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Hands-on Family Summer Activities Keep Your Kids Focused and Present

Hands-on Family Summer Activities Keep Your Kids Focused and Present

This post was created in partnership with Evite, and we’re pleased to share our own views and perspective as part of our sponsored story.

With two teen daughters in our house, we’ve had to establish some rules about family time – rituals really. Ever since our girls were very little, we’ve worked hard to remain present and focused during the times we spend together. Now as their phones have literally taken over their lives, it’s nice to have those rituals to depend upon.

One of those rituals is setting aside time in our busy family schedule to just unplug and enjoy each others’ company. For as long as we can remember, these moments have been some of our most fun because they are uncalendared and unscripted. There is no agenda. Sometimes we let the kids decide what family activity they’d like us to do, and other times we set up something fun in advance that we can do together.

The important thing is that we spend time together as a family, not staring at our mobile devices.

And Evite® is all about it. In fact, Evite is hosting the Take Back Summer sweepstakes inviting families to enter for a chance to win $2,500 towards a family getaway, where families can spend more time face-to-face and device-free!

We’re planning on having some of the girls’ friends over for a backyard party soon, and have found the perfect Evite invitation to spread the word. There’s lots of designs to choose from at evite.com, and we had fun looking through the summer invitation options together to choose one we all love.

Evite invitation for garden party

Invite the gang over to enjoy the summer with your family – and leave the devices at home!

Hands-on Family Summer Activities

In a family full of artistic types, we end up doing some pretty fun and creative projects together. This summer we’re concentrating on activities both indoors and outdoors.

Outdoors: Planting a Vegetable Garden

As the winter chill subsided and the rains turned to bright and sunny days, we tilled the soil in our raised redwood planters in the backyard. While the dads prepped the soil with compost, worm casings and organic fertilizers, the girls brainstormed what we would plant.

Dad and daughter picking plants at nursery

Letting the kids help pick vegetables to grow in the garden.

Maximize Sun Time

There’s a certain pattern to planting vegetables in the garden to maximize time in the sunlight. We watch the arc of the sun as it rises and sets, plotting the pattern of shadows to make sure the new plants have the greatest opportunity to grow and prosper. It’s a lesson in astronomy disguised as a fun gardening project!

Let the Kids Choose Plants and Seeds

One year, we planted only seeds and the kids lost interest waiting for the plants to grow. Now we’ve learned to choose a mixture of seeds and seedlings, so plants are growing at different rates. We let the kids each choose a couple of their favorites, and the parents choose the rest – mostly tomatoes. The kids have tried to grow corn (nope), watermelon (kind of worked), blackberries (a horrible mess), and even jalapeños (bumper crop)! Also, sunflowers are a nice addition and it’s fun to watch them grow so tall and blossom so enormously.

dad and daughter at plant nursery

Picking out plants at the nursery can be big fun.

Field Trip to the Plant Nursery

We all pile in the SUV and head to the nearby nursery, known for their great selection of organic vegetable plants. Since we try to eat healthy, we look for non-GMO labels on the plants and seeds. Wandering the aisles of greenery is so fun, because we always discover some strange and unusual new thing to bring home. This year it was fava beans.

Planting as a Family Tradition

While the dads space the tomato seedlings strategically to avoid overcrowding when they grow big, the girls make straight little rows to plant the seeds. This summer, we focused on onion and lettuce seeds. Lettuce, because it grows quickly for immediate gratification. Onions, because they grow slowly and we can watch their progress over the entire summer and into fall. We also brought home some natural pest control – ladybugs and baby praying mantis to eat the harmful bugs that can eat all our crops before we can!

girls releasing natural bug pesticides into garden

Each year we buy a mess of ladybugs and praying mantis to help keep the bad bugs away.

Plan for a Quick Harvest

One of the plants the girls like most is strawberries, and we intentionally buy the more mature plants in bigger pots. These usually have strawberries already forming on the vine, and sometimes even starting to ripen. Even so, within a week of planting we are already harvesting the berries, sweet and red. Kids lack patience, and giving them something they can almost immediately enjoy is an encouragement for what’s coming next.

girl releasing ladybugs in vegetable garden

Natural pesticides in the form of insects like ladybugs are a healthier way to control pests.

Indoors: Making Cupcakes

When the summer weather outside is inhospitable, we turn to indoor activities. Sometimes this can be an even more difficult process to manage the kids away from their phones. To combat their phone addiction, we have a central charging station in our house where all our phones must be placed when not in use. Out of sight, out of mind!

Cooking has always been a family activity in our family, and Ava and Sophia are obsessed with cupcakes. When the whole cupcake craze was on the rise, we invested a small fortune in all the equipment to make professional-looking cupcakes.

dad and daughters making cupcakes

Everyone gets into the act when we make cupcakes as a family.

Shopping for the Right Materials

To make the most beautiful and exotic cupcakes, you need your kitchen outfitted with all the right materials. An outing to the mall made the girls very happy, and we made a bee-line for the cooking shop. Huddled in the baking aisle, we looked at a zillion doodads and what-nots before choosing a few select items to make fancier cupcakes. Now we have the apparatus to make a swirl in frosting that would rival any fancy bakery!

cupcake ingredients and decorations

Starting with the right cupcake ingredients is half the battle.

Looking for a WOW! Recipe

The thing about cupcakes is that they all taste pretty much the same. Sure, some are chocolate, some are spongey, some are light and fluffy – but they are all basically cake. The frosting is where the differences come into play, and you can get really crazy. We peruse dozens of recipes to zero in on a choice for each daughter. Sophia usually goes for the flash, choosing a cupcake recipe that is visually stunning. Ava likes a pretty cupcake too, but always thinks about what will go into the flavor combinations. Either way, we end up with delicious treats.

girl making cupcake batter in home kitchen

Careful measurement is critical (just ask Triton about the baking soda episode!)

Decorating Together

It’s fun to make the batter and frosting together. Measuring out the ingredients in very exact portions is basically math, another hidden lesson amid all the fun. The girls help gather up all the ingredients and measuring cups and spoons, and we set out to make things turn out the way they look in the book. Yeah, it never turns out that way but we have a blast trying!

dad and daughter decorating cupcakes

Literally putting the cherry on top!

Sampling the Wares

After all that mixing, preparing, baking and decorating comes the feasting. I mean, what’s the point if we don’t get to enjoy the results?! After everything is decorated, we all hover over the display platter and ogle the beautifully completed cupcakes. Some are lopsided, some are too big or too small, but all are beautiful because we made them as a family. And they taste even better because of that reason!

Summer Time is Family Time

Regardless of the activity, it’s just really fun to spend time together. Your family might prefer crafting projects, or playing softball on the lawn, or building model airplanes in the garage, or painting murals or really anything! The point is to make family time.

For us, it’s wonderful to find moments when we don’t have to rush to the office or school, feeling the pressure of homework or work assignments. We can just relax, laugh, do fun things and leave our phones in the charging station for a nice long rest.

And who knows? We might end up enjoying a cupcake while sitting among the tomato plants growing in our backyard vegetable garden!

PS – Don’t forget to enter the Evite Take Back Summer sweepstakes for a chance to win $2,500 towards a family getaway, where families can spend more time face-to-face and device-free!

 

 


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Nana’s Traditional Italian Easter Bread

Nana’s Traditional Italian Easter Bread

When I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, we would always visit my Sicilian grandparents in Sacramento for Easter. My nana didn’t speak or write English very well, but boy that woman could COOK. She made this traditional Italian Easter Bread each year, and I couldn’t wait to dig into it. Whenever I see it now, I remember my sweet little Sicilian nana bringing it to the Easter table.

No that is not a giant egg in my hand, it’s an orange, silly!

A Sicilian Easter Tradition

Now as an adult I know the correct name for this simple bread is Pane di Pasqua (literally translated as “Easter Bread”). What always amazed me as a kid was how my nana got those dyed Easter eggs into that bread! Of course, I didn’t realize you color the eggs raw, and then weave them into the Italian Easter Bread before baking. The eggs cook in the oven right along with the bread, and turn out as perfectly hard boiled (baked, actually).

Pulling the Italian Easter Bread apart is the most fun part, especially for kids. Since the dough has been braided and forms an Easter wreath of sorts, the eggs are tucked in about the braids. When you pull the bread apart, the braids unwind and loosen the eggs. All around each egg, the colors of the dyes have usually bled a little into the bread dough. Each piece ends up soft, slightly sweet and multi-colored. So much fun for a kid!

Italian Easter Bread ingredients

We dyed the eggs the night before so they were ready to weave into the Italian Easter Bread.

How to Make Italian Easter Bread

My Nana never wrote down recipes, so we had to watch her carefully and then scratch down the proper ingredients and measurements on a nearby pad while she made the dish. Her recipe and directions for making Italian Easter Bread are super easy, but it does take a while to make.

Whenever you make bread from scratch, you have to let the dough rise for a bit. I like to get the recipe started so the bread can rise, and then go on and do something else in the mean time. After all, I end up with an least an hour to kill. Plenty of time to watch an episode of Game of Thrones. Or depending on your sense of humor, Gay of Thrones is a hilarious watch as well.

Here’s the recipe – I had to modernize and improvise a bit for current tastes.

Ingredients

½ cup milk, warmed slightly

¼ cup sugar

1 packet active dry yeast

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp orange zest

½ cup orange juice

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 tbs anise seeds (optional)

6 raw eggs, dyed various colors

Optional Icing

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp almond extract

1 tbs milk

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Even the Easter Bunny gets into the act when we make Italian Easter Bread at our house.

 

In a small bowl dissolve the sugar in the warm milk. Add the yeast, mix well and set the mixture aside.

While the yeast is taking action, mix together 3 cups all-purpose flour and salt in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the orange juice and zest, eggs, melted butter, and anise.

orange zest

Orange zest is my nana’s secret ingredient in this Italian Easter Bread recipe.

Add the yeast mixture and orange juice mixture to the flour, gently stirring together (do not overstir).

Add the remaining flour to the dough a little at a time, mixing until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until soft and smooth. Place the dough in a clean bowl, and cover the with a kitchen towel.  Set the bowl in a warm (70-75F), draft-free place to rise for about an hour or more.

Dividing bread dough

Dividing the Italian Easter Bread dough into three equal parts with my handy thingy from Sur la Table.

Check the dough, and once it has doubled in size turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and gently roll each into an 24” rope. Pinch one end of all three ropes together and braid the strands loosely. Shape the braid into a ring and place on a baking sheet. Weave the dyed, raw eggs into the braid. Let the ring rise until puffy and nearly doubled, 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Italian Easter Bread unbaked

When you weave the eggs into the bread dough, make sure they are anchored and don’t roll off!

Near the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the bread for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.  Let the bread cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Optional: When bread is completely cooled, mix together powdered sugar, almond extract and milk in a small bowl. Drizzle mixture over bread, avoiding the eggs. Sprinkle almonds on top of drizzle in order to stick.

Serve by allowing guests to pull apart bread in pieces. Eggs can be peeled and eaten alongside, or saved for later.

Italian Easter Bread Pane di Pasqua

Italian Easter Bread, or Pane di Pascua, is one of my favorite childhood memories of Easter with my Sicilian Nana.


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Halloween at Our House is a Thing

Halloween at Our House is a Thing

Halloween at our house is a Thing, and always has been. Since the kids were babies, we’ve hosted a big Halloween party at our house and it gets rowdier every year. As the kids have grown, the candy frenzy has died down but the tradition lives on. The tradition of Halloween celebrations morphs and changes, but All Hallows Eve is always a night to remember at the Bailey-Klugh household!

Dead Panda and Dead Alice in Wonderland costumes

Dead Panda Bear and Dead Alice in Wonderland costumes were our kids’ themes in 2011.

The Tradition of Halloween Celebrations Begins

At first it started as an opportunity for some of our friends to bring their babies over so we could take them trick or treating together, pushing strollers along the sidewalks amid the older kids who ran around like lunatics. Now our kids are the lunatics, hopped up on candy, sugar and teen drama. We parents now enjoy each other’s company, toasting with a glass of wine and chowing down on Jon’s White Chicken Chili recipe with cornbread.

LGBT family with Halloween costumes

We’ve had some pretty elaborate get-ups. Look how small the girls look in this photo from 2012!

The party has grown a bit – last year there were close to 50 adults and kids roaming around the house. Still, the love of Halloween and the lure of Butterfingers keeps them coming back each year. It’s our thing, and we love it.

Decorating the House

Skull Halloween table decor

Spooky skulls, bones and test tubes make our Halloween table extra fun.

Over the years. we’ve collected a fair amount of Halloween decorations to adorn the house. In fact, there are now 5 bins worth of paraphernalia that we scatter about the property – inside and out. The kids used to freak out over some of the stuff, especially the ghoulish face that emerges with a scream from its spooky coffin. Even now, it still brings a slight discomfort to their faces. Of course this makes us laugh, and then they get mad.

Halloween decor with skulls, Indian corn cobs and black crow

A little Dia de los Muertos inspired, these bowls are filled with mini Indian corn cobs, skulls and adorned with a spooky crow.

Halloween Costumes are a Specialty

Last year, Triton and I decided to dress like the Grateful Dead. Get it??? Dead?  Yeah, so that was fun.

Grateful Dead Halloween costumes

Halloween costumes are a tradition in our family, dating back to way before our kids were born.

Another year we had a Little Mermaid theme going with some close friends, and Triton was – wait for it – King Triton. I was Prince Eric, our friend Erica was Ursula the Sea Witch, and our friends Julie and Nick came as a cross-dressing Ariel and Sebastian. That was pretty epic, considering Nick is a giant ex-military special forces dude (he looked awesome in his Ariel tail and red wig!)

children in costume on Halloween

What a crew for Halloween 2010! But who is that kid in all black – he is creeping me out.

Last year, we had a Game of Thrones theme going. You’ll have to wait until that night to see what our costumes are this year, but I must say they are pretty epic. Maybe it helps that Triton works for a Halloween company called InCharacter Costumes, but we still put most of the pieces together ourselves, scavenged from the bins of years past with a few new extras.

The girls? They will probably dress as pretty teen girls this year, carrying a brown lunch sack and extorting candy from the neighbors – just as it should be. Other parents with their cute little babies in strollers can dodge around them now.

So, what are YOU going to be this year????

gay couple Hawaiian costumes

Oh remember those Halloween parties before we had kids, and we had abs and tans and all our hair? Yeah, well.