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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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June 19, 2020
A young man carried this sign at a local protest. It’s a mirror with the words, “It all starts here.”

A couple months ago, it was hard to imagine that anything would change my life more than the virus that suddenly confined my family to our home day after day. Adjusting to the new normal of social distancing, face masks, anxiety-ridden grocery trips, and distance learning seemed like such a dramatic shift, and I often mused on how we would all be forever changed from this experience. Little did I know that another major tilt was on the horizon. Only for me, this one would not be so much of a change in circumstances as it would be an inward growth.

I have always supported the idea of the Black Lives Matter movement, and assumed that my background in education had armed me plenty as an advocate. Yes, it was a good cause, and I hoped it would bring change, but I operated out of the safety of my personal comfort zone. I had chosen a teaching program which focused on education for social justice, and meant to do my part as a teacher intentionally trying to “level the playing field” for disadvantaged students. But in recent weeks, I have come to the realization that as much as I liked the idea, I had not really invested much of my thought, energy, or even my heart. As my close friend put it, I had not done the “pre-work of understanding the subject itself.”

I have the privilege of existing in a space where these issues don’t necessarily stare me in the face of my day-to-day life. The temptation not to care is always there, because the issues rarely affect me directly. So without even realizing it, I continued along the path of caring just enough to not feel bad about myself, but not enough to actually… feel too bad about things. I wasn’t letting myself hurt for the pain others were going through, and I grew distanced from the suffering of so many. And when I look at what Jesus was all about, I know that’s not what he would have chosen to do.

I am trying to change that. In the last few weeks, I’ve stretched myself out of my safety zone to try to engage in various forms. At first, even posting something related to #BLM on my personal Instagram felt like a stretch. Later, it took all my courage to decide to join a protest (especially after reading a post from a neighbor who said he had a gun and was ready to bring it to protect shops during the protest (which, as planned, were peaceful!)). I’ve invested time and energy I didn’t know I had engaging in conversations and prayer meetings and trying to read and watch and listen and learn as much as I could humanly cram into my waking hours. We’ve donated to new causes. I’ve tried to engage my children in conversations about racism, being more explicit about the suffering and realities of it than I have ever been.

But still, that isn’t enough. Because racism isn’t like a sickness you can identify and then cure. It’s everywhere, and it’s so ingrained in our society that we can’t always see it. Scott Woods describes racism like this:

It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it.

-Scott Woods

This post has been a long time coming, and I have started and restarted so many versions of it. As I continue to dig in and read more, watch more, and listen more, I am in awe of how much more I have to learn, and it’s a paralyzing feeling. But one message I have come across again and again is that it’s okay to find out you were ignorant or wrong: pick up and keep moving forward. As a matter of fact, it might just be one of the best things you can do.

There are many things that will get in the way of us choosing to care and be part of the change we need in our country. For one, learning can be hard: learning about yourself and uncovering your blind spots, hidden prejudices, privileges, and ignorance is not easy. Furthermore, this whole endeavor can be very uncomfortable. From reading challenging ideas to having challenging conversations with challenging individuals–it goes against every conflict-avoiding bone in my body.

And among many other things, it’s exhausting. After the first week of really trying to engage in everything that was going on, I already felt wiped out emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. At the same time, I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around the deep exhaustion and tiredness I kept reading about from the Black community as they shared about not a week of engagement, but lifetimes of injustices and fear. Every time I considered this, I felt pretty pathetic.

But feeling pathetic was not going to get me very far, and I would need to figure out how to push past that feeling. If I am going to be useful in any way and for the long haul, it’s not going to happen with me wallowing in my weakness. I’m going to have to figure out how to be resilient. Daniel Hill, a pastor in Chicago, shares this apt exhortation from a member of his congregation:

I appreciate you apologizing, but we don’t need your apologies. What we need is your resilience. It’s okay that you’re feeling weak, disoriented, and unclear as what to do. What’s not okay is that you quit because of those feelings. I need you to be resilient and to stick in the game and to walk alongside us who have no choice but to move forward.

White Awake, Daniel Hill

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday which I had never even heard of until last week, and one I hope to celebrate in some way every year from now on. It is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., and it is a celebration of freedom. When I asked the Internet to show me “how to celebrate Juneteenth as an ally,” I came across this list of “10 Things We Want White People to Do to Celebrate Juneteeth.” While I am also a person of color, I know my experiences with discrimination and racism are on a completely different level than the ones I have been reading about lately. I know I have benefited from my Asian American proximity to whiteness and all the privilege that comes with that.

So there’s a lot I can take from these suggestions, and at the heart of those ten things I am hearing the same thing: Keep trying, and keep caring. Think about racism and its effects, learn about it, and do something about it. Learn about your privilege, and then leverage it to fight this fight.

Learn. Let your learning change you, and then help change the world.
It all starts here.

May 29, 2020

TLDR: This garlic cheesy bread makes me as excited as bacon does. Serve it with spaghetti… or really any American meal, or just enjoy it on its own. Seriously it’s so easy and so tasty!! The key secret ingredient is mayonnaise. It pulls everything together and adds that extra something that makes this spread next-level!

I loved high school. I loved my friends, playing sports, and being a part of clubs and projects. It was the best when friends and sports merged together, which is one of the reasons I loved being part of the cross country team. I had initially joined to build up endurance for basketball, but it quickly became a hobby of mine in its own right. I’m pretty sure it was that freshman year of cross country when I first tried Chris’s mom’s amazing garlic cheesy bread, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Chris was my first boyfriend, and a great friend for years after that. His mom was the quintessential soccer mom. She brought snacks and treats and smiles and hugs and even gave me rides to many of the Saturday cross country invitationals, her face always bright with energy while I stumbled towards her minivan in the dark, early hours before sunrise. When I try to imagine what it will look like to be a cool mom ten years from now, I imagine being like her: full of snacks, full of smiles, and full of this CHEESY BREAD! It must have been at one of our pre-race carb-loading dinners that I had my first taste. I was hooked.

This cheesy bread was one of her specialties. We could smell it the moment we walked into their home, and would drool when it came out of the oven, hot and bubbly. Whenever Chris brought it for a potluck, it was polished off before anything else. I remember asking her for the recipe, but the only information I managed to catch was that it had mayonnaise in it. Huh. Mayonnaise. Who would have thought?? Turns out this was the KEY ingredient, and the most important piece of information I would need.

Finally, several years ago, I decided I needed to crack the code on this cheesy bread. I tinkered with basically everything tasty/unhealthy that made sense to me, and after rounds of experimenting, this was the result: Cheese, butter, mayonnaise, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. It is so easy, and it is so good. Honestly, I have no idea if it tastes anything like Chris’s mom’s actually does, but it lives up to the memory of it, and that’s something.

Spread a good thick layer on each slice!

Nowadays, this cheesy bread makes a regular appearance at our house. The kids and I are bacon-level excited about it when it is placed on the table, and I have learned to make more than I think we need because it always gets gobbled up. It’s a crispy, savory, melty, cheesy, garlicy, tasty cheese toast– what’s not to love? Plus, you probably already have most of the ingredients for it.

Do you use fresh garlic?
I usually like to add fresh minced garlic, but we didn’t have any on hand today, so I did without. And it was perfectly fine. No one missed anything. But if you have it, use it! There’s nothing like the smell of fresh garlic and cheese and butter filling up the corners of your home 🙂 Mmmm!

What kind of bread works best?
I make it on Acme’s Italian batard whenever possible, but you can use any crusty loaf, like a good French bread or sourdough. If you have an oblong loaf, you can also simply cut it in half lengthwise and spread each half with the spread, like Costco’s garlic bread. This would probably be healthier. But I enjoy a greater ratio of melty cheese spread to bread, and I like the crisped edges all around, so I do slices.

If you have humongous slices of bread (like middle slices from a big round sourdough), then cut each slice in half before spreading, otherwise the very middle will get soggy.

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May 25, 2020

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Ice + cold brew + milk + condensed milk.

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

It is supposed to get blazingly hot the next two days here, and I’m ready and prepped with my cold brew to make my favorite Vietnamese iced coffee. Once you have your cold brew ready, it’s just a matter of dumping ingredients together and shaking them up until it’s got a wonderful layer of frothy goodness ready for sipping (or gulping!). It is so, so good, and if you have never tried making it, this is as good a time as any!

If cold brew sounds very fancy to you, just think of it like this: Tea is usually leaves steeped in hot water for a few minutes. Cold brew is simply ground coffee steeped in tepid water for a few hours. And then it lasts in your fridge for like a month. I like to use ground coffee from Cafe Bustelo to make a big batch:

I’ve actually shared this recipe before, and in the last five years I have found no way to improve upon it, so please check out the original recipe to get more frothy details! What I really want to talk about here today is my mason jar setup. Specifically, my mason jar lids:

I have wanted to share about my mason jar lids for a long time now, but it always seems like a really silly thing to write about: “Guys, I have plastic lids for my big mason jars and they makes me SO HAPPY.”

But that’s the truth of it. I have reached that part of life where I have a favorite baking spatula and favorite cooking turner. When I discovered that the lid from my cast iron pot fit perfectly over my cast iron frying pan, I was absolutely elated. I might have done a little happy dance. A good pair of kitchen shears that come apart nicely for the dishwasher brings me great satisfaction, and I have never been more pleased to own reusable straws. It’s the little things, guys.

Which brings me to these plastic lids. I have a set of wide-mouth mason jars that I use all the time (why are they 10x the price on Amazon?!), and a set of plastic wide-mouth lids that I pair them with. Together, they live in my tupperware drawer, and get just as much use as my expensive Snapware does. I use them to store leftover soup, shake up milk tea, shake up iced coffee, make overnight oats, store watermelon juice, etc. They’re also handy for storing dried goods in the pantry, like leftover dried pasta or those last few handfuls of pretzels or Cheez-its.

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April 5, 2020

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April 2, 2020: I originally wrote this post in February, before COVID-19 really turned our world upside down. Let’s pretend it’s February, and that we might actually be celebrating a friend’s birthday soon and have a reason to make a whole cake.

(Or, we can just be like me and make yet another chocolate cake (or two…) to eat at home JUST CUZ. Because boy, if there were ever a time to treat yourself, this is it. I’m already wondering when the next okayest time to make another one of these is…)

February 2020

My phone lit up and I saw the happy message from my mom:

"I'm enjoying the birthday chocolate cake right now. So yummy Jo. This is the kind I want every year for my birthday until I die, :) hehe"

That’s what my mom just texted me about this cake that I just made her a few days ago. And I have to agree–it’s a pretty bomb cake. The bottom is made of a dense, fudgy, flourless dark chocolate layer that hits all those deep dark chocolate cravings. The top layer is essentially a whipped dark chocolate ganache, which means it is a huge quantity of rich, dark chocolate truffle spread out in a thick layer and called “cake.” No objections here.

Dorie Greenspan created this elegantly simple and decadent cake, and I’ve been eating multiple slices a day since Thursday, when I first delivered the cake to my mom. I ate two at her birthday dinner, and then I made a whole new cake that very night after putting the kids down. My college friend had invited us over for dinner the next evening, and I wanted to bring something delicious because she’s the kind of person who does everything with excellence and I wanted to bring something excellent for her! This cake did not disappoint.

Having made it twice in 24 hours, I naturally started to look for some shortcuts. Nothing that would compromise the amazing texture and flavor of the cake, but time-saving (and dish-saving) shortcuts to make it easier to make this heavenly concoction even more accessible in the busyness of life. So, grab your favorite springform pan and give this cake a go. If you love chocolate, you will not regret it!

P.S. If you want to go the extra mile, I’d recommend serving it with a simple raspberry sauce like this one.

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April 3, 2020
TLDR: It’s just what it looks like. Stick a toy on paper and kids trace the shadow.
Recommended for 6+ (my 4-yr old got pretty frustrated with it).
Later in the afternoon probably works better for a more slanted shadow.

If you’re like me, you’ve been inundated these last couple of weeks with links and ideas for things to do with your kids. From long emails with rows and rows of links to kid-friendly websites to Instagrammers with lists of “50 THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR KIDS” to celebrities drawing and reading stories live to kids… the world is really coming through for parents and kids! Thank you!

But, maybe also like me, you feel a little overwhelmed with the task of parsing through all of the options and paring down the list to what works for you and your family. I haven’t gone through everything. Sometimes I see common themes as I skim through my social media feeds (hello blue tape chalk art!), and sometimes, if it looks simple enough, I’ll click and open the image and check out an idea. That’s what happened with this one. My mother in law sent me an email, and the image spoke for itself: kids can trace shadows!

It looked simple, engaging, and it was outdoors. Sold. So a few days later, I grabbed a basket and walked around the house and collected various items: dolls, plastic animals, an excavator, a fire truck, and our IKEA figurine that you can bend to various shapes. I grabbed a big sheet of paper (a smaller one can also work! Just bring several sheets), some writing utensils, and took the kids outside.

I initially bent it into a layup position, but I guess she likes what she likes. Hi, ballerina.

It was exactly what it looks like: I picked out figurines I thought they could have some success with: a basic truck for my four year old, and a pony for my six year old. We set them on the paper at a good angle to capture a sharp silhouette, and I showed the kids how to trace the shadows. Then the kids traced them. My six year old stuck with the activity for a pretty long time, maybe 30-45 minutes, while my four year old got frustrated with it within the first fifteen minutes.

Check out the details on that elephant!

Some tips:

  1. Wait until later in the afternoon. At first, the sun was more overhead and didn’t create good shadows for tracing. I tried holding the toys up to make a better shadow on the paper, but it only ended up frustrating my kids more because I had a hard time keeping my hands steady.
  2. Figures with spindly legs (like animals or the IKEA figurine) seemed to work better than things with flatter bases (like excavators or rubber ducks).
  3. Maybe have your older kid trace and younger kid color in.
  4. Have your kid sit so the shadow is between them and the animal. I tried to convince my daughter to sit on the other side of the paper, so her own shadow wouldn’t get in the way (like it is in that last picture hah) but I guess she wanted to learn the hard way.

Afterwards, I cut out their favorite tracings and taped it onto construction paper for a background and hung it up. They’re pretty pleased with it. So was I. And here’s another quick and simple idea to stash in your back pocket!

March 27, 2020

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Scroll to bottom for quick recipes.

Sweet, creamy, full-bodied, delicious milk tea that you can make at home!

I have been making my own milk tea at home for years. I have also been buying it at one of the many delicious local tea shops in the area for years. I feel like a new milk tea shop opens up nearby every month or two, and we are so spoiled for options! I honestly love both, but right now, I don’t have a lot of options. We are staying home, and I’m guessing a lot of you are, too.

In group texts, my friends and I talk consistently about 1) homeschooling, 2) the status of crowds at our local grocery stores, and 3) milk tea. While milk tea may not be one of the important things missing in our lives right now, it is definitely a noticeable one. That’s bound to happen with anything that was a regular, habitual, delightful part of your life, right? One of my friends even bought a gallon full of milk tea from a local tea shop so she could have a ready supply at home (and minimize going out to get more). Another one–from a totally different friend group–is thinking about doing the same thing! I’m telling you, we are serious milk tea drinkers.

So if you, like us, are looking for ways to satisfy your milk tea cravings but are also trying to minimize the number of trips you take out into the world, then I am here to help! Here are the three milk teas I make on the regular:

  1. Taiwan Style Milk Tea: This one is most similar to what most boba shops offer. It is the classic sweetened tea + creamer combo. I like to make it in big batches and have my own liter of it in the refrigerator, available for easy consumption.
  2. Hong Kong Milk Tea: This recipe uses brown sugar and evaporated milk. It is full bodied and delicious!
  3. Hong Kong Milk Tea II: This recipe simply calls for strong tea + condensed milk, which acts as both the sweetener and the milk component. My aunt in HK gave me a huge supply of special blend tea leaves so this one has been my go-to these days. YUM.

All of these recipes have been approved by many hardcore milk tea drinkers with fancy milk tea palettes, so it’s worth giving a try!

The main thing for any of these recipes is to get the right type of tea leaves. I’ve tried substituting with Oolong, Sun Moon Lake, green, and other black tea leaves thinking it should be pretty similar, but haven’t quite figured out the formula for those yet. Actually, just yesterday, I experimented with Sun Moon Lake tea leaves I had purchased from Ten Ren, and accidentally made it so strong I couldn’t sleep until 3am. (Sorry, family, for the grouchiness that happened today). It didn’t even taste that great. So, tea leaves matter.

Also make sure you measure properly–especially the amount of water. Eight ounces is probably less than you think, and it can be tempting to add more water in an attempt to make more milk tea… but then you’ll end up with a watery milk tea and that’s not gonna hit the spot. Simply double the recipe if you need more. I usually do.

Below, you’ll find my three favorite recipes. I tried to keep it short and sweet, but you can click on the title link for more detailed posts!

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March 24, 2020

This post is part of a series where I’ll be sharing “bite-sized” ideas and activities for parents to try with their kids. I hope to offer easy, economical, educational, and engaging ideas you can feel good about your kids doing, while buying you some down time. This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.

One of the many fun, simple, and outdoor things you can do with sidewalk chalk!

There are so many things you can do with a few sticks of sidewalk chalk. You’ve probably seen different versions of this chalk art lately and there’s a good reason why! It’s fun and easy, the materials are simple, and the results are gratifying! Also, it’s a great way to strengthen those little hands if you’ve got a preschooler in the house. I’ll do a quick share on how to do this activity, and then I’ll list more easy and fun sidewalk chalk ideas below!

All you need is some painter’s tape and some sidewalk chalk. To set it up for young kids, tape down a large rectangular border. Lay a few long strips going across the rectangle as a starting point, then start tearing off smaller segments of tape to give your kids. Now they can tape down the lines themselves.

When I handed it to them, I also told them, “Use this to connect two pieces of tape. Make sure each end of your tape is touching another piece of blue tape.” I mean, you could go totally open-ended and just let them stick it wherever. I’m sure it would still look cool and be fun in the end. But if you’re going for the super geometric vibe, that specific instruction can help them make straight lines. Of course, if your kids are able , let them do all the taping themselves!

Next, let the kids color in each section. Encourage them to fill in all the spaces so that “there is no grey showing.” When they’re done, they can pull off the tape to reveal a cool creation! Tada! Take a photo and feel good about outside/art/fine motor skill/math time. Okay math might be a bit of a stretch, but if you throw in some conversation about triangles, quadrilaterals, and lines, then that’s definitely a hands-on elementary school geometry lesson right there!

I’ve seen kids create this art across several feet of fencing and also on driveways. You can encourage your kids to do different patterns in each segment (lines, dots, stripes, circles, concentric triangles, etc.), or just let them color it in to get a really vibrant result!

Tip: Check the weather forecast and wait for a day when there is no rain in the forecast for the next day or two, so you can enjoy the art longer!

Other ideas for sidewalk chalk fun:

Have other ideas? Share them below!