Mango Lemonade

mango recipes

It’s mango season! I discovered recently that my picky-non-fruit-eating child actually likes mangoes…so we’re currently all about the mango recipes (side note: one of the best, most ridiculous kitchen gadgets I don’t regret spending money on is my mango slicer. I’m not much for one-use gadgets but that thing is a miracle and I no longer live in fear of slicing off my thumb.)

It’s around this time every year that I miss the fresh lemons I had easy access to in Southern California. We had three lemon trees at our house and couldn’t even give away all the lemons they produced. So I used to make fresh lemonade — oh my goodness. There really is nothing like it.

Since I now have to pay for my lemons, I don’t make fresh-squeezed lemonade anymore…but I do make it with lemon juice, which is almost as good. Last summer, we were loving Sweet Peach Lemonadeso this spring we decided to vary it a bit and try the mango.

Mango Lemonade

Mango Lemonade

Ingredients

  • 1 c water
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c lemon juice
  • 1 c pureed mango (approximately 2 mangoes)
  • 1 c water

Instructions

  1. Combine 1 c water and 1 c sugar in saucepan.
  2. Stir and heat until sugar is dissolved and water looks clear.
  3. Remove from heat and add in lemon juice.
  4. Cool.
  5. Stir in 1 c pureed mango and 1 c water.
  6. Chill and serve.
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Ribbon Burlap Bags

burlap crafts

I’m pretty sure it’s a requirement among crafty, DIY-ey bloggers that at some point we all venture into the realm of burlap crafts. But oh, I do like the way they look. Rugged and pretty all at the same time.

Mine was a quick, fun project I finished in under an hour last weekend — just enough to indulge a little craftiness that was rattling around inside me, but not a huge time-suck like the sweater quilt I’ve been working on for about nine months now (I’m almost done cutting out all the pieces. So that’s something, yes?)

This little bag is just the right size for a few seed packets — maybe to package up for a Teacher Appreciation gift? Or you could put in a gift card (seriously, people. Teachers don’t want Pinterested cookie mixes in a jar. They want gift cards to Starbucks or, probably, somewhere that sells booze. I would.) It would also make a good favor bag for a baby or bridal shower — with fancy soap or lotion or something in it. So many possibilities!

The bag is almost-no-sew…you only need to sew on one button. You can sew a button, can’t you? Of course you can!

I began by cutting a 6″x16″ rectangle of burlap. I folded it so that the front came up about 3/4 of the way to the back like this:

burlap crafts

I made a crease along the fold and then glue-gunned along both of the sides.

burlap crafts

I pressed them closed and let the glue dry. Then I rounded the top flap and turned the bag inside out like this:

burlap crafts

I glue-gunned some ribbon along the bottom and glued a thin piece of ribbon inside the top flap to make a loop.

burlap crafts

I sewed a button on the other side so I could close the bag and boom! Done.

burlap crafts

You could alter the colors and wrap Christmas presents in these…or Valentine’s Day…or Mother’s Day…you see what I’m saying. And you could decorate the front with felt scraps (maybe polka dots? I’m really into polka dots right now), or more buttons, or appliques from craft stores. So many ways to make it your own and have fun.

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Ooey Gooey Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars

Something about spring just feels citrus-y to me. On Easter…and Mother’s Day…and often in between and for no reason at all…I find myself making lemon bars or orange cakes or lemon meringue pie.

We have a lemon bar recipe that I’ve been making since I was ten years old (published as “Lemon Love Notes” in my mother’s Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook) and I decided to play around with it a bit. I added more filling because, really, that’s the best part. And I added some orange peel as well. They’re kind of messy because of the extra lemon, but really good with a cup of coffee or tea as a little afternoon treat or dessert.

Ooey Goey Lemon Bars

Ooey Goey Lemon Bars

Ingredients

  • Crust:
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1 c sifted flour
  • 1/4 c confectioner's sugar
  • Filling:
  • 2 c sugar
  • 4 Tb flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 Tb lemon juice
  • 2 tsp orange peel (found in the spice aisle)

Instructions

    For the Crust:
  1. Combine flour and confectioner's sugar in a bowl, mix.
  2. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter and mix until crumbly.
  3. Press into ungreased 8-in square pan.
  4. Bake in 350 degree oven 15 min or until crust is golden brown. Cool.
  5. For the Filling:
  6. Meanwhile, combine sugar, 4 Tb flour and baking powder in a bowl.
  7. Add eggs, lemon juice and orange peel and mix well.
  8. Pour evenly over baked, cooled crust.
  9. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 min.
  10. Cool in pan on rack. When completely cooled, cut into squares and serve.
  11. (Optional -- dust bars with additional confectioner's sugar before serving.)
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Nature Journal Writing Prompts (Free Printable)

Nature Journal Printable

Last week, I shared our Nature Journals with you. Today, I wanted to give a few writing prompts, in case your children have trouble deciding what to write about in their new journals.

There are so many things they can write about outside — the weather, their surroundings, the animals they see, how they’re feeling. They can really let their imaginations go. But sometimes, when there are so many possibilities, it’s hard to figure out where to start. These prompts give you a jumping-off point to get started. And if you print out and use a page each time, you can read back through them in a few months and re-live your outings. You could store them in a small binder (like our Road Trip Journal), along with maps, pictures, or other mementos from your outdoor adventures.

Nature Journal Printable

Click here to print your own journal pages.

And while it may sound like we’re intrepid explorers, always heading to the mountains to investigate mountain lions and rare flora and fauna — we’re really not. Some of our journal entries are from our own backyard. Or from neighborhood walks or local parks. I love getting up to the mountains, but sometimes (ok, lots of times) it’s just not do-able. The point of this exercise isn’t to get out into the unexplored wilderness so much as it is to help kids notice nature in their surroundings wherever they are.

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It’s About the Journey…

Tips for Hiking With Kids

It’s the last day of Nature Week here! By now, you should be able to pack up your nature journal and other hiking supplies, read a few books about what you might find while exploring…and you should be ready to get outside with your kids!

Here’s the thing, though — you’re not going far.

While I do have dreams of someday summiting a fourteener  with my children, right now we’re lucky if we hike past the bathrooms.

Kids like to investigate bugs. And stare at plants. And climb under bridges so they can yell at unsuspecting hikers that there are hungry trolls coming to eat them. The point is, they don’t always move fast and they don’t always move far.

That’s the way it is with kids. Whether they’re learning to make dinner or do their laundry or just about anything, they take a loooong time and they make a lot of mistakes. And hopefully, someday down the road, it gets easier. And faster.

They require a lot of patience and grace and setting aside of our own agenda to hike four miles so we can look for dinosaur bones in the dirt instead.

Patience and grace. Not bad skills to try on other adults, either, I don’t think.

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11 Children’s Books About Nature

Children's Books About Nature

It’s Nature Week here on the blog! And today — children’s books that will inspire kids to get outdoors and investigate things. But as I was making up this list, I realized that “books about nature” encompasses a lot of stuff. Animals. Oceans. Birds. Bugs. Hiking. Camping. Boating. Eco-friendliness. You could go just about anywhere with this. For this list, I stuck with animals and bugs…here are a few of our favorites:

-Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature’s Footprints  by Jim Arnosky

-Rabbits & Raindrops by Jim Arnosky

-Lost in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy by Carl Sams and Jean Stoick

-National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Animals by Catherine D. Hughes

-The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss

-Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

-Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Bob Barner

-Amelia Bedelia Hits the Trail by Herman Parish

As kids get older (late elementary school,) they tend to like nature survival stories that pit people (usually kids like them) against the elements. These are some good ones:

-Hatchet  by Gary Paulsen

-Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

-Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

-The Boys’ Book of Survival by Guy Campbell

What’s your children’s favorite nature book?

This is the third post in our Nature Week series. Click here for the previous post.

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What to Bring Hiking With Kids

hiking with kids

Welcome to Nature Week! We’re spending a week on tips for getting outside with kids which, I’m hoping, will lead to a spring and summer filled with outdoor adventures (around here, just getting there can be an adventure. We take our thrills where we can get them.)

And so today — what to bring when hiking with little kids. Though I feel it necessary to warn you — “hiking” may be overstating matters a bit. It’s a lot more like wandering…and stopping to look at bugs…and having a snack…and a drink of water…and it’s best to resign yourself to this and enjoy it rather than nagging the kids to hurry up and walk faster.

So. With that in mind, here’s what to bring on a hike:

hiking supplies

-Sturdy shoes. In fall and winter, we wear hiking boots or sneakers. In summer, we like water shoes like Keens or Tevas, in case we find creeks that need exploring. Bonus tip — each year I buy one pair of unisex-looking Tevas for the oldest kid and that’s it. The shoes hold up so well that the rest can be handed down through all four kids. It’s actually cheaper to buy one quality pair of shoes than four cheap pairs that fall apart and have to be replaced each year.

-Water. More than you think, even when you’re not really hiking far. I bring a 32-oz bottle for me, a few 16-oz bottles for the kids, and a cooler for the car if there isn’t drinking water available.

-Snacks. We have a seven-year old hiking buddy who insists this is the best part of hiking. If you’re not bringing a lunch, bring some easy to eat snacks like granola bars, raisin packets, fruit, nuts, etc. We always pack a little treat (like a cookie) to have at the car to celebrate when we’re finished.

-Sunscreen. Always. Every single day. Even when it’s snowing. We like the sunscreen sticks for faces (lotion gets in their eyes) and lotion everywhere else.

-Sunhat. Sunglasses. We always wear sunhats or ball caps and we start out with glasses but everyone loses them. At least wear the hats, though.

- Nature journals and colored pencils.

- First aid kit and bug spray. We have a small kit for the car — you can buy inexpensive ones at places like Target. We mostly use the Band-Aids and Neosporin but it also has allergy medicine, aspirin, gauze and medical tape. And an emergency blanket because I’m a little bit paranoid.

-Sweatshirts/jackets/gloves. This one depends on where you live, but here in Colorado I keep our winter jackets, hats, and gloves in the back of the car year-round because you just never know in the mountains.

I’d plan on carrying most of this stuff yourself, but my kids do love to bring little fanny- or backpacks, so I put a granola bar and a few small things in each pack so they feel like “real” hikers.

What do you bring on a hike with kids?

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(This is Day 2 of our Nature Week series. For Day 1, click here.)

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Nature Journals

Nature Journals

It’s Nature Week here on the blog! Spring has sprung, we have about a month and a half of school, and I’m feeling the pull to spend more time outdoors. Also, I’ve noticed that the (good-natured) shrieking and bellowing that goes on around here sounds quieter outdoors (bonus: it also alerts mountain lions and bears, who — I’m assuming — run away in fear of whatever horrible creature sounds like that.)

One of our favorite supplies over the last few years has been the nature journal. It’s served several purposes — the kids don’t hike far before wanting a break anyway, so this gives them something to do. They observe things around them they might not have noticed (and often, that I didn’t notice, either. I love that part). It helps with writing, drawing, observation, and other creative skills. It keeps everyone occupied on the car ride home. And — as with most journals — we have fun looking through them years later.

Nature Journals

Nature Journals

I tend to keep our journals simple — I know my limits and if I had to do a lot of work getting this together, I’d give up and go read a magazine. So at the beginning of each summer, I buy four cheap notebooks, 1-2 sets of colored pencils (because they don’t melt in the car like crayons), and a small pencil sharpener. And since we have to drive to most of our hiking places, we keep our supplies in the car, ready for our adventures.

Now — what to write about? Well, anything you see, or hear, or experience. Animals. Plants. A new trail you tried out. I’m pretty sure one kid wrote about how bored he was and that his mom was making him write in his journal. I’m fine with that (besides, those entries are hilarious to read when the kids are older). You can also start with a few prompt questions, if the kids are stuck:

-where are you right now?

-what is the weather like?

-name one new thing you saw. Draw it.

-what did you eat on this hike?

-who came with you?

-what sorts of animals might live here? 

For more inspiration, check out a few journal ideas from other adventurous parent-bloggers:

-Nature Journals for Beginners – from Go Explore Nature

-Make a Neighborhood Tree Guide from Kid World Citizen

-The Awe Journal from The House of Hendrix

-Observation Journals from Kitchen Floor Crafts

-First Journals from Bambini Travel

Happy Trails, everyone!

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(This is Day One of Nature Week. Links to the rest of the series will be added below.)

Day 1: Nature Journals

Day 2: What to Bring Hiking With Kids

Day 3: Nature Books for Kids

Day 4: It’s About the Journey

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Fun, Inexpensive Birthday Parties

Fun Inexpensive Birthday Parties

We love being invited to friends’ Big Birthday Parties. Parties at rec centers and bouncy house places and places with ziplines and princesses and swimming and things. But our four kids have birthdays within a three-month period (for a while we have a birthday every two weeks), so if I did that here, I’d be broke and certifiably insane by Christmas.

And so we have our parties at home (except, on occasion, when I let one of the older kids pick one friend and do something special). And we have them on the cheap, people. Cheap. Here are a few party ideas that keep the cost down:

1.) Make your own cake. Thanks to Pinterest, you can make just about anything (including these adorable lion cupcakes. Ahem.)

Fun, Inexpensive Birthday Parties

2.) Invite fewer kids. Our rule of thumb is to invite the same number of kids as the party person is years old. So our three-year old had three kids at her party, etc. It’s both cheaper and easier on younger kids, who won’t get overwhelmed by too many people.

3.) Play the old-school games. Sometimes, I think we make things hard on ourselves. Pin-the-tail on the donkey is just as much a hit now as it was thirty years ago. We’ve also done backyard races and small crafts for fun.

Fun, Inexpensive Birthday Parties

4.) Use what you have. We pull out my wedding china and Thanksgiving dishes for birthday tea parties. We’ve done obstacle courses outside using our normal outside toys. We decorated for a “Cars” themed party using all the gazillions of “Cars” toys already all over our house. If your child loves something enough to have a themed party, you’ve probably got toys that you can use to decorate.

5.) Don’t do goody bags. I say this both as a cheapskate, and as the person who has to sneak around throwing away all the cheap, plastic crap the kids bring home from parties. Don’t waste your money. Give out something small and consumable — like chocolate-dipped pretzels, small packages of sidewalk chalk (buy a large container and then put just a few pieces in a cute package), crayons, etc. Or do a craft and have kids take home the result.

And you? What do you do to keep party costs down?

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Operation: Momma Ain’t Making Dinner

kids make dinner

Alexis cooking

The Rules

1.) (And I cannot stress this one enough) Momma Ain’t Making Dinner. The kids are. They can make easy dinner recipes — they just have to not be made by me. It’s Spring Break. On Tuesday it occurred to me — four kids. Four weekdays left. ‘Nuff said.

2.) Each kid plans dinner one night. They must find the recipes, plan the menu, write the shopping list, and shop with me at the store for ingredients (after checking to make sure we don’t have them at home.) Then they need to make it.

3.) Every dinner must include at least one serving of protein and at least one serving of vegetables. Dessert is optional (Bwahahahaha! No one opted out of making dessert. Shocker.)

The Players

1.) Tim — boy; aged 11

2.) Alexis — girl, aged 8

3.) Caleb — boy, aged 6

4.) April — girl, aged 3

The Menu

Tim’s night: Homemade pizza (he made two, loaded them down with veggies, and argued that should satisfy the vegetable rule. The Judge allowed it), ice cream sundae bar

Alexis’s night: Spaghetti and meatballs, peas, Nigella Lawson Chocolate Fudge Cake (oh yes, she did…that’s my girl!)

Caleb’s night: Corned beef (cooked according to package instructions), “lettuce with ranch dressing” (not salad. Lettuce only), dessert trail mix (this is tonight. I believe it involves popcorn, M&Ms, chocolate chips, and…who knows? If it’s good, I’ll share the recipe here. But I did have to veto mixing in an entire tub of vanilla frosting.)

April’s night: “We have chicken!” She needed a little guidance. We’ll be making Crockpot Cranberry Chicken, served over rice, and asparagus. For dessert, “I make ice cream!” And so we shall. Our first homemade ice cream of the year.

pros

The great things about the challenge:

-Pizza with faces

pizza

-The working on fractions that always comes with cooking (“Oops. I can’t find the 1c measuring cup. You’ll have to use the 1/2c. Now what?”)

-New recipes (hello, again, Nigella Lawson Fudge Cake. I both love and fear you, you delightful, ridiculously chocolatey confection.)

-Unexpected alone-ish time with each kid as I helped in the kitchen. Around here when we cook, there are anywhere from 4-8 extra hands wanting to help. Because each kid gets their own day, they were all willing to allow each other their own time to cook with Mom. A lovely bonus.

-(hopefully) The beginnings of children who will be self-sufficient when they leave this house someday, and will not survive only on cereal and Top Ramen (or, if they do, will do it out of laziness like their mother, and not because they don’t know how to cook.)

Cons

-Only one, really: I’m not actually getting a break from cooking. I didn’t think I would be. Because at this age, when kids are in charge of anything — cooking, chores, homework — they still need grown-up supervision (and advice and motivation and…) But I’m hoping we’re laying the groundwork for them to do these things on their own one day. Maybe by Spring Break 2019, I’ll be able to veg in front of the TV and they will bring me my dinner. Holla.

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