summer

3 Irresistible End-of-Summer Mocktails

Ugh. Back to school time already? I mean, I love back to school, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just this finality that seeing backpacks and pencil cases in stores brings. It means that before long, the pool will be closing, the days will be shorter, and it’ll be time to pull the sweaters from the back of the closet. While fall is pretty much my favorite thing, I’m never ready to say farewell to summer, either, so I had to share these three great summer mocktails that will keep you in good spirits until that first bus pulls away or the books come out of storage. The best part? Since they’re mocktails, the whole family can indulge in a little celebratory toast to a rockin’ school year.

The Lemonade Drop is the most complicated drink on the menu here, but it’s also my personal favorite (and my son’s favorite, too). A twist on lemon drops, you start by moistening the rim of a martini glass with a lemon wedge and dipping the rim in powdered sugar. From there, you’ll squeeze 1 ounce pure lemon juice, 4 ounces Sicilian or Italian lemonade, and 2 ounces of orange juice into your glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. It’s beautiful, and just tart enough that it’ll make for some cute pucker-face photos while still being simply sweet for even young tasters.

When to enjoy: on those last dying days of summer, when you’re bored with the standard lemonade.

The Fake-It-Til-You-Make-It Mimosa is oh-so-easy, only 2 ingredients. Fill half of your champagne flute with orange juice, then top it off the rest of the way with sparkling white grape juice. It’s fizzy and delicious.

When to serve it: Mornings, particularly on the first day of school, or anytime you need an extra fancy fizz to your orange juice.

Your typical Madras is orange juice, cranberry juice, and vodka served on the rocks, but for people like me who want a madras sans alcohol, this is a delicious treat! You’re going to take 4 ounces orange juice, 4 ounces cranberry juice, and 4 ounces of club soda in a tall glass, then garnish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a wedge of lemon. It’s easy, it’s chic, and it’s delicious. With or without ice, this is one tasty beverage.

When to serve it: The first Friday after school starts, like an after school virgin happy hour/study hour combo.

 

There you have it– 3 go-to drinks that are safe for any member of the family to indulge in once in awhile. Who doesn’t love a sweet, fizzy drink at the end of a busy summer that’s rapidly becoming fall? What’s your favorite back-to-school tradition? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

If you de-virginize these drinks, please drink responsibly. Oh, and if you keep them clean and alcohol-free, still drink responsibly, because who wants a mock-madras spilled all over their history textbook, y’know?

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15 Tantalizing Summer Reads for Kids

Ahh, summer. Between cloud gazing and visiting the beach and swimming at the pool, it seems like there’s so much excitement during the summer. Sometimes, it’s hard to forget to slow down, take a break, and just soak up summer. I guarantee that these books, though, will do the trick and help your kids take a few minutes for their imagination. Whether you’re curled up on the couch reading together, or you prepare a book basket for your young one to explore solo, these books are the perfect picks for summertime.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. 

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A&W Root Beer Float Cookie Bars

I was walking through Walmart not too long ago and saw a product that made me stop dead in my tracks. As a member of a Root Beer loving family, I knew I had to make something awesome with the mix I saw on the shelf. Betty Crocker actually released a Walmart-Exclusive Root Beer Float cookie mix. The first thing I thought? “This is either going to be absolutely amazing, or really off the mark…” I mean, you can’t make a root beer cookie… can you? Well, Betty Crocker succeeded, and I decided to tweak their cookie to make the perfect party treat. The best part? It’s really simple.

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34 Things to Add to Your Summer Bucket List (That Cost $20 or Less to Do!)

Summer is officially almost here. It seems like in my mind, Memorial Day marks the official beginning of summer. With it right around the corner, it’s time to start planning out all of the fun things you want to do this summer. But a ton of activities can get expensive. Here is a list of 34 great things you’ll want to try that won’t drain your wallet too quickly– they’re all under $20!

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12 Can’t-Miss Ways to Use Zipzicles! (And a Giveaway)

Growing up, it was clear that summer wasn’t summer without the industrial size bag of ice pops in the freezer. They were perfect– no stick, no drips, and you could let it melt most of the way before drinking that sickly-sweet syrup inside. That’s an experience for the ages, one I wanted my son to experience, but at the same time, I hoped for an option that would maybe be a bit better for him… and for me as I indulged in one, two, fifteen ice pops on the hottest days of the year.

Enter Zipzicles, which are pretty much the coolest thing since frozen water. I mean, they have all of the classic trademarks of summer– they’re plastic, just like the ice pops you remember, and they’re able to be filled with anything you can imagine. But even better, they’re reusable or disposable, whichever you prefer, and they’re re-sealable. I don’t know about your kids, but it seems like Zach gets halfway through an ice pop and gets bored, leaving the rest to melt all over or just be thrown away. I didn’t like either of those options, so the zip-seal on these is just amazing for ending the half-eaten ice pop battle.

The best part is that they’re recyclable, and they’re food-grade materials that are third-party tested to be BPA free. Woohoo for safety!

But I knew that just filling them with the same thing over and over was bound to get boring, so I wanted to get creative and figure out everything my Zipzicles could hold.

Zipzicles are perfect for making your own applesauce pouches for kids– at 2.5 ounces, it’s just the right amount, and it’s far cheaper than buying store-bought pouches. You can fill them from the large container of applesauce, or even make your own sauce for a healthy treat. And because the Zipzicle is flexible, it takes up far less room in a picnic basket than an applesauce cup.

Of course, you can also make your own yogurt-on-the-go pouches, which it seems ALL kids love. I personally buy the off-brand 38-cent yogurt at my store, and it fills 2 pouches. You can’t beat that price! If you freeze the Zipzicle overnight, then toss it in a lunch box in the morning, it helps keep food cool and will be perfectly thawed when it’s time to eat.

I can’t tell you how many times I go to the fridge and someone has drank all but the last bit of juice. There’s not enough for a full glass, but there’s also no way I want to just toss it. The solution? I pour it into a Zipzicle. The far-left ice pop is actually the  rest of some Mango Juicy Juice with bits of chopped mango tossed in for some real fruit flavor– yum! The mango pop is probably Zach’s absolute favorite, and like I said, it rids me of the last-drops-of-juice problem.

You can also tailor Zipzicles to your party theme or color by buying drinks that match the theme, then freezing them. For a red-white-and-blue idea, I went with a blue raspberry punch, a white grapefruit juice, and a red fruit punch. I filled the pop 1/3 of the way with the red, froze it until solid, filled it 1/3 of the way with the white, froze it until solid, and finished with the blue to the fill line. It made for a very festive pop without much work.

I’ve also noticed that when Zach and I make smoothies, we end up having some leftovers there, too. The pop on the right is just leftover Mango-Pineapple smoothie from the post last Friday. It’s a great way to make the most out of smoothies– just make a little extra when you’re whipping up your morning favorite, and pour it into a Zipzicle for a frozen treat later.

I can’t get enough of citrus in the summer, and one summer treat I always love is a cherry limeade. I took some key limes, squeezed them, then added grenadine. I mixed in a generous splash of lemon lime soda, then let the mixture rest until most of the carbonation was gone (freezing carbonation tends to be messy unless it’s very diluted and left to flatten a bit). As I filled the Zipzicle, I added in some slices of key lime and some diced maraschino cherries as a pretty garnish!

I also love the Passion Tea Lemonade sold by a certain (cough Starbucks) coffee chain. I make my own version by brewing some lemonade in my Keurig over a bag of Tazo passion tea, then chilling it until it’s cool. I then fill up Zipzicles for my very own frozen twist on a Passion Tea Lemonade, which is SO refreshing after a trip to the park.

I also love taking my favorite sweet tea, squeezing in some lemon, and then filling a Zipzicle with sweet tea for the best southern-style sweet tea treat in the world. It’s so perfect because I can customize it however I’d like.

There’s one New York Eatery that became famous for it’s frozen hot chocolate, and it makes sense why– the stuff is delicious. While this isn’t a duplicate by any means, the idea of hot chocolate served cold is always a great one. I froze my favorite hot chocolate, and garnished it with a little whipped cream at the very top. Pretty and delicious! Pair a frozen hot chocolate pop with some fake snowballs and you have everything you need for a winter party in summer!

I also often make Zipzicles filled with my favorite coffee. How many times have you brewed yourself a cup of coffee only to forget to drink half of it? Well, rather than dumping my cold, forgotten coffee down the drain, or microwaving it only to forget that I’ve put it in the microwave (darn you, mommy brain!), I pour it into a Zipzicle to enjoy frozen later. It’s a great way to re-use my forgotten coffee without any effort, and what coffee fan doesn’t love a decent iced coffee now and then? Bonus points– if your coffee is too hot, you can just break off pieces of this and throw it into your cup of joe to cool it off without watering it down.

But Zipzicles aren’t just for frozen treats. Zach and I love to go on picnics, or at least have picnics in the floor. Using Zipzicles to contain condiments instead of using the individual packets makes it so much more convenient, and cheaper. Now, we never pack a sandwich without a Zipzicle of mayo or have  hot dogs at the park without a Zipzicle of ketchup. It’s just so much easier than fumbling with bottles or paying for individual packets when we go out! It’s also a great solution for sandwiches packed on road trips– then they won’t get soggy from being slathered with mayo before-hand, but also won’t be dry from no condiments at all!

I also use a Zipzicle to contain the pizza sauce for my homemade pizza lunchables, as you saw on Wednesday.

You can even use Zipzicles for pre-measured formula powder. I mean, instead of buying those little expensive packets of formula, try buying a container of formula and measuring out the powder you need. Write mixing instructions on the label and you’re all set!

If you can’t live without Zipzicles another second, you can check out their website here and order some of your very own. Social media addict? Check them out on Facebook, or follow them on Pinterest for tons of great ideas.

There are literally hundreds of ways to use a Zipzicle and so many things you can fill it with, but these are a dozen of my favorite ideas, and I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below. What would you freeze in a Zipzicle? Tell me in the comments and you’ll be entered to win a package of Zipzicles to use at home! One lucky winner will get their own package so they can try all of the ideas above and any others they can imagine!

 

The contest will run until Friday, May 23, at 11:59 CDT. Only US residents 18 or older may enter. For full disclosure, Zipzicles by WizCo were provided to me for use in this post, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.

Watermelon Quick Bread (Or How To Make a Sweet Bread out of ANY Cake Mix!)

I’ve mentioned a lot lately how much I love spring. It’s that 70 degree weather and the delicious seasonal foods that appear in stores about this time, for sure. So the other day, I was shopping at Target, wandering the store the way I do… you know how you go into Target for one thing and there’s that unspoken law that you can’t leave without spending $50 even if you went in for just one $5 item? Yeah, so, I was wandering. And stumbled upon a Target exclusive.

Oh my goodness, Target, you kill me with those exclusives…

Betty Crocker got sneaky and made a WATERMELON cake mix. And frosting to go with it. And oh my goodness, this cake mix, it’s just like a watermelon. But like, in cake form. Psht, like I needed another excuse to eat cake!

So I gathered my Betty Crocker Watermelon Cake mix, a box of Jello Instant Vanilla Pudding, 4 eggs, 1 cup of water, and 1/2 cup oil, then preheated my oven to 350.

Now, I want to tell you here, I used the Watermelon Cake mix because I really wanted to have that amazing watermelon bread flavor. The vanilla pudding compliments that well, but you can use literally any flavor of pudding and cake mix. Want chocolate bread? Try chocolate cake and chocolate pudding. Want chocolate covered strawberry? Use a strawberry mix and chocolate pudding. Want lemon? Use lemon cake mix and lemon pudding and add some poppyseeds… or, use lemon cake and vanilla pudding for a lighter flavor. The sky is the limit!

But for today– Watermelon Cake Mix, Vanilla pudding. Everybody still tracking along?

Put your dry ingredients in the bowl, then add in your wet ingredients while mixing.

Aww, look at all of the fun “seeds” in the watermelon mix! This is a good time to mention that, while these great black seed bits came in the mix, you CAN add in mix-ins like chocolate chips or poppyseeds when making a cake mix quick bread. Use your imagination!

 

I divided my batter among 4 mini loaf pans, but you can make two regular loaves instead. I like mini loaves because they’re so cute, and great for sharing! The baking time should stay the same or increase just slightly if you’re using the regular loaf pans. Always insert a toothpick or use your method of choice to check for doneness!

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes, or until edges are golden. Then, cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes to an hour before slicing and serving. See, breads will continue to bake just slightly after removed from the oven, so cooling them before slicing allows that soft center to get fully cooked.

Cake mix quick breads are great because they use ingredients people usually keep on hand, and they’re so easy to take to friends or family, serve as a breakfast or dessert, and are just a great treat.

The best thing about the Watermelon quick bread is it’s delicious watermelon flavor that tastes so true to the actual fruit. This is the moistest sweet bread you’ll ever taste!

 

What cake mix/pudding combo would you try in your Cake Mix Quick Bread? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t Let Them Go Dark…

I know this isn’t the first summer that I’ve shared with you how much I love Drive-In movies.

Drive-In movies are part of a family tradition for us. I can’t remember how old I was when we went to our first Drive-In, but I know for sure it’s a fun tradition I want to keep alive for my son’s sake. It’s one of the most important traditions we have.

You see, we don’t just go for the movie.

It’s tradition to get there early and play on the playground in front of the screen.

At the beginning of the summer, Zach was unable to make it up the slide without help. Last time we visited, however, he was able to make it up and down the slide all by himself! I love seeing him grow up on this equipment.

We always take a ball in case we decide to play a pick-up game of soccer. This photo shows Javier, a student from Brazil, heading the ball during one of these games.

Drive-In movies are about FAMILY.  The picture above shows family and friends we love attending the Drive-In with, as well as exchange students. We love introducing students to Drive-In movies, because they’re really not as common outside of the U.S.

There’s just something about the Marquee, the Playground, waiting for it to get dark outside, watching the movie…

Most recently, we went to the Drive-In during the Meteor Shower. It meant that, as we watched the movie, above the screen we could see massive amounts of shooting stars.

On one of these stars, I wished that our Drive-In would be saved. You see, Drive-Ins are suffering right now. Most of them cannot afford to survive the shift to digital, and Hollywood keeps raising the cost of keeping a drive-in open. I mean, where else can you see a double feature for only $7? Drive-In movies just aren’t making enough to survive or make the shift.

So, each summer, fewer and fewer drive ins survive. Each summer, there are casualties. And it’s sad.

The thought of our Drive-In closing before my son can be old enough to keep those memories of the drive in devastates me.

I just want these memories to last. I want him to grow old enough to remember the Drive-In. In wishful thinking, I want Drive-In movies to still be a thing when my son is grown. Can you imagine how great it would be for him to take HIS kids to the drive-in?

That’s why I’m desperate to Save the Midway Drive-In that we go to every summer.

If you want to help save my Drive-In, or a Drive-In near you, please head over to Project Drive-In and VOTE. Vote to keep this family tradition alive. Vote to give everyone a chance to visit a Drive-In movie. Vote to give hope to this amazing movie culture that is dwindling.

Please. Don’t let the drive-ins go dark. Save them. The best way to support your local drive in? Spread the word about it. Visit it often. Support the concession stand. If you’re going to the Midway, you always have the option of tipping the Concession Stand– all money goes to the Save the Midway fund.

Speaking of, if you’re in the area, Planes and Smurfs 2 are the movies airing at the final weekend of the season this weekend, August 30, 31, and September 1. I hope to see you there!