Well…I’ve thought all weekend about what I would post here today. Goodness it has been a rollercoaster, powerful weekend, but I feel heavy…soul weary heavy. So many voices of hope, fear, bravery, hurt, anger and kindness have filled my listening ears the last few days. It is overwhelming and I am trying to process it all – process it for myself, so I can come alongside my kids and help them do the same.

The past few weeks the kids and I have been focusing on three things at home: Be slow to anger, Be slow to speak, Be quick to listen. With those three things in mind – I’m going to sit quietly for a bit here. I’m not ignoring or avoiding the significance or importance of current events, I’m just dialoguing in person, in my community and in my family instead of taking those discussions online, at least for now.

This Saturday is Chinese New Year. We will be celebrating in our very non-traditional, Okie way. The first year we celebrated CNY, I tried to keep it as traditional as I could. I’ve since come to grips that I really need my Chinese friends to live closer to me to help me pull off a more traditional CNY Eve dinner!

We may not do things in a traditional way, but we sure have fun celebrating just the same. This year we will be eating Hot Pot together. In June of 2015, my friend Ruth visited with her family. She taught me the ropes of serving Hot Pot and I wrote a post to help others like me. I thought some of you might want to celebrate Chinese New Year in a non-traditional way too…so here you go!

Originally posted 07.03.2015


My friend Ruth and her family stopped by earlier this week as they returned home from a few weeks on the road. Ruth inspires me and challenges me in so many things. Besides being a phenomenal artist and cook, she gently pushes me with her words and actions to be all God has created me to be as a woman, wife, mom and friend. We laugh at how opposite our personalities are. She is everything I am not and she smiles at all my quirks. I like her a lot.

I like her so much that when she said they would be able to spend a couple nights at our house, I asked her to cook us all dinner (that is my family of 7 and her family of 8). Really – there needs to be a hospitality book about the graciousness of a host that invites people over and then makes them cook for everyone. I’ve been wanting to learn how to cook Chinese Hot Pot and I knew Ruth would be the perfect one to teach me.

My plan is to do this meal for Chinese New Year – so I needed Ruth to show me how to do it in a simple and practical way. I am not Chinese. Shocker, I know. My goal is not to cook a meal that is authentic in every possible way. My hope was to learn the basics of Hot Pot, so I could share it with friends and family. Ruth taught me a version that tastes amazing, but doesn’t involve so many details and steps that I would give up before trying to do it on my own.

Since there are a lot of ingredients that I would not recognize by name and I am guessing some of you are like me – I took photos of all the ingredients. Yay for visual aids!

We made two Hot Pots (not sure if that is the right way to say that!). This served 4 adults and 11 kids with just a few leftovers.

So, first I am going to walk through what you need:

This is for the soup bases: Soup Base for Satay Hot Pot, 2 Cans Beef Broth, Soup Base for Seafood Hot Pot


Enoki Mushrooms, Bean thread noodles, dried shitake mushrooms7.15hotpot-04Dumplings (we did pre-cooked frozen for ease), napa cabbage, medium firm tofu7.15hotpot-071 lb. Shrimp with shell off, frozen fried fish balls, frozen fried shrimp balls7.15hotpot-101 lb beef sliced super thin (we sliced this thinner than pictured. You can also freeze steak or roast and then slice super thin.), I have no idea what these are called!, Chili sauce, Soy sauce, sriracha sauce7.15hotpot-13Guilin style chili sauce, black vinegar, sa cha sauce7.15hotpot-16Now onto the steps involved:

First, put the dried shitake mushrooms in warm water. Let them soak until soft (about an hour). At the same time, put the bean thread noodles in slightly warm water. Let those soak until soft (not crunchy, not mushy, about 20 min). While those are soaking you can go onto the other stuff.7.15hotpot-21Rinse the enoki mushrooms and chop off the ends.7.15hotpot-23Slice the napa cabbage into chunks.7.15hotpot-25Cut the tofu in half and then into squares.7.15hotpot-26Arrange your ingredients on plates. You can use a different plate for each thing if you have enough plates and table room. We put the frozen fish balls with the tofu. The cabbage, shitake mushrooms and enoki mushrooms on another plate.7.15hotpot-28If your beef wasn’t pre-sliced super thin, you will want to slice it up. Your noodles should be soft by now. Using kitchen scissors, cut the noodles. Do what Ruth is doing about 4 times.7.15hotpot-30Fill one stock pot with water and add the two soup base packets. In another stock pot, add water and the two cans of beef broth. We had a lot of kids, so the beef broth version was less spicey…just something to keep in mind regarding why we did the two different pots. Once the pots get boiling, remove them and put them on your hot pot stoves. We boiled on the stove first simply to save the gas on the portable stoves.7.15hotpot-32Place everything on your table: Beef & Shrimp, tofu, fish balls, shrimp balls, mushrooms (enoki & shitake), frozen dumplings, bean thread noodles, cabbage. (there are other things you could add too…this is just what we did)

Place all the different sauces together on a sauce tray.7.15hotpot-34Before we began eating, Ruth took a few minutes to share with us the heart of hot pot. I’m sure I will recount some of this incorrectly, but I think I have the basics. Hot Pot brings everyone together around the table. It is not meant to be a meal that you rush through. Instead, you slowly cook items for others and yourself. If you are seated far from the dumplings – the person closest to the dumplings and the hot pot cooks a couple for you. Take your time and enjoy the process. It is a beautiful communal meal – a slowing down and coming together.7.15hotpot-35Once you are ready to start eating, the first step is to prepare your sauce. In your bowl, you add whatever sauces (those pictured) you want to create a customized flavor. I added a little of everything. Typically, you also mix in a raw egg. Our chickens gave us some eggs about an hour before dinner….and I eat a lot of cookie dough….so yeah, the adults added raw egg. Do as you wish on that part.7.15hotpot-41Most of the kids just used soy sauce as their sauce.7.15hotpot-42

Now it is time to just drop stuff in the pot, let it cook. Everything cooks super fast.7.15hotpot-37The Simons have 6 amazing boys. Add my 3 boys to that mix. It was awesome. They hit it off right away. Dart guns. Matches. Pocket knifes. Boy ‘crafts’. My guys are already asking when they will get to see their new friends again!7.15hotpot-397.15hotpot-407.15hotpot-447.15hotpot-46The meal was delicious. My 9 year old was so surprised to discover he likes fish and shrimp balls. My oldest daughter devoured the dumplings. It was so, so good. I can’t thank Ruth enough for sharing her tips with me, but more importantly sharing her family with mine. Our hot pot may not look like everyone else’s, it may not even end up looking like Ruth’s…but it will taste good and we will relish the heart of the meal.

I see hot pot becoming a Campbell staple…7.15hotpot-48

Chris and I want to have a couples night soon with hot pot. My idea is to print off pictures of the ingredients to give those invited. I love the idea of sending my friends to a market they rarely shop at to buy fried shrimp balls and sauces they have trouble pronouncing. I think they’ll enjoy the adventure of it and the coming together to share the meal.

For those in the Tulsa area, I purchased everything (including the stoves) at Nam Hai.

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  • laura piersall - Ashley, how special it is to see Ruth show up on your blog. We just moved to some acreage in more rural Oklahoma, in part, because both of you and Ruth! My husband has always been interested in living out, but it took some prodding by God to convince me… seeing your photos in fields and hearing Ruth’s words to focus my ministry first on my family helped show me this move was right for us. So thank you Ashley and Ruth, for “showing up” online and sharing your hearts!

  • Tammy - Oh, this is sooooo helpful, thank you!

  • Alie - I have a silly question! Do you spoon the broth into your bowl and eat it like a soup? Or eat the items dipped in your sauce individually?
    Also! What is in the bowl with the ice, nearest to your older 2 boys?
    I’m excited to bring a warm family celebration to the fold winter!

  • AshleyAnn - Alie – Yes, spoon some broth into your bowl. I don’t remember what Ruth put in that bowl…it was a dessert, I think.

At the beginning of the semester I asked my kids if there was anything they wish we did more of during our homeschool hours. Most of them agreed they wanted more art. It surprised me because I feel like they are constantly making stuff and creating various forms of art. Colored pencils, glue, paint – these are constantly out and in use around our house. More art?! As I dug deeper, I realized what they were really wanting was to learn more specific art techniques WITH me.

We started with a topic that coincided with what they were learning with their friends at our homeschool co-op campus. (not really a co-op, but it is easier than explaining it all the time).

We started with symmetry.

SymmetryWithKids-01The first project we did was simple introduction to symmetry. I cut a few butterflies prints in half, glued them to mixed media art paper and had the kids do their best to mimic what they saw. SymmetryWithKids-02You can elaborate on this project by using grid paper or drawing faint lines to help them measure it if they want to be more exact. I didn’t explain much about symmetry at first, I just let them draw what they saw.
SymmetryWithKids-03When they finished the butterflies, I had them add a background to their pictures to give context. My son drew his being eaten by a butterfly eating plant. My daughter painted a field of flowers for her’s to land on. The beauty of creating art…SymmetryWithKids-04The next day I explained more about what symmetry means and we did a little visual scavenger hunt for symmetry. I asked the kids to look around and spot everything symmetrical in the room. We also talked about how we could change things to make them symmetrical. It was fun to watch their light bulbs go off.SymmetryWithKids-06SymmetryWithKids-07SymmetryWithKids-08We also talked about symmetrical faces. There was a bit of a debate between them on if anyone had a symmetrical face. An easy way for them to visualize what we were talking about was to hold a paper up to divide their faces in half.SymmetryWithKids-11

For a third activity we used my youngest daughter blocks to create symmetrical designs.
SymmetryWithKids-09Finally, I pulled out some graph paper and they created symmetrical designs using colored pencils.
SymmetryWithKids-12SymmetryWithKids-14My blogger in training wanted to take some shots of their final products.SymmetryWithKids-15There are tons of projects and videos regarding symmetry on Pinterest and YouTube if you are looking for more ideas.

You can find more of my art and craft projects with kids on my Pinterest board.

For more information on my sources, here you go:

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  • Tricia H - Another great visual lesson on the symmetry of faces, particularly because you have a camera always ready, is to take a close up of each face. (In a neutral, relaxed, non-smiling expression AND in a classic expression they often wear. i.e., one raised eyebrow, a smile, etc.) Now, with your software, reverse the image. You may think a face is symmetrical but no one face really is. With the image reversed, you’ll know that something is “off” about the image of themselves, but it may take a minute to figure out the image is reversed. (Others may recognize it first – because they typically look at you and not at yourself in a mirror.) This is a particularly good lesson for someone with freckles, birthmarks, scars, etc to look beyond “landmarks” of the face and look for smaller variances on symmetry.

  • ranee - looks like such a fun, simple project. thanks for sharing!

  • Ute - Dear Ashlee,
    your blog is so encouraging, humbling, something positive I look forward to.
    Thank you and your family for sharing.
    Your school looks so much fun and like your children are learning what’s important! All the best for you all.

  • Hena Tayeb - some really great ideas. thanks for sharing.

  • Renee - Wow!! This is so fun!! Definitely flagging this for when my 4 year old is a smudge older. Although she’d enjoy the pattern blocks and maybe coloring patterns on graph paper – love these home school ideas!! What’s your not so co-op-y co-op? CC?

  • Rebekah - Thank you so much for sharing. As a mom who is not naturally gifted in art, this is really helpful as something I can do to teach aspects to my daughter!

The new year is in full swing – at least it is around here. This is often the time many parents and grandparents are fumbling through camera manuals and trying to figure out how their new camera works. Instead of trying to figure it out on your own, I’d love to come alongside you. My photography website, SnapShop, includes an Intro to DSLR class, a phone photography course and a growing collections of other lessons to help you dig deeper in photography after you get a solid foundation. In honor of all those trying to navigate the ins and outs of photography, we are doing a SnapShop promotion this week!

You don’t have to show up for class at a certain time and you won’t only having couple weeks to access content, SnapShop is subscription based. As a subscriber you have access to all the content for as long as you keep your membership. The monthly membership costs less than a fancy latte.

Use the code JANUARY20 for $20 off your registration

Code expires on 1-21-17, midnight US Central time

{below is a sampling of a few of the courses and lesson included}


Registration includes access to all SnapShop content (used by over 3000 students since 2009), including: 

  • SnapShop DSLR Course (a $200 value)
  • SnapShop Phone Course (a $50 value)
  • Interviews & tips with leading photographers & bloggers
  • Course discussions
  • Additional lessons posted monthly by Ashley Ann and guests!

To register click here and use the code: JANUARY20

Discount code is case sensitive and can be entered at checkout.  Subscriptions will renew for $5.00 monthly to maintain access to existing content and new lessons!  

To see a listing of all the lessons and courses included and a FAQ page answering common questions visit the SnapShop website.

Current students: The latest lesson went live this week. It is a case study on using f/3.5. Be sure to check it out and continue sending us your ideas for future lessons!

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  • Karen - Ashley – I have spent a ton of time learning to use my camera and get portraits with blurry backgrounds. Now I find that I can’t take pictures of landscapes without the background being blurry. We are going to Yellowstone this summer and I want to make sure that I’m prepared to take pictures of all the beautiful sights. A snapshot course on landscapes (with my children in the picture) would be very helpful. You have great pictures from your road trips.