same!

Some personal favorites of mine on the list include Last Stop on Market Street, Jabari Jumps, Jamaica’s Find, Dragons and Marshmallows (part of a series), and the Mindy Kim books (part of a series). I would also add The Proudest blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, and The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig. I appreciate books that share about the specific ethnic backgrounds and experiences of diverse characters as well as the ones that portray kids with various skin tones as simply normal American kids. It’s important to me that my Asian American kids, for example, read books about Asian characters that aren’t always about dumplings or folktales, but also books where Asian characters are simply regular kids at school. That’s one of the reasons why The Invisible Boy is one of my all-time favorite children’s books! It’s a story that shares about compassion within a bunch of regular kids, one of whom happens to be an Asian American child.

It’s also important to me that other kids in America are reading books about Asian characters that aren’t always about dumplings or folktales, but also books where Asian kids are simply regular kids at school. I want our heritage to be appreciated, but I also need for our Asian kids not to be othered. And of course I want this for every kid, not just Asian ones! So I love this list and hope you can take a moment to peruse it and find something just right for you and your family to check out from the library or purchase.

Let’s Do Better

America has come a long way. I mean look, I’m here! And I feel so fortunate and lucky to be here for many, many reasons. But we haven’t made it, yet. We still have a long way to go. It’s hard to imagine an America where everyone is truly respected and regarded as an equal, but I have to hope that things can get better. I believe that if we all keep taking these small steps to work towards that–learning how to be a helpful bystander, teaching our kids to appreciate the differences in people around them–the world really will be a better place.

I hope you can take these steps with me.

February 19, 2021
Chocolate Babka Roll with Chocolate Streusel (YUM!!) and Fudge Filling (mmmMMmMMm)

There is so much I love about Melissa Clark’s Chocolate Babka recipe: The fudge filling, simple syrup, and most of all, the chocolate streusel! I could eat that streusel every day.

Melissa Clark’s Chocolate Babka is bread and chocolate heaven:
Fudge filled swirls topped with chocolate streusel and finished with simple syrup. YUM.

But as often as I would love to toast up a thick slice of chocolate babka, I don’t always have it in me to make it. It can take 6-27 hours to finish, depending on how long you let it rise for, so I set out to find a way to adapt my favorite elements of her babka and turn it into a roll. After going through and trying various recipes online, I found a combination I LOVE: pillowy, soft bread dough (the same one used for the copycat Cinnabon rolls I make) and the three elements of Melissa Clark’s 26 hour babka that I love best: the fudge filling, the syrup, and the streusel! These last three can all be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge until you’re ready to make the bread dough.

This shot is not representative of how much fudge filling there is. I think it was one of the end pieces of the roll, but trust me–it’s very chocolatey!

The other thing I love about having this in roll form is that I can easily wrap and freeze each roll individually to enjoy weeks later for a midnight snack or a treat-breakfast. If you’re looking for your next pandemic baking project, give these a try! They’re so delicious!


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December 30, 2020

Back in May, when we were all trying to figure out how to stay sane while staying home all the time, I decided to make DIY milk tea kits for some friends. A lot of our favorite milk tea places, like Boba Guys, were temporarily closed and I thought this would be a nice way to add some delight to a very difficult time. I make milk tea at home all the time, so it’s not unusual for me to have a jar of simple syrup ready to go in the fridge and my favorite tea leaves (specifically for milk tea) in the cupboard. I’ve learned over time that you can’t just substitute milk or condensed milk in willy nilly; you have to have a really rich and creamy milk component or the whole thing will come out unsatisfyingly watery.

But if it’s your first time trying it, all these components can be mini hurdles that make the whole endeavor kind of frustrating: figuring out which tea leaves actually work well in a milk tea, the annoyance of boiling up and cooling down some simple syrup, and learning the hard way that even your whole milk is not creamy enough to give your milk tea the body you were hoping for.

So I tried to make a kit that would be as user-friendly as possible! Inspiration came easily, as Boba Guys had just published The Boba Book (aff. link)! It could not have been more well timed: Their shops weren’t open, but now we had the secrets to their magical concoctions at our fingertips!

This book is fantastic. I have especially enjoyed their recipes for Classic Milk Tea and Roasted Banana Milk!

After ordering their recommended tea leaves, I tried out their recipe and it really hit the spot! I knew I wanted to share it with more people, so I ordered more packs of tea and made kits including bottles of premade house syrup and half and half. Finally, I made little instruction cards to print out and include with the kit.

Print these simple instructions out on cardstock, cut in half, and tuck into your kit!

All of the required ingredients for the Classic Milk Tea are included in the kit (except the optional toppings… apologies to the boba lovers!). If your friend runs out of syrup, instructions are included to make more. But at least for their first few go arounds, the pre-made bottle of syrup should make things a bit easier!

To make the kits, I ordered a set of these cute bottles on Amazon (affiliate link). They’re kinda pricey, but pretty packaging makes my heart sing, and I needed all the uplifting I could get back in May! Plus, I have used the extra bottles a ton since then to store my own syrups, condensed milk, lemon juice, salad dressing, etc. at home. They’re great!

Next, I boiled a large batch of house syrup, let it cool, and divvied them out into the jars. I bought a half gallon of half and half and filled up more jars, and then put together the kits with the tea leaves and instructions. Voila! Happiness in a little box! I made sure my friends were home when dropping them off so they could refrigerate the liquids immediately. This part was not hard, since everybody was home. All. The. Time. (And we’ve all been back at home again for the last month! What’s the situation where you live? I’m *SUUUUPER* curious to hear how it is in other states and countries!!).

And that was it! Spreading sunshine, one milk tea kit at a time! Happily, the Boba Guys shops have re-opened, but if you don’t have one near you, you can recreate their delicious drink in your own home! Whether you decide to make your own sets of kits to share with friends or attempt to make some milk tea for yourself, I really hope this can bring some cheer and delight to YOU in what has been a very difficult year!

I hope you are all well, and I would love to hear from you and and how you are doing and managing during this unprecedented year. Hope you had a happy holiday, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

November 29, 2020
Our new Thanksgiving tradition!

We had a quiet thanksgiving at home this year, and as much as I missed hugging my grandparents and seeing my relatives, the day turned out to be really lovely. Since we didn’t have any place to go, or anyone else to cook for, I felt truly free to do whatever I wanted and spend relaxed time with my family. So after a quiet day of pom pom animals, Legos, and Sleeping Queens (affiliate link to our current family game obsession), we sat down to a delicious meal of hot pot and apple pie. Does it get any more Chinese American than that?

Hot pot: Choosing from a generous spread of thinly sliced meats, veggies, and noodles to dip into flavorful simmering broth, taking it out when it is perfectly cooked, and dipping it into your own bowl of tasty, customized sauce. Each bite is freshly cooked, hot, and soul-satisfyingly delicious! It’s such a fun way to gather and eat! This photo is from my friend Lily’s table, because apparently several of us had the same idea, and her spread was way prettier than ours!

One of the best things about hot pot is that other than a well-timed grocery run, there isn’t much prep. All the cooking happens at the dinner table, which left me even more time to tinker freely in the kitchen all day. So I decided to make an apple pie. A simple but fancy-looking one with a pretty braided lattice pattern a la Chrissy Tiegen. I had three goals for my pie: make something easy but delicious, make it not too sweet, and try the pretty braided lattice design.

My big little girl did most of it!

I used store bought crusts from Trader Joe’s, fresh Golden Delicious apples from our CSA box, and tweaked a recipe I had found on allrecipes.com for the filling, hoping to avoid the overly sweet filling that I usually associate with apple pie.

It may look tedious, but it’s 2020, and this braided lattice design turned out to be really fun and satisfying to do! I’m not sure if JoEllen in 2021 will have the time or patience to cut and braid strips of dough for a beautiful pie, but if my daughter’s in, then I’ll try make time for it! Seeing her delighted smile at her unhurried, relaxed Mama as we stood side by side making pie made me realize, for the upteenth time, how much I need to slow down and enjoy these small moments. My full presence and unhurried enjoyment of hers leaves the biggest impression on her, and I think it’s these little things that she’ll remember the most someday.

After filling our bellies with hot pot, we all managed to find some space to enjoy pie together. The story of actually eating the highly anticipated pie turned into a saga and memorable moment that deserves its own post (filed under “parenting”)… but I’ll have to save that story for another time. Suffice it to say, the pie was delicious and we just might have started a new family tradition with it!


Apple Pie
Adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt the 1/2 c butter in a saucepan. Whisk in 3 tbsp flour to form a paste. Add 1/4 c water, 1/3 c sugar, and 1/3 c brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Stir in 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Reduce temperature and let cool slightly, then pour over your sliced apples and mix so that slices are coated.
  2. Place the bottom crust in your pan. Fill with apple mixture, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work crust.
    Note: If you’re worried about your outer edges burning, wrap with a strip of foil for the first 30 minutes of baking.
  3. Bake 15 minutes in the middle of preheated oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350°F. Continue baking for 35-50 minutes, until apples are soft and the lattice design is golden brown.
    Note: If your pie pan is on the small side, place a baking sheet on the rack underneath to catch any dripping.

Enjoy!!

*I used to think Granny Smith apples were the ideal apples for pie, but Kenji at Serious Eats recommends Golden Delicious, and I’m glad I went with it! If you do go with Granny Smith, you might want to increase your sugars up to 1/2 cup since they’re a bit more sour.

September 8, 2020

This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.

I am happy that I can recall the exact moment I suspected she was expecting. We were driving in the car on the way to an amusement park when she remarked how she felt oddly queasy that week. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and there was a pregnant pause as I waited to see if she would finish that train of thought. “Soo…” I finally ventured, “Queasy, eh?”

And here we are, eight months later, and she’s a mommy!

I’m so glad I can remember that moment together with her: the anticipation, the excitement, the wonder of it all, sitting next to her in the car. Part of me is also sad that we weren’t able to see her grow over the last few months, talking strollers and baby carriers and morning sickness after church service on Sundays. When it was time to plan her baby shower, I wanted to do everything I could to make it as special as we could, despite the distanced nature of everything.

You can find lots of ideas for how to throw a virtual shower online, like sending out electronic invitations (evite is great!), setting up a Google Meet or Zoom meeting, and ideas for games to play online together. Today, I want to share with you some specific ideas and special touches we tried to think of to make her baby shower extra special! These can be adjusted to work for any celebratory event, such as a bridal shower or birthday party, as well!

Group Gift: Start Baby’s Library

I love this idea that I came across at another friend’s baby shower: bring a book (can be secondhand) and write a note in it for the baby! What a special way to start the baby’s library, or grow a young child’s library! It’s a treasure they can enjoy for years to come. I saw this really cute poem on Zazzle that I wish I had used:

Just one last request
that won’t be too hard,
please send baby a book
instead of a card.

Whether a book that is old
or one that is new,
please sign the inside cover
with a note from you.

Since it was a virtual shower, we invited each guest to send a book to us ahead of time. Some wrote their notes in and mailed the books to us, others ordered off Amazon and had it shipped to us (we wrote the notes in for them), and some local friends simply dropped it off at our homes. We put all of the books on display using this cute book rack and gave it to her the day of her baby shower. She loved it! It was a sweet way to put a personal touch on things when we couldn’t all be together in person.

Updates From the Guest of Honor

Whether at an in-person event or a virtual one, there is always that time early on in the party where guests get to (have to?) mingle. Usually we do it in small groups over snacks or drinks, but in a virtual gathering, let’s be honest: it’s kind of weird. If making small talk in a small group was a little awkward before, imagine being the host to a virtual party where dozens of attendees stare at you, muted, waiting for you to get things rolling while you wait for everyone else to arrive.

I was kind of dreading it when I got a GREAT idea! People weren’t here to see me, after all. They wanted to see and celebrate HER! It occurred to me that most friends of the mom-to-be had not seen her in person for months, and would enjoy getting updates on how things were coming along– baby bump photos, fun little moments throughout the pregnancy, and other ways that she was preparing. Since my friend isn’t super active on social media, I invited her to send a few photos showing some highlights from the last few months, or any photos of her nursery if she wanted to share.

I put the photos together into a simple slideshow using Google Slides and I used “Screen Share” to allow all the attendees to see my screen as I presented the slideshow. We started off the baby shower with her sharing about each photo. It was cute, heartwarming, funny, and a great way to get things started while putting all of the social attention on the person we all came to see!

Games to Play

There are so many options online for games to play online. A simple search on Etsy for “baby shower games” will yield dozens of options in adorable themes. This Nursery Song Emoji Pictionary game was especially fun! One idea I got from another friend was to use Zoom’s “Breakout Room” feature to make small groups that could work together. We would explain the game, then send everyone into a breakout room for 5-10 minutes to work on the game answers together. We all came back and shared answers before breaking out again. It definitely made the party feel more intimate and personal instead of only a large group gathering.

Read Aloud for Baby

read aloud is just what it sounds like: someone reads a book out loud. If you do a quick search on YouTube, you can find a read aloud on almost any popular children’s picture book! I thought it would be cute if we put something together so the baby could still hear our voices, especially since many of us wouldn’t be able to meet the little one in person for quite a while. A read aloud seemed like just the ticket.

Since the baby shower had the safari animal theme, I thought of one of my kids’ favorite books: Giraffes Can’t Dance. The storyline was great, and the text was also conveniently divided into rhyming stanzas. For a group gift, we asked each guest (attending or not) to take a quick 10 second video or audio clip of themselves reading a stanza. They sent me their clips and I compiled them into one long audio file (I used Windows Movie Maker), and then played the audio while taking a video of the book.

We were able to play the read aloud during the baby shower, and now the parents have the file so they can play it for their baby any time they want!

Conclusion

It’s not easy planning something that is engaging, interactive, personal, and fun during this time, but at least we have virtual options! I’m sure some of you have had to plan a shower or virtual party during the last few months, and I’d love to hear other ideas you have for making the party more fun, smooth, or special! If you have a party coming up, I hope some of these ideas are helpful and that your special person feels the love and warmth from everyone!

August 22, 2020

There’s a pandemic, so we have to stay home. There are fires in California and the air is depressingly smoky outside, so we can’t even play in the yard. There are two children in the house who I had promised a beach trip to last week, and I continue to learn the painful lesson that I really have no control over what’s happening next week, tomorrow, or even today. Like, will we have power, and will I actually get to cook dinner tonight? Who knows.

Another place I had been planning to bring them was to the local mini golf course. I had brought them before, but they didn’t seem to appreciate the fun of it that time: the hills, slopes, open-and-shutting-door, excitement of getting a low score. Hm, I thought to myself, maybe we’ll do a practice round at home first. Then they can see how the whole thing works and maybe appreciate the real thing more when we finally get to it!

So a couple days ago, in the midst of a depressed indoor slump, we decided to make our own mini golf course in the house! We already had a pile of recyclables (old cardboard boxes and sheets, cardboard tubes, etc.). I gave them six red disposable cups and we went around the house setting up obstacles together. The first hole started at the top of the stairs. I tapped my ball down and… got a hole in one! The kids didn’t understand the game well enough at that point to appreciate my accomplishment, but at least Ben cheered for me 🙂

Those foam things have lived lives as horses, swords, bumpers, and boat paddles so far!

The second hole had a ramp:

Keeping it classy with blue tape and red Solo cups.

The third hole had a tunnel and two tissue boxes to knock down:

We moved the starting circle closer to the tunnel when the kids went. Do whatever you need to keep it fun (and not frustrating) for the kids!

The kids were really into the ramps:

The round alphabet circles marked the starting point for the tennis balls we used as golf balls.

We kept score, which was good number-writing practice for the younger one and good adding practice for the older one:

We had a great time working our way around the house, hollering at exciting moments and high-fiving like it was a championship event. We taught the kids little things like waiting for the ball to stop before hitting it again and tapping the ball instead of pushing it around. It was really fun! We were so loud with our cheers that I worried the neighbors would be concerned, but I guess no one was outside to hear our ruckus. The kids were beaming and Ben and I had our share of laughs and it was seriously one of the best nights we’ve all had together in a long time!

At first I thought I’d have to play easy so one of the kids could win, but by hole four, I started to realize that they didn’t need me to go on easy mode. It was too late–the kids were in the lead, and in the end, the youngest one won! It was so cute. When I declared his totally legitimate victory, he had such a strong emotion he ran around the house in a circle in excitement! It was so cute!

This can be a fun activity for all ages. Older kids will really enjoy the opportunity to get creative with the obstacles and probably require less help tearing tape and setting things up. They have also probably had more experience at an actual real life mini golf course so they’ll have more ideas for each hole. If you find yourself stuck at home and unable to go outdoors safely, maybe this is the activity for you and your family tonight, too!


Here are some basic guidelines for setting it up:

Materials:

Instructions:

  1. Map out a general course around the house. It can start upstairs, be creative!
  2. Use something to mark the starting point for each hole. We used these round alphabet circles, but an “X” made with blue tape works just fine, too.
  3. Set a cup down sideways as the “hole” and secure it with blue tape.
  4. Use household objects or clean recyclables to set up obstacles in between. Get creative!
  5. Get a piece of paper to keep score.
  6. Gather everyone and play!

Tips:

August 7, 2020

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Now that we’ve decided to homeschool our kids for the year, I have started scrambling to get supplies to keep our space organized, functional, and to promote enjoyable learning. I already feel like I’m one step behind, as things are more expensive than usual or only bulk quantities are available. The new chapter of pandemic shopping has arrived.

I have a bunch of friends who are also working to prepare their space for kids learning at home, and I thought it could be helpful to throw together a quick list of recommended supplies to have on hand at home. Here’s a collection of supplies I think can help keep your space organized, kids focused, and everyone a little more sane this year as we bunker down and get learning!

I’m assuming most kids will be starting off with distance learning (vs. homeschooling, where the parent is the main teacher), so this list is adjusted for that. If you’re on a tighter budget or short on space, I’ve suggested alternatives that can still help make things more functional without breaking the bank. Of course when it really comes down to it, the main must-have is probably the technology required to connect to the teacher and do the assignments, and I hope your school districts can provide that for you if needed! Here are more items that can help things run more smoothly at home.


Keeping the space organized

Rolling Utility Cart: This cart is key to clearing up valuable surface area on our shared desk and keeping our space feeling (more) zen. I also got a bunch of 4″ plant pots from IKEA and filled them with supplies. The top level holds our most frequently-accessed supplies: sharpened pencils, sharpies, paint brushes, colored pencils, crayons, markers. The lower levels hold other tools and supplies that we want handy: scissors, rulers, glue sticks, glue, stamp markers, etc.

A good alternative to a rolling cart is a desk caddy, like this one that is currently still available for $1.99 at Target! By the way, if you haven’t stocked up yet, Target is currently having their annual back to school sale, where you can get basic supplies like 2-prong folders, markers and glue for just $0.50!

Individual whiteboard: This is super handy to give kids a chance to practice writing words or math problems in a fun way (what kid doesn’t love writing on a whiteboard?) and keeps you from stressing out about them wasting paper. If you’re feeling fancy, there are magnetic boards with lined sides for younger kids. If you’re feeling super fancy, these Boogie Boards have been a hit with my kids (Christmas might be a good time to throw something novel into the mix)!

Clear pocket sleeves: These are related to whiteboards, but more versatile! You can stick a sheet of white paper inside and have a functional whiteboard. For a more budget-friendly option, just use a glossy sheet protector. I use these in addition to whiteboards because you can put in worksheets you plan to use over and over (100’s chart, multiplication problems, math templates, etc.) and save on paper and printing.

Book Bins: Give each child their own place to store their folders, writing, handouts, etc. A book bin is a super handy way to keep things together without having them flopping all about in a frustrating dumpy heap. Since I’ll be sharing the homeschool space with the kids this year, I also got this pretty one for myself to keep my frequently used teaching books and papers close by and organized. It also conveniently fits in our cube storage shelf (which I LOVE).

Paper organizer: This is definitely a “nice to have” item, and we survived just fine without it before we got one. But it makes paper organization soo nice! It’s important for kids to have easy access to basic, frequently used supplies like paper, sharpened pencils, erasers, etc. so this definitely helps with the flow throughout the school day. If this one is too big or you don’t anticipate using construction paper too often, a smaller tray organizer is great for the two basics: lined paper and white computer paper.

Pencil sharpener: We have a jar of sharpened pencils always at the ready. I got an electric pencil sharpener a while back and it’s still going strong, but can’t find it on Amazon anymore so I linked one that looks pretty similar. I like that it has a small footprint and that it comes with a replacement blade! For a less expensive alternative, I also specifically like these manual pencil sharpeners, which are currently $0.50 at Target!


Materials that directly support learning

If you plan to spend more time working on academic content alongside your child, here are some supplies you might like:

Base 10 Blocks (K-5): Remember these from elementary school? They are such a useful hands-on way for kids to understand place value and how numbers are built. I like how this set includes a thousands block. If you’re on a budget, this set will also do the job.

Gear Clock (K-5): When I taught fourth grade, I was always a little appalled to see how many students still struggled to understand how to read an analog clock. I mean, it is hard, and I’ve known grownups who still struggled to read clocks. So I’ve taken it upon myself to start teaching my kids how to read the clock, because two lessons in a math workbook over the course of the year are not enough to help them really get how it all comes together. This gear clock is a great tool since it directly shows the relationship between the minute hand progressing and the smaller but important movements of the hour hand.

Blank Hardcover Book (K-5): One of my favorite items to buy for my students each year were these blank hardcover books. They would pick their favorite published narrative story and we’d walk through the steps of getting the story from their lined paper and into this blank book. It took some planning, but the end result was always such a hit! Students were so proud of their final, hardcover products, and it was so much more exciting than stapling sheets of paper together. I think kids feel a lot more excited to write when they feel like they have an audience, and publishing their work in a book like this really makes them feel like “real” authors who are writing for others.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (PreK+): I’ve blogged about this book before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again at this time. If you’re the parent of a kindergarten or first grade student, the main thing they *really* need to know by June is how to read. It is so foundational to everything else they will encounter at school that if I could only recommend one thing to a homeschooling parent concerned about kindergarten, it would be this book. More info in the blog post!


Other supplies I’ve gotten to support learning

So the following items are items I got for our family. I wouldn’t necessarily offer them as a blanket recommendation, since they are specific to the ways I want to teach and may not be relevant for your child’s stage of learning. But, feel free to peruse and check it out! I always like to see other people’s supply lists (the FOMO is strong haha) so now you can spy mine. I put an asterisk by the ones I am an especially big fan of.

Math supplies:

*Toy Register (PreK-5): Kids can stare at pictures of money all day long, but give them some play money and let them practice buying things and it will be so much more meaningful. I also set up a poster the other night to help my kids see the relationship between the various coins and the dollar bill and I am weirdly excited to walk them through it and help them make “cents” of money. 😀

*Tangrams (K-5): These are great to improve spatial visualization, familiarity with shapes, comparing skills, and understanding of fractions. I used to do these in my mom’s classroom all the time, and it probably built up persistence and grit, too, since some of those puzzles were really hard for me to solve as a little kid.

Unifix Cubes (PreK-2): Use these to practice counting, patterns, addition, subtraction, measurement, and more! Also good for improving fine motor skills in little hands.

*Geoboard (K-5): This is great for teaching shapes, symmetry, angles, fractions, and area.

Counting bears (Pre-K-1): For pre-k and primary kids. Useful to help with counting, comparing, making patterns, etc.

Counters (PreK-5): Handy for math games, counting, sorting, ten frames, bingo, and probability.

*Pattern Blocks (PreK-5): Great for developing familiarity with shapes, area, symmetry, and just good old fun designing.

*Fraction tiles and circles (1-5): I like to do the construction paper cutting version of these the first time around where the kids have a set of rainbow paper strips and we fold and cut them down, labeling each segment. However, for continued play I think these will be so much easier to manipulate. I made several magnetic sets of the circle ones when I was a teacher, and just ordered a rectangular set.

Hands-on Equations (3-5): My students always had fun “playing” with these sets and I have a feeling my kids will really enjoy figuring these out. It’s basically hands-on algebra, and even though it took a pandemic for me to pull the trigger on buying my own set, I’m really excited to teach it now!

Abacus (1-5): I watched a video on how to use an abacus and it looks really fun! I wanted to buy the pretty one from IKEA but they’re all sold out 🙁 My little cousin is an abacus whiz so maybe one day he can show my kids something cool.

Montessori Beads (preK-2): This is a very specific set of materials that honestly, I haven’t spent that much time figuring out how to use yet. But another teacher friend of mine loves them for her little one, so I thought I’d try them out. Will report back if they skyrocket to the top of my list this year!


I have other supplies here and there but they are very specific and these are the ones I wanted to highlight. Share this list with friends who are scrambling to buy school supplies and maybe the few of you can buy in bulk and save together! Or, take the extras (even I can’t imagine a use for six whiteboards) and make sweet back-to-school kits for your neighbors’ kids.

Regardless of how you and your family are doing school this year, I wish you the best and hope somehow we can all look back on this time and have fond, happy memories to recollect. I especially feel for the working parents who have to figure out how to juggle… everything. I honestly can’t even begin to imagine, and I am saying a general prayer for you all right now <3.

Like I mentioned earlier, I love to see what other people are getting, so do me a favor and drop a link to some of your favorite supplies or something you’re thinking of getting!

July 29, 2020

This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“Did you… hang out with Nathan today?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d you have for lunch?”

“Pizza.”

“Ah… cool.”

Ok, this isn’t my reality yet, but I’ve been kind of dreading the likely day when it will be. While my kids are still 100% at the WE LOVE MOMMYYYYY!!! phase of childhood, bless their little hearts, I remember all too well the distanced teen I was to my own parents, and have already tried to brace Future Me for the inevitable emotional distance that older kids can bring.

But maybe there are ways to make that time a little better. Heck, there are days even now when the kids don’t have a lot to say about their days, even when I know exactly what to ask because I’m there for pretty much all of it, whether I really prefer that or not. Sometimes, I think it’s less an issue of unwillingness to talk as it is being out of practice.

Knowing how to share meaningful tidbits is like using various muscles: As a P.E. teacher, you wouldn’t only work with your kids on the the sit-and-reach all year and then expect them to excel at running the mile, sit-ups, and pull-ups during the testing. In the same way, if we keep asking kids the same question about their days, you can’t expect them to produce the really well-rounded, telling glimpses into their minds and hearts that you’re hoping for.

Can’t I just ask my kid a bunch of different questions, then?

I remember a while back my Pinterest feed was flooded with lists of alternative questions to ask kids at pick-up: What is something that made you laugh today? Who is someone that made you smile? Who did you sit next to during lunch time? What did you play during recess? Did anything make you feel scared today? Brilliant! I thought, Surely these will tease some more interesting answers out of my child. Maybe it’s just me, but I found that my daughter’s responses still bordered on half-hearted and uninterested. I just need to think of the right question, I would think, as I tried to probe and sniff around any possible topic of interest. Most of the time, I didn’t get much.

Now, I look at those questions, and I see that they are shots in the dark. The direct question, “Did anything make you feel scared today?” might be exactly the right question if you ask it on the day when your daughter got bullied during recess. Or, you could have asked it yesterday (and therefore skipped it today)… and instead asked about the contents of her school lunch, completely missing the opportunity to hear about something you’d really want to know about. Just because you asked the right question on the wrong day.

Teach your child to SIFT through their day

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to give your children the opportunity to sift through their brains and give interesting, nuanced, and unexpected pieces of information about the things they experienced and thought about during the day? An open-ended prompt instead of a yes/no or short-answer response? A response that paved the way for natural conversation and follow-up questions that your child would be eager to discuss more together?

So, even though it seemed a tad bit too good to be true, I was pretty excited when I came across a new idea in The Whole Brain Child, a book my friend had recommended. First of all, this book was super interesting and completely worth the read. It gave me another framework from which to understand my child, my child’s tantrums, emotional outbursts, and intellectual development.

One idea from the book that has really stuck in our family is the practice of SIFT-ing through our days. This is a time when we all pause and think back on our days and SIFT through all the Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts that took place. When we are through, we have each learned something interesting and oftentimes unexpected about each family members’ day. I love it.

So how, exactly, do you SIFT through your day?

We start by sharing a sensation we can remember from the day. I tell my kids that a sensation is a “body feeling,” or something that happens in or to your body, such as feeling the wind blowing, getting really hot and sweaty, getting a paper cut, or feeling your stomach rumble when you are hungry.

By paying attention to their physical sensations, for example, children can become much more aware of what’s going on inside their bodies. They can learn to recognize stomach butterflies as markers of anxiety, a desire to hit as anger or frustration, heavy shoulders as sadness, and so on… Simply recognizing different sensations like hunger, tiredness, excitement, and grumpiness can give children a great deal of understanding and ultimately influence over their feelings.

– Siegel and Bryson, The Whole Brain Child

Asking about sensations has given me insight into annoyances like a new bug bite, risk-taking moments like climbing that big hill, and stamina-building decisions like building calluses from the monkey bars. I’ve been given access to sweet treasures like knowing my son likes to rub the smooth, satiny part of his Bear-Bear’s belly, and that my daughter really, really enjoyed the lemonade I made for her.

After sharing our sensations, we share images that we remember from our day. These can involve imaginary images (like a nightmare they had) or real ones (seeing a friend get a bloody nose at school). The authors elaborate, “When a child becomes aware of the images that are active in his mind, he can use his mindsight to take control of those images and greatly diminish the power they have over him.”

Next we SIFT for feelings we have experienced. My kids still need a good amount of coaching on this one, but being home together all the time has given me lots of fodder for “feeling” lessons. For example, my husband described to me how scared my son felt while climbing up a hill earlier that day at the park, and later we were able to recall that moment with him and help him recognize and name that feeling. We were also able to describe the triumphant feeling he had after conquering his fears! I hope someday when he is off at school, he will be able to recognize these feelings and be able to name and have more power over them. I would also love if he could remember and name his feelings so he can share about those difficult or celebratory parts of his day with us!

Finally, we share a thought that we had during the day. The authors explain, “They are what we think about, what we tell ourselves, and how we narrate the story of our own lives, using words.” For young kids, this can be something as simple as, “I thought about how to build my Lego creation,” to random, profound thoughts that cause you to exchange that raised-eyebrow look with your spouse.

In our family, we go round-robin, one letter at a time. I’ll be honest, until fairly recently, my four year old would harumph and pout when I said, “Let’s SIFT through our days!” I think the process of reflecting and really combing through his day was still very challenging for him. But remember, consistency is key! The more we kept at it, the less he grumbled, and almost every time, we ended up having interesting chats about the things that took place in his mind and heart and body that day. These days, he’s the one who remembers first and exclaims, “Let’s SIFT!!!” at the dinner table, and everyone enthusiastically joins in. I dunno how long that peppy attitude will last, but I’m loving it right now!

Conclusion

Back when school was still in session, I got angles into their school and social life I could never have asked my way into. It took a very specific path to very specific parts of their inner workings–their sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts–to learn about specific moments in their days I could never have known to ask about otherwise. It’s an excellent acronym, as the action of sifting through their brains is a great verb to describe it, and yet each of the letters stands for a truly interesting and unique aspect of their experience that I want to hear about.

My hope is that my kids will not only be willing to share about their days, but that they would have the words and ability to access the big and seemingly small moments that make up their day. I don’t need to know everything, but I love getting glimpses of these moments that made their days, whether happy or unpleasant.

July 20, 2020

Thanks for sharing your comments and thoughts on my last post as I reflected on ways I’ve been thinking about and trying to grow in my understanding of race-related issues in America today. I’m still learning, discussing with friends, and reading like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes I literally don’t have until tomorrow to finish my reading, as my library app constantly reminds me with the many books I have checked out.

I get that commenting is less common in today’s blogging culture, but if there were any posts I really wanted to hear back from you all on, it was that one! My family and I are continuing in our learning journey and would love to hear from you how you are engaging and learning, too. In the meantime, I wanted to share a recipe with you that has been on repeat this last month: Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread. I’ve already gotten friends hooked on Chocolate Shortbread, and while that is still my #1, this one is an excellent cookie that is different enough to feel like variety, but similar in all the right ways. I first heard about the recipe from my friend Wendy.

Wendy and I have been besties since high school. She is special to me in so many ways. I remember walking the hallways of our high school together, early in the mornings before school started, to pray for our classmates, teachers, and staff. And that’s saying something, because five years later in college, we were the roommates who could easily sleep in until noon if we didn’t have class. While the early morning walks didn’t last very long (we were high schoolers after all), we still had plenty of chances to bond. We had classes together, were in clubs together, went to church and youth group together, ran in cross country and played badminton together. But one of my favorite things to do with her was to bake!

One Christmas, we decided to make a variety of cookies for our friends. We had a whole bunch of cookies we were planning to bake up and package to deliver to our friends at school. There were simpler ones, like chocolate crescents, and more complicated and time-consuming ones, like the almond lace cookies, which had to be baked in multiple batches and kept us up late into the night. Being the relatively inexperienced bakers we were, we ended up staying up until 3am on a school night finishing things up! I still can’t believe we did that, and I would be surprised if any of our friends even remembered the cookies today.

But it was so worth it. We made a lifelong memory and can look back on those carefree high school days fondly. So when she sent me this message last month, it wasn’t just someone suggesting something for me to try. It was Wendy! And COOKIES!!

I made it that very week.

And readers, let me tell you, it just added another layer of cement to our already-solidified friendship. In the past, we have texted about chocolate shortbread in a way that made me feel like I had discovered a new love language, and from my very first bite of this chocolate chunk shortbread, I felt like she was hugging me all the way from the East Bay.

I used my very best chocolate on these, and it was totally worth it. My favorite way to enjoy them is not fresh out of the oven, but about 10 minutes after I take them out of the oven. Actually, my favorite FAVORITE way to enjoy them is to wait til they’ve completely cooled, then toast them for 6-8 minutes in the toaster oven (just like a slice of bread toasted to medium darkness), and then I wait another 5 minutes before taking that first heavenly bite.

This is actually how I enjoy most cookies (especially chocolate shortbread and chocolate chip cookies): toasted for 6-8 minutes, left to cool for another 5-8 minutes, and then savored: one crisp-chewy warm oozy chocolatey bite at a time. YES.

Sigh… I already ate a chocolate chunk shortbread heated this way at 4pm today, and now I have just tempted myself into another. Brb.

Ok. So while my chocolate chunk shortbread cookie is toasting, I’ll add a couple other notes:

  1. You really do need to roll it in the crunchy sugar. The original recipe calls for demerara sugar, but I had turbinado sugar on hand and it turns out they’re similar enough for this recipe. I would not substitute with regular white or brown sugar, though. The large sugar crystals add a wonderful crunch.
  2. These freeze well. I keep logs of them in the freezer next to my rolls of chocolate shortbread dough :]
  3. I’ve doubled the original recipe below. I see no reason to make only one batch, so I did the math for us. You’re welcome.
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