Heart-Shaped Raspberry Shortbread Cookies Valentine’s Day this year was followed by the notorious Texas Ice Storm of 2021. We kept it pretty low key because we spent a lot of time outside in the snow before the weather became extremely treacherous and residents began to lose …
Author: Cara Jacocks
Last holiday season I did an Instagram poll to find out who preferred Christmas dinner vs. Christmas brunch and it was exactly 50/50. Normally we wouldn’t have to choose (my parents do brunch, my grandparents do dinner) but this year (2020 when large holiday gatherings were discouraged) it was all on us! It’s a good thing we chose to keep it small because I busted out of the quarantine clink (I tested positive for Covid-19 a couple of weeks before Christmas), just in time for us to celebrate as a family of five. And doubly, it’s a good thing we decided to bake an easy, make-ahead recipe for our own little Christmas brunch (still recovering, I was very fatigued on Christmas morning). Thus, I give you the most amazing Blueberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole ever invented for our first Christmas brunch as a family of five. Fun fact – this is actually a recipe I inherited from one of my good friends who baked this up one morning on my Bachelorette Party weekend in New Braunfels. Second fun fact – we baked this for my youngest’s first birthday (an adorable lumberjack brunch) and it was a hit then too! So, this recipe is not just for Christmas and is definitely a crowd pleaser at any brunch event. Thanks for the recipe Kate!
Overnight Blueberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole
- 12 slices white bread, crust removed and cut into cubes (slightly stale Texas cut Mrs. Baird’s is what we use)
- 2 packages cream cheese, cut into 1 in. cubes
- 1 cup blueberries
- 12 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1/3 cup maple syrup (or honey)
Place bread cubes in a greased 13 X 9 inch casserole dish. Place cream cheese cubes evenly over the bread. Sprinkle blueberries over the top. In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, and syrup. Pour over the casserole. Refrigerate overnight. Set out of refrigerator while the oven pre-heats to 350 degrees. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and the center is set. Top with blueberry sauce.
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 tablespoon butter
In a saucepan, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Add in water, stirring until smooth. Heat to boiling, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add in the blueberries, return to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes or until the blueberries begin to burst. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter until melted.
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10 Tips to Survive Virtual Learning
I’m going to cut to the chase here. We had two virtual learners this semester and I was amazed at what their teachers were doing to connect with and teach our children. Simply put, not only are our kiddos’ teachers essential to all of us, but they are heroes. Period. Having said that, virtual learning isn’t exactly ideal for a kindergartener and a first grader who is enrolled in all the things (general education, special education, specials, speech therapy, occupational therapy). They both required a great deal of assistance from mom and dad and in the end, the hubs and I felt exhausted, underqualified, and underappreciated in our roles as involuntary newly minted virtual learning homeschool teaching assistants. And as soon as the schoolhouse doors opened up, our kiddos assimilated back into “on-ground” classes and we never looked back. Okay. I looked back and worried a few times. Lots of times actually. It’s the 2020 effect I suppose….so many new choices and none of them lead to positive outcomes and all of them lead to heightened levels of anxiety. At any rate, the kids are still learning on-campus for now, and looking back…there were several things we did well that helped us survive online learning with two small children, so I thought I would share! If you find yourself thrown into (or back into) virtual learning with littles, here are some tips that worked for us:
- Select a space in your home, and make it your new virtual learning classroom. It doesn’t have to be an entire room and this doesn’t have to involve an extreme makeover. Any space will work as long as you organize it. It can be a wall, a corner, a cubby, a closet…any spot you want to dedicate to at-home learning will work. For example, we transformed our breakfast nook into a home office that has evolved into somewhat of a homework station over the last year, so this was the space we used.
- Organize your space. You’ll need some basics like a table or desk, a desk chair (see my suggestions below) and some baskets or drawers for supplies. Then of course, organize it into submission! I spent an entire day organizing our space. The rest of the house looked like a landmine had exploded, but our virtual homeschool classroom was in tip top shape when classes began! As it should be. This is going to be your command center for a good while, clean and organize it to the best of your ability. I also made sure that supplies I knew the kids would need were accessible, including textbooks and learning kits sent home by their teachers. Shelves and baskets are especially helpful with this! We also added a huge magnetic dry erase board to this space so we could organize a behavior chart, schedules, passwords/usernames, etc.
- Create a backdrop for your space (if necessary). Our virtual learning space is wide open, which means as our kids log in, classmates and teachers get a great view into our kitchen. So I purchased a shower curtain rod, a fabric shower curtain, and some shower curtain rings. Then I assembled it just as I would for a small open stall shower, except in our open doorway. It created the perfect backdrop for virtual learning where no on was able to peer at me making my 20th cup of coffee for the day in my PJs. We also added some little touches to get the kids excited about virtual learning, including one of those little Instagram felt boards that labeled our office as “Everett & Liam’s Classroom.”
- Purchase an ergonomic chair for your virtual learner(s). If you have littles, I would recommend a chair without wheels. Mine would most certainly turn that into a racing toy of some kind that would most likely lead to injuries. But, I do recommend getting a chair with adjustable height so you can boost your little boy or girl up where they’re visible on your desktop or laptop camera. If you can find one with a swivel lock, I also highly recommend that. Ours does not have a swivel lock and the boys drove me crazy spinning around in this chair instead of paying attention to class.
- Create a virtual learning weekly schedule. And print it out and pin it up somewhere very visible. This will be your game-plan and will keep you sane throughout this entire ordeal. Set it up prior to the start of virtual learning, but don’t be surprised if it changes some. Many schools new to virtual learning might learn from the process and shift the schedule around a bit that first week, but having a core schedule in place was a HUGE part of our survival success.
- Organize a document with your students’ zoom links and notes. It was my job to lead virtual learning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And my husband lead virtual class for the boys on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We consistently set each other up for success by updating Zoom links and notes for each child in a digital note on our iMac. Mac’s have “notes” that are just blank documents you can access like digital post-its (a Google or Word doc would work for this too). Whatever links or notes were necessary for the following day, the virtual learning parent du jour would organize that information for the next parent to tee them up. Zoom links were a click away with this method, and if the meeting required a passcode and/or user ID, they were both easily copied and pasted. Any special notes about speech therapy, school supplies, assignments due, etc. were frequently included to keep everyone on the same page.
- Log into all the programs on all the devices BEFORE virtual learning begins to familiarize yourself with all the apps, as much as possible. My husband and I both commented, several times, that if we had just assumed virtual school would be a few Zoom links and Class Dojo assignments and we waited until the morning of to log into all the things….it would’ve been a total disaster! Fall 2020 virtual school was NOTHING like spring 2020 virtual school for us. Over the summer, our district had implemented several new systems, including Google Classroom and Google Meets as primary learning platforms (instead of Zoom and a different OLS) and it was INTENSE. Asynchronous assignments were posted and graded daily. Lessons were usually synchronous and required preparation and specific supplies. Long story short, this wasn’t spring 2020 anymore where we got to roll into Zoom class a little late, while eating lunch and wearing our favorite comfy PJs.
- If your school offers virtual town halls, meetings, or “meet the teacher” events – make an effort to attend. Every school is different, but I found these meetings VERY informative and a great opportunity to connect with my kiddos’ teachers. For instance, at one town hall meeting we were able to preview the class schedules for our children and we were directed to all of the online learning platforms we would be using before virtual class began! This gave us a chance to get everything set up on multiple devices ahead of time after we learned Everett & Liam had classes scheduled at the same time, multiple times a week.
- Use asynchronous time to work ahead. One of the perks of virtual learning – is flexibility! The hubs and I had an agreement. Whoever was leading virtual school for the day, had to push through as much asynchronous work as they could. Including working ahead. We both hold down full time gigs, so this method would give us some time to try to get caught up at our jobs.
- Behavior system. We have two rambunctious little boys who do not like to sit still for long. So you can imagine how hard it was to get them to sit in front of a computer screen for hours, and then sit still and pay attention while doing the asynchronous work. I implemented a behavior chart at home that helped a lot with this! Prizes were awarded for good behavior. Warnings and no prizes when behavior suffered. This has evolved into our primary behavior system with personal stuff as well (e.g. not sharing, fighting, talking back, etc.). It has been VERY effective. But our kids are very motivated by treats and prizes. Find a system that motivates your kiddo and stick with it! Keeping behavior in line was very key in running a smooth virtual learning process.
So there you have it! These are the tips and tricks that worked for us! What are some of your survival strategies while doing virtual learning with your kids?
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Did you know that July is National Ice Cream Month? Well I did – and I’m so glad there’s an entire month dedicated to one of my favorite treats. As a native Texan, I take pride in consuming my fair share of our beloved …
In a former life, I used to love crafts. One of my FAVORITE things to do as a kid was visit either of my grandmothers and raid their sewing rooms. Both my dad’s mom (Nana) and my mom’s mom (Memaw) had sewing/craft rooms filled with anything and everything I wanted to innovate a spectacular sock bunny, an embroidered pillow, baby doll quilts, chalk drawings, wooden paintings of koala bears holding a “no smoking please” sign (this is still hanging on my Nana’s front door…apparently she had a lot of smoking visitors back in the day LOL), etc. But alas, I grew up and adulting beat the creativity out of me with a stick modge-podged with meeting and deadline requests. And then…I had kids. And then…they became school-aged. And then….the schools began sending home requests to “craft” with our kids, everything from 100 items glued onto a piece of construction paper to celebrate 100 days of school, to elaborate Valentine’s Day card boxes. And I’m not gonna lie…I kinda loved it! It awoke my inner creative spirit. But I also kinda didn’t have time for it. So, over the last two years or so, I’ve worked hard to strike a happy medium and work with my kids on these projects, help them make something they’re proud of, while not creating an over-the-top set of expectations that leads to multiple emotional breakdowns. If you follow me on Insta, you know I’m a huge proponent and sharer of parenting memes, including this one:
It’s funny, because it’s true. We all know, too well, the pain and suffering that can accompany multi-step, complicated, beyond-your-child’s-capability, art projects. And the viral meltdowns that nearly always ensue across all involved kiddos. Which is why I do a lot of “partially homemade” projects with the kids. They’re cheap, usually easy (although I guess that’s subjective), and they absolutely have to be something each child can partake in regardless of ability. So without further adieu, two quick and inexpensive 4th of July crafts that I found relatively easy to do with my boys…and the meltdowns were minimal.
Project 1 – Fireworks Paint/Photo Craft
- A frame that holds a 4×6 photo with some extra room around the sides, like this one from Amazon
- 4×6 photo paper
- 1 piece of white cardstock paper
- 1 small plate
- Washable paint
- Straws (flexible with stripes, preferably)
- Purchase a frame similar to the one referenced above. Get one that ships in 1 day in case you’re in a time bind (which I always am, #lastminutemom).
- Find or take a cute photo of your kid(s) and print it out WITH a border on the 4×6 photo paper. I personally like glossy photo paper, I think it prints out better on home printers. Cut off the borders and put print aside and save for Step #7.
- Take 2 or 3 straws (1 straw for each color of paint) and cut the end into four strips. I prefer striped bendy straws, and I just cut along the lines up to the bendy part. Bend the cut pieces back so that it resembles a flower.
- Pour paint into a flat dish.
- Show your kid(s) how to dip the straw “petals” into the paint and let them start stamping the piece of card stock paper with different bursts of color!
- Let the paint dry. If you want to make this a progressive project, have each kid pick a color and take turns stamping after the previous child’s paint dries. If you use this method, it’s important to let the paint dry fully between each stamping session or the colors will mix, and you won’t have that cool layered effect. But…mixed colors look cool too. Either way, I have personally found that progressive projects like this can be easier and they allow you to focus on one kid at a time, minimizing the turf battles that group art projects bring about. Just my two cents and experience…
- Once your “masterpiece” is finished and completely dry, cut it down to size to become the 5×7 backing in your frame.
- Place or stick the trimmed 4X6 photo onto the paint-stamped card stock.
- Load it into your frame….and you’re done!
And if you’re feeling EXTRA crafty, check out the FREE PRINTABLES below and cut out some stars with your kiddo(s) – we had a lot of fun cutting and taping these stars onto some branches we found on a morning walk.
Project 2 – Cutout Stars Craft
- 4th of July Free Printables
- White cardstock paper
- Red and blue construction paper
- Gold star garland (these are great for events, crafts, etc.)
- Tape or hot glue*
- Stray branches
- Click on the free printables above and print out! If you don’t have any construction paper, you can print out red, white, and blue stars on white cardstock or printer paper (I think cardstock works better for printables). Or, you can print the black and white stars out on any color paper (e.g. red and blue). I did a little of both.
- Cut out the paper stars (I cut out 10 navy stars, 10 white stars, 10 red stars, and 10 turquoise stars). This is a great activity for older kids working on their scissor skills, but I have littles so I cut them out myself.
- Cut gold stars off of banner (I cut off 10)
- Start randomly taping or gluing stars to different twigs along your stray branches! (*Update, we used double-sided tape and the stars later fell off…I eventually used hot glue and that did the trick. If your kids aren’t old enough for hot glue, do this step by yourself).
- Place in vase in your chosen location.
- **After finishing this craft, I determined it’s probably better suited to older kids. All the cutting, taping, and hot-gluing was too much for my little guys.
I think it all turned out really cute though, and it looks perfect on our newly decorated 4th of July mantle! And honestly, the hardest part of this art project was taking photos for this blog entry. So while I can’t promise you there won’t be ANY meltdowns (that is definitely kid-specific), I can promise you these are two relatively quick and cheap crafts…thus minimizing the time you have to endure any emergent scream-fests and the money you spend on it. Happy 4th everyone!