Making the everyday magical: muffin tin snack trays

12 June 2020

We could all use a little dose of whimsy these days, yes? Even before the heartache of last week, there was – and is – the monotony and heaviness of COVID-19. So when June came downstairs after quiet time one day early in quarantine asking for a “special snack,” I was happy to oblige. Enter: the muffin tin snack tray.

Maybe you’ve seen one, or even enjoyed one yourself. I first heard about them from Merrick, and thought they sounded like a lovely idea – maybe a little extra – but something to tuck away for the elementary school years.

And then June requested a special snack and, well, here we are. Having muffin tin snack trays almost daily :)

Here are a few reasons why I have come to love the muffin tin snack tray:

— They are perfect for using up little odds and ends hanging around the fridge or pantry. Less food waste is always a win!

— Because of the fun presentation, and the fact that we’re all eating together, my kids are more likely to try anything new I add to the tray.

— Though most days I’m kind of haphazardly throwing things together, the snack tray presents a creative opportunity for the willing parent: you could theme the contents for upcoming holidays, play around with color or shapes, or attune it to a visitor. Kind of like a modern charcuterie board, but way easier :)

— It helps me get all the food groups into my kiddos in a day. Even if we don’t have a ton of fruits and vegetables at dinner, the snack tray gives me another opportunity to tick those boxes.

And now, a few tips for introducing muffin tin snack trays into your life:

— My initial thought was that I’d introduce snack trays when June started kindergarten – I figured everyone would be a bit older by then and they’d be a sweet moment to reconnect after being apart during the day. Having started earlier, I would say Shep, at 1 3/4, is just barely old enough to participate in a civilized way. He mostly grasps the concepts of sharing, taking one thing at a time, and not putting half-eaten food back into the tray, ha!

— You can fill more than one pocket with the same thing. You don’t have to come up with 12 separate things every day!

— To keep things fun without the budget going wild, I’ve started adding one novel item to my grocery list each week – a new kind of cracker, something from the international aisle, chocolate-covered pretzels, etc. Over a few grocery trips you’ll build up a stash of fun things that you can rotate in and out.

— We like to include a mix of savory and sweet, familiar and foreign, crunchy and soft. Add dips or spreads. Play with colors and textures and have fun!

— Remember you can easily adjust the amounts in each pocket for the number of people eating and how big of a snack you want it to be. June, Shep, and I partake in the snack tray together about 2 hours before dinner, and ours is sized appropriately.

— If you have older kids with bigger appetites, take a tip from Merrick: don’t refill anything until everything is gone. That way, they’ll be forced to eat the veggies if they want more marshmallows :) In our current life stage, I never refill the tray.

— To practice manual dexterity (so Montessori!) and slow the whole process down a bit, give everyone a fancy toothpick to spear with. We like these ones.

Friends, as a parent and a person I am an interesting mix of highly practical and consistently weak-kneed for the magical and memorable. No, not everything in our kiddos’ childhoods has to be magical – much of it will be humdrum and ordinary (and in my opinion that’s actually good!). But I also believe childhood should be punctuated by the needlessly fancy, the extravagantly whimsical, and the fun-just-because. The magical things I love the most are the ones that inject novelty into our days, cause us to linger together, and therefore slow down time. Muffin tin snack trays check all my boxes, and I hope they’ll bring a little sweetness to your days, too!

Friends, I’d love to hear a way you inject a little novelty or magic into daily life, whether or not you have kids!

Diverse books to add to your family library

3 June 2020

Mrs. Malavazos was my first grade teacher. I’m not sure why, but in addition to normal first grade stuff, she was passionate about exposing her classes to different cultures in a way that was notable and extraordinary to me even at the time. I loved it, and the books I remember from her shelves were some of the first I bought when we found out June was on the way. Those faces and stories had nestled in my heart, even after all those years. Books can do that – nestle into and open up our hearts in a way few things can.

Sally Clarkson, one of my favorites, speaks to this in The Lifegiving Home. She’s not speaking about diverse books in this context, but this quote helps illustrate how important it is to have them in our collections:

“Each of [these stories] describes the world to its child readers in terms of beauty, friendship, and joy. Their rich but simple language shapes the minds and hearts of their readers by helping them notice what is lovely, love what is beautiful, and value what is loyal and true. A mind filled with [these stories and images] will look on the real world not with indifference but with interest, curiosity, and affection.”

The faces and experiences we see in the stories we read help shape our ideas of what is good, what is beautiful, what is normal, what is valuable and valued.

Also: diverse books, as my newest Instagram follow, Shakira, points out, not only help diverse kids see themselves as the hero of the story — they help my kids see other kids who don’t look like them as the hero of the story. Both are beautiful and important.

With that, here are a few of our favorite children’s books with diverse heroes – and a few we’ve recently added or plan to add to our library! I’ve starred the books with black protagonists, since that is especially important for this moment we’re in.

One note as you pick and choose for your own kiddos, from this list or others: it might sound obvious, but just as I wouldn’t suggest following random black people in an earnest attempt to “diversify your feed,” don’t just buy random kid books that other people are recommending. June loves rainbows, dancing, and puppies, and Shep loves trucks and puppies, and I easily found books with black leads featuring all of these things :)

One final note: the books I saw dealing more explicitly with racism and anti-racism were recommended for ages 5 or older, and that feels right to me. I look forward to adding our picks in this category to updated book lists in the future!

Books we own and love:
The Not-So-Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larson
Corduroy* by Don Freeman
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
The Snowy Day* by Ezra Jack Keats
The Night Is Yours* by Abdul-Razak Zachariah
This is How We Do It* by Matt Lamothe
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina Friedman
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars* by Seth Fishman (my brother-in-law!!)
Max and the Tag-Along Moon* by Floyd Cooper
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters* by John Steptoe
When God Made You* by Matthew Paul Turner (I love this one SO MUCH! The rhymes and message are just beautiful and it is my go-to baby gift these days!)

Books I added this week:
Black is a Rainbow Color* by Angela Joy
Me & Mama* by Cozbi Cabrera (This one doesn’t come out until August, but it looks so sweet! June is in a mama phase and I think she’ll just love this one.)
Love is a Truck* by Amy Novesky
Please, Puppy, Please* by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

Other books I’m eyeing for future additions:
The Other Side* by Jacqueline Woodson
Big Hair, Don’t Care* by Crystal Swain-Bates
Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi
Ada Twist, Scientist* by Andrea Beaty
Ruby’s Chinese New Year by Vickie Lee
Rapunzel* by Rachel Isadora
Martin’s Big Words* by Doreen Rappaport
Ready to Fly* by Lea Lyon
Imani’s Moon* by Janay Brown-Wood
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louie
Green on Green* by Dianne White
Mae Among the Stars* by Roda Ahmed
The Yasmin series by Saadia Faruqi (thank you, Sarah!)

For more, I would love to point you toward two accounts I’ve gotten great recommendations from this week and over the years: Here Wee Read and Occasions by Shakira. They both show the inside of many of these books in their Stories, which is so helpful in seeing whether they’d be a good fit for your family!

Friends, I’d love to hear: what children’s books with diverse characters do you love at your house? Or, if you don’t have kids, what grown-up books with diverse characters have you read and loved? I’d love to do a round-up of some of those favorites soon!

Though I’ve linked to Amazon for ease of shopping, I chose not to use affiliate links today. I’m grateful to the ladies mentioned above and others for sharing so many great books with me, and would love to point you toward their accounts to purchase through their affiliate links! If you’d prefer, you can also purchase through a Black-owned bookstore. xo

June 2020 goals

2 June 2020

Hello, friends. Like you, I’ve spent the past week in incessant conversation with those around me about what is happening right now. About George Floyd. About Christian Cooper. About the protests and the riots. About you, reading, who might not be white. I have been praying, listening, thinking, reading, and talking to those closest to me. I have been asking (sometimes hourly) for a fresh heart: one that is willing to sit with the pain of others, to turn away from feeling offended, to quiet my own needs, to be humbled (again and then again).

In all this, I am severely imperfect, and this is not about me – but this is a space I am responsible for. I believe in words, but I believe more in actions. That’s what these posts are – a chance to share the actions I’m taking each month to move forward on the things that matter to me (always imperfectly, always incompletely), and an offer to you to do the same. Whether you feel timid or confused or are just in deep pain right now, here’s something I know: cultivating what matters in our hearts, in our families, in our world always starts with one step. And it continues with another. Here are a few of the steps I’m taking in June.

On my calendar this month:
— Blueberry picking, hopefully many times over
— Filming June in June Volume 5… the hunt for the perfect song is on!
— Father’s Day

What I’m loving right now:
— In light of Father’s Day, might I recommend a pair of these shorts for your favorite dad? John (who never buys clothes) just went hog wild and bought two pairs, and he is in love. He has the “One Short.”
— I appreciate so much the way David Brooks consistently and movingly writes about morality. His most recent essay struck me, especially this line: “He would have stored in his upbringing the understanding that hard times are the making of character, a revelation of character and a test of character.”
— I planned to feature a few books featuring diverse characters in this section, as adding to our library was one of the first tangible actions I took this weekend, but there ended up being too many to list – so I moved them to their own dedicated post tomorrow! In the meantime, this one and this one are two of our favorites.

What I read in May:
The Invention of Wings | WOW this was so good. I hadn’t read anything by Sue Monk Kidd since The Secret Lives of Bees over a decade ago, and I forgot how elegant of a writer she is. This book is set over several decades in the 1800’s and follows two entwined stories loosely based on real figures: a white girl who grows up to be a Quaker Abolitionist, and the black girl she is given ownership of on her 11th birthday. I think fiction is one of the most beautiful and effective ways to grow empathy for people who are different than us, and on that basis alone I would highly recommend this one.
Unshakeable | This is a memoir written by Cultivate’s summer intern (!). Besides the fact that it’s wildly impressive for a college student to have self-published a book, I appreciated how she handled her rough transition to college, given my own. It was also another eyeopening and frightening look at how insidious anxiety can be for so many people today.
The Secrets of Happy Families | I gave this book an enthusiastic thumbs up on Instagram when I was a few chapters in, and though I still very much recommend it, the first section turned out to be my favorite. The later chapters felt a little more surface to me, and not quite as original. I fully admit this could be because some of the topics in the first section, like family mission statements and behavior charts, are things I’m actively mulling over right now :)

I’m still chugging along with my 2020 reading list as best I can, despite not having library access! I did just purchase Just Mercy, my February pick, because I was on an endless wait list even before the library closed and I’m eager to dive in.

Revisiting my May goals:
Clean out the garage (Some progress made! We got rid of a big desk taking up space.)
Digitize loose photos from 2005-2009
Design and print our first family photo album (Yes!!)
Finish reading Matthew with John and begin Mark
Complete gifts for Mother’s Day with June + Shep (Yes! We made thumbprint laminated bookmarks – so cute!)
Send watercolor hugs
Go camping in our backyard (So fun! See a peek here.)
Complete friend dossiers
Experiment with a custom Publix shopping list (Done and it has been a major success!)
Make a list of all our non-recipe meals for binder (Done! More on my recipe binder.)

June goals:
— Add more diverse faces to our family library
— Finish reading Matthew with John
— Set up a simple email newsletter for EFM. Lisa kindly sent over some instructions, and I’m happy to make this happen for those who have asked over the years! It will just be a simple email every time there’s a new post – nothing fancy :)
— Write some entries in our COVID-19 family journal. Cultivate has some great prompts I plan to use to make this easy!
— Photocopy favorite recipes from cookbooks to round out our recipe binder
— Book our camping trip for this fall
— Have a little three-person game night every Friday this month with June, after Shep goes to bed. As I’ve said, gotta start early :)
— Use the Peloton app to move every day this month on days we don’t ride our bikes or otherwise exercise. Looking forward to exploring cardio, strength, stretching, yoga, and more!

Sending you all love, friends. Let’s make this a really great month ahead.

Affiliate links are used in this post!