Who Knew?! COVID-19 Home Learning: Three Unexpected Benefits


Home Learning

LUNCH DOODLES with Mo Willems!

It pains me to admit it, but there are some things I actually enjoy about home learning. Knee deep in week eight here in Hong Kong, I’ve spent a lot of the past weeks bemoaning being stuck inside with a full plate of work and two energetic kids. As my mom so pointedly said at the beginning of all this: “Anne, somehow I never pictured YOU home schooling.” Truth, mom. TRUTH. I’m not particularly patient nor am I good with kids. So you might say I’m not coming from a place of strength here. That said, I’m trying to embrace a growth-oriented mindset. So here goes:



Annie’s Glass-Half-Full Approach to Home Learning (i.e., “Three Unexpected Benefits of Home Learning”)

  1. Renewed admiration and gratitude for teachers and school faculty (administrators, cafeteria workers, janitors, etc.). You guys rock. Bless you. Thank you for all that you do.
  2. Enhanced engagement with my kids’ schooling. As I told my cousin, it’s not just engagement, but it’s just downright awareness. Rather than glancing at my kids’ worksheets or books over the dinner table, we are now intimately involved in their daily learning. Each week, I see how the reading / writing / math / social studies lessons are crafted to build on the week / day before. And I see how the teachers cross-pollinate key themes across lessons.
  3. New appreciation for the role technology can play in education. We strictly
    Zoom PE

    Zoom PE with all of G3!

    limit device usage and to my kids’ chagrin, I’m anti-video games (no judgement, just not for me!). In a normal school week, the kids might watch an hour of total TV and are lucky if they get some tablet time. So it’s safe to say I’m skeptical of screen time, (largely because I think it’s passive and not engaging). But I’ve changed my perspective. I’ve watched my kids engage enthusiastically and creatively with their teachers and classmates via Zoom and Seesaw. Today, my daughter even had a PE class via Zoom! Other platforms and apps like Quizlet (for Mandarin), IXL (for reading and math), Raz Kids (for reading), and Sora (for reading) have added variety to our home learning days and keep them engaging dynamically.

Next up? A list of my kids’ favorite home learning (and home playing!) resources…



Home learning pro tips for working parents…from the future

It’s been a few years since I last posted on this blog (ahem, 5 years) but thought I’d finally take the plunge and dive right back in! In the past few days, I’ve gotten a bunch of texts from friends asking for tips on home learning, so I’ve documented them here (As a bonus, my older daughter also added some of her own advice to the bottom!). 

We’re in week seven of home learning here in Hong Kong and have picked up a few tips and tricks that have worked well for our fam. These might be obvious, but it took us a few weeks to get everything sorted out and find our groove. 

I hope they help with the transition to home learning and please share your pro tips in comments below!



Love in the Time of CoronaCelebrating Valentine’s Day…Love in the Time of Corona

Annie’s Home Learning Tips for Working Parents:

  • Try to take each day in stride (this is especially hard for me!) – our school’s home learning curriculum evolves weekly based on feedback. Expect that the first few weeks will be the hardest, but also know that the school, your kids, and YOU will adapt to home learning – this will help reduce anxiety all around
  • Set up a dedicated workspace for you (hard in an HK apartment – my desk is in my bedroom, which means I spend about 20 hours a day in my bedroom, not ideal)! This helps your brain get into work mode and also lets the kids know that you are in work mode (not parenting or teaching mode!) when you’re there

My workspaceMy home learning corner

  • Set up a dedicated workspace for the kids (also easier said than done in an HK apartment)! This helps standardize / formalize home learning and helps kids get into learning mode
    • Ideally, find a space with natural light  
    • Remove distractions (toys, etc.)
    • Label manila folders for each subject, keep them next to each kid’s dedicated space
    • Give each kid a notebook to capture daily to do list
    • Put necessary supplies within arm’s reach: pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, crayons, plain paper, notebooks, sticky notes, devices (our school is using daily videos, zoom calls, and apps as part of the home learning curriculum)
    • Consider buying this $17 corkboard / dry erase board. It’s a huge hit with my kids – for some reason, they love writing their to do lists and checking them off each day
    • At the end of the day, make sure your kids clean up the workspace (themselves!) – this helps transition out of home learning and makes the next day start more smoothly

Kids WorkspaceKids’ home learning corner (it’s not typically this clean!)

  • Set a routine that works for your family and share responsibilities! Initially, I was doing the majority of home learning, as my job is more flexible and allows me to work from home full-time; we quickly discovered this wasn’t going to work. In week ~2, Liam started getting the girls going each morning and this has helped a lot. Not only did it make me a lot less frazzled, it helps the kids because they are not stuck with one “teacher” all day long. Here’s our rough routine:
    • Over breakfast, he gets each girl started, watches their morning videos with them (at our school, the classroom teachers have daily morning videos, as well as videos for reading, writing, math, Chinese, etc.) 
    • While they watch the videos, the girls take notes on their schedule and what they’re supposed to do that day
    • Liam then pulls up all the relevant links
      • Activities / apps
      • Online books
      • Zoom call links
    • Girls start with their independent learning or zoom calls
    • I check in with them throughout the day
    • We take breaks based on daily schedule (for lunch, exercise, dog walks, play time, etc.)

Parking Lot

  • Set boundaries with your work schedule / requirements. When I have times I need to work without interruption (conference calls, etc.), I let the kids know my schedule ahead of time and tell them “I will be in a long meeting from 10:30 – 12:30 and you cannot interrupt me during that time.” And then I lock my door
  • Be honest with your team / boss about your limitations. I work with a team spread across Asia Pacific so we are all under different work restrictions and have different family commitments. I’ve found it helpful to be completely honest with my boss / team about my situation and let them know when I’ll be offline due to family commitments. This is standard stuff but I think it’s especially important now, as everyone is overwhelmed and stressed. I also try to block working time on my calendar when I know my kids will be engaged with tutor, zoom calls, etc. 
  • Create a “parking lot” (Liam adapted a tried and true consulting tool to home learning!) and use this to enforce boundaries on learning / working / parenting routines. My kids LOVE the parking lot, probably because Liam is artsy and made it look so cute…

Parking Lot (1)“Put it in the parking lot!”

  • Incorporate daily exercise. This helps so much with sanity (mine and kids) – I usually have to push / fight to get them motivated but they’re always in much better moods after
    • Go on a walk
    • Do some yoga (we love these free kids yoga videos from Cosmic Kids)
    • Play soccer (my husband uses Beast Mode Soccer for training inspiration)

Cosmic Kids YogaCosmic Kids yoga break

Urban sit upsUrban hike and sit-ups

  • Take time for yourself. Whether it’s getting out to exercise sans kids, reading a book alone with lunch, going for a walk, listening to a podcast, whatever — if you’re exhausted and stressed it will make everything worse, so do whatever you need to make yourself happier (And if you need any true crime podcast recommendations, let me know…)
  • Seek out people to help, like a tutor or high school student. We found a fabulous mom in our building who tutors the girls in math twice a week. I also hired our friends’ high school daughter to come work with them twice a week. The kids love when these awesome women come over – it’s a change of pace and breaks up the routine. It takes the burden off of me during the day, gives me uninterrupted work time, and is really taking their work to the next level. As a bonus, I love knowing I’m helping other people in our community
  • Connect with your community. While a lot of community activities are off the table, outdoor activities are a good way to get active, outside, and engage with people, while still being mindful of risks (e.g., not touching, washing hands, maintaining distance, etc.) We’ve been pleasantly surprised to have really bonded with a lot of amazing families through this experience, whether through beach days, game nights, or outdoor playdates with kids. Doing “normal” things makes me so much happier and gives us all much-needed energy and endorphins
  • Communicate with your spouse / partner / childcare provider / family support network. This is a team sport and changes daily. Let your teammates know when you need help and give them a chance to ask for yours
  • Order some puzzles and crafts. We have gotten into tie-dye. It’s messy as hell but super fun and occupies multiple hours over multiple days. Takes me back to my Camp Lake Hubert days and is a ton of fun. Dharma Trading Company has tons of cool inspiration and products

Tie dye, origami, and monkeys doing puzzles…

Hi this is Riley (Anne’s daughter) I have a few things to add.

One cool thing is to write a letter to someone. It helps your writing and it is fun to get mail back!

Another thing I do is reading. It is my favorite thing to do even if I do not have an assignment.

My last suggestion is to get outside and play with a friend or friends. You might not want to, but it always makes me happier and makes me want to do it again.

I hope you enjoyed my suggestions!


Good luck, ladies and gents, YOU’VE GOT THIS!

Trials of a “Trailing Spouse”

The expat life offers many delights but one element I’ve found challenging? Being stuck in the role of a “trailing spouse.” Yes it’s 2015. And yes, this term is still used widely.

Maybe it’s just my ego (I don’t necessarily excel at taking the back seat) but I think it’s more than that. It’s something to do with a sense of self and career being an integral part of identity and–sure–ego.

I find the term “trailing spouse” off putting because it suggests my sole career–and identity–is being a spouse (and a trailing one at that!). I loved this blog post on The Trailing Spouse Identity Project about the challenges of life, career, and identity as a trailing spouse, and how to stay positive and seize the opportunities it presents. The author astutely explains what I’ve struggled to convey:

What we do for a living is an inherent and (un)conscious factor in how we value ourselves— whether we judge it in terms of contribution to society or the money we make. When I stopped work I lost the measuring unit or reference point for judging the value of ‘me’.

Love this post and plan to start following the Time of Tea blog – check it out!

And shine on!

Hen Gap Lai Ha Noi!

Fabulous impression of Hanoi.

Hà Nội Sống


Hanoians are famous for nostalgia. Being the great storytellers that they are, there are myriad poems, paintings, folk tales and other art forms depicting the sentimental beauty attached to this city. Despite – or sometimes because of – the drastic modernisation witnessed over the past few decades, there remains a pride in the certainty that Hanoi is, and always has been, a city of unsurpassed charm and romance.

From the moment I arrived in April 2013 I, too, found this charm impossible to resist. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of aspects of life in this city that irritate me. Truth be told, there are moments when I have wondered what it is with the sprawling suburbs, crowded streets, temperamental weather and questionable driving techniques that allows this city to still be considered charming. In the end, however, Hanoi is a good seductress: she woos with imagery and flirts…

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Memorial Day Weekend in Saigon: Honoring History


Growing up in Minnesota, we’d always spend Memorial Day Monday at my mother’s family’s cemetery plot, placing American flags on the graves of our family members who served their country in WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War.

This year, we happened to find ourselves in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, a bustling metropolis where scores of soldiers lost their lives during the Vietnam War. (Post to follow on our comings-and-goings). It was an odd feeling for this American to visit HCMC on Memorial Day weekend and I spent a lot of time reflecting on how much has changed in the last 40 years since the fall of Saigon.

Our stay this time took us to the grounds of the U.S. Consulate, where U.S. Marines fell defending the former American Embassy, and to the Cu Chi tunnels, site of some of the most brutal fighting in Vietnam and countless lives lost on both sides.

For those Americans who have visited Normandy, you know how profoundly moving, unsettling, and humbling it can be to visit a place overseas where Americans gave their lives in service to our country. On this Memorial Day, I honor all those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial HCMC   IMG_2083

And I Bid You Goodnight…


Thanks to the genius advice of a friend, our new bedtime routine has been drastically improved as of late. After we read a book and say prayers, we watch this video:

It makes me so happy because it brings me back to my Grateful Dead fueled high school days (lucky for all of you I don’t have any high school pics here in Hanoi). Better yet, it reminds me of my dad every night. He loved talking about his 17 live Dead shows and transferring his love of music – but especially the Dead – to his kids. I hope to give the same to my girls.

Shine on!

Rainy Day Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup & Curry Condiments

It’s a gray, rainy day in Hanoi and all I can think about is digging into my leftovers from last night’s dinner: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup & Curry Condiments. The perfect rainy day meal!

Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa) is one of my all-time favorites, and this recipe will explain why. Her squash soup is easy to make, healthy, and simple, but with a twist on the old standard (without being too fussy). The curry and apples add a surprising flavor and I love the condiments: scallions, cashews, bananas, and toasted coconut. I like to pair this with a good crusty baguette and a big glass of Chardonnay. Delicious!

I must admit, I have a soft spot for Ina because she started her career as a Program Examiner at the White House Office of Management and Budget, just like me. There’s hope for me yet!

MK Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

MK’s a big fan of the Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Butternut Squash Soup – this was her third bowl                          

You can follow Ina’s blog here.

Hanoi Sreet Food, Volume I: bún đậu

Hanoi is a street food lover’s dream come true. Plenty of tasty (rất ngon in Vietnamese) options for under a buck. I’m a hesitant street food consumer (I think I’ve seen too much strolling the streets of Hanoi for the past 1.5 years) but there’s one dish I adore: bún đậu.

Before we get to the food, let me set the stage. Actually, let’s let Anthony Bourdain do it. As Bourdain said in his Parts Unknown episode on Vietnam: “All of the things I need for happiness: Low plastic stool, check. Tiny little plastic table, check. Something delicious in a bowl, check.”

Bun Dau

If you’re an Anthony Bourdain fan like me, you may have seen his episode on Vietnam. In a Conde Nast Traveler article from last year, Bourdain said his first trip to Vietnam changed his life. I’d have to agree with him (although my first trip will be two years-long!). One of the biggest gamechangers: fresh tofu. I’ll never go back to packaged tofu from Trader Joe’s – go fresh or go home.

My favorite? Bún đậu with mắm tôm. Bún (rice noodles), fried tofu, herbs, mắm tôm (fermented shrimp paste), red chilies. Every time I ask for mắm tôm , I’m met with a look of shock, and a follow-up comment of “foreigners don’t like mắm tôm .” Don’t get me wrong, the stuff is stinky. But it tastes so good with the plain noodles and tofu – it balances the neutral flavors and makes bún đậu even more delcious.

The best part? The vibe. I love running across the street to my local bún đậu vendor. She carries her restaurant on her shoulders (pot, ingredients, plates, chop sticks, stools, etc.), sets up shop, and cooks for people on their lunch breaks. I love watching her prepare the food while I wait.

Better yet? Eating this delicious lunch will only cost you 15,000 VND (about $0.70), or 20,000 VND for takeaway.

Bun Dao 2My favorite bún đậu lady, just across the street from my apartment


#TBT – Bali

IMG_1649Sanur Beach, Bali, Indonesia

One month ago today I was relaxing on beach in Bali, palms swaying, bikes and paddle boards cruising past, Bintang in my hand, Angelique the Sacred Cow mooing in the background. Welcome to Sanur, Bali, a lovely mix of Balinese chill, beach, yoga, and not too many tourists. Frankly, there were few cultural activities on this trip. It was a whole lot of relaxing with family and friends, active outdoor activities, and good food and drinks.

IMG_7190The master sandcastle builders taking a break

We had heard mixed things about Bali – people seemed to either love it or hate it. We were nervous it might be overrun with backpackers and tourists, so we looked around for somewhere that was chill, but not so remote that there was nothing to do off the hotel grounds. Sanur was the perfect mix – only 30ish minutes from the Denpasar airport in southeast Bali, but without the crowds of Jimbaran Bay and Kuta. We found a great, quiet villa on AirBNB only steps from restaurants and shops, and a short walk from the beach. It was perfect.

I traveled with my husband, daughters, and mom, so this was definitely a family vacation. Vacations with two small kids are active, schlepping kids, stuff, and strollers. So we took it easy and did stuff the kids would like – sandcastles, ocean swims, pool frolicking, and feeding the koi that inhabited our villa’s ponds.

IMG_7202Villa koi pond

IMG_1641Luckily, there were plenty of opportunities for fun, outdoor fitness in Sanur. For less than $4.00/day, we rented a bike with kid seat – no deposit, no credit card, just pedaled off and told her I’d return it in a few days. Perfect for quick trips to the beach and chill cruises down the beachside bike path.The fitness highlight was the  Power of Now Oasis yoga studio, and incredible open-air, bamboo building right on the beach. (It’s also home to Angelique the sacred cow, who was a big hit with R and MK.) The coolest yoga studio I’ve ever seen. We took two excellent 90 minute vinyasa classes and one kids’ yoga class with Riley. In between schlepping and yoga, we cruised around on the stand up paddle (SUP) we rented at the Rip Curl School of Surf.

IMG_7281         Tree pose in the garden

IMG_1635Power of Now Oasis          

One of the best parts of the trip was daily breakfast at the villa. We were lucky to have two amazing helpers who made breakfast every morning, from traditional Balinese breakfast of fried rice to omelets, and chocolate crepes, we started each day off right. And the juice! Fresh squeezed orange juice every day. Delicious.

My favorite lunch spot was Malaika Secret Garden Delicious, healthy, organic food in an ideal location – a breezy open air building on the beach (just down the path from the yoga studio).

We had a great dinner at The Glass House, Australian and Asian cuisine inspired by the fresh seafood in Sanur. Cute atmosphere, kid-friendly, delicious food, good wine, and great service.

Another night we ventured up to the Ubud for a date night. The Balinese food at Bebek TebaSari Resto was good, but even better was the delightful ambiance: seated in a private thatched-roof hut perched above a beautiful koi pond, nestled amongst the rice paddies. A truly special place. I felt like I was in the Bali I imagined.

 IMG_1657  View from our private bamboo hut

We had a great time on the Sanur beaches, but these were not the best beaches I’ve seen. I must admit, the beaches in Thailand, Hawaii, and the Caribbean are much nicer than the beaches we visited in Bali. But Bali has a certain je ne sais quoi. There’s something special about Sanur. The backdrop of smiling local people, lapping waves, indigo textiles, and Hindu and Buddhist traditions made for a memorable visit.  My girls thought the huge rainbow that appeared on our way back to the airport was a fitting end to the trip.

Overnight Oatmeal: A Gamechanger

Just in case you were trying to come up with ideas for what to do with the delicious Greek yogurt you made last week, I have a suggestion: overnight oatmeal. We are addicted to this stuff in our house because it’s delicious, healthy, and easy to make. If you like bircher muesli, you’ll love this.  

Overnight Oatmeal 5

Top 5 things about overnight oatmeal

1. It’s ready when you are. No excuse to skip breakfast or a scarf down glazed donut amid the morning rush.

2. Healthy as can be. Protein, oats, fruit, chia… Solid fuel for what lies ahead.

3. Tasty. Could almost pass for dessert.

4. You dress it up the way you like it. Mango and almonds. Apple and maple. Passionfruit and banana. It’s all happening in that little jar.

5. Kids dig it. They’ll be asking you for more.

How do you make it?

Overnight Oatmeal 3

Add oats, greek yogurt, milk (we use almond milk), and whatever accompaniments you like to a Mason Jar. (We just eyeball the ingredients, but it’s approximately 1/4 cup oats, 1/4 cup greek yogurt, and 1/4 cup milk – this will make a thicker batch but you can adjust to your preferences. If you use regular yogurt, you’ll need less milk.) Stir. Cover. Put in fridge. Take out in the morning and enjoy!

Overnight Oatmeal 4Overnight oatmeal with almond milk, mango, chia, and cinnamon.