August 31, 2015

What I Was Hoping to Do This Summer (& How That All Turned Out)

A few months ago, I made a list I called "What I'm Hoping to Do This Summer." Now, treasured reader, I give you my end-of-summer report card. Because I'm rather lazy and also on account of the results of #1, I'm just going to annotate my original list. Thanks for checking in!

1. Sleep. Oh, sure, start with a fail. Note to self: put this on the fall list. (As if.)
2. Not pack school lunches. Done. Or not done, as the case may be. 
3. Not administer after-school therapy to my daughters. Check.
4. Not quiz my high-schooler on her biology notes over breakfast. There was no biology on our summer breakfast menu.
5. Eat ice cream. Repeat. Done. But there is always room for more. 
6. See Michigan's Mackinac "Mighty Mac" Bridge. Possibly while eating ice cream. Saw it--and admired it, as always. 
7. Eat s'mores by the campfire. And remember: if you only have one, it's not a s'more. It's only a some. Don't settle for some. Had some. Had s'more.
8. Hang out with my girls someplace other than in the van. Yes, ma'am. On the beach, at the campground, in our living room...
9. Try that "family dinner" thing I've heard so much about. Check. Even better: my girls made one of those family dinners themselves. I know most moms cook with their kids from birth and that their children make family dinner on a regular basis. But I am an underachieving mom and a control freak and a neat freak, so I never cooked with my daughters. WHICH turned out to be brilliant. I waited until they were old enough to choose a menu for themselves, shop for themselves, prep for themselves, and clean up for themselves, and THEN told them to do it. Genius, in an I-didn't-plan-it way. 
10. Listen to "Trust in You" and pretty much everything else by Lauren Daigle. Oh, yeah. New favorite? "Come Alive (Dry Bones)." Love, love, love.
11. Read. Possibly a novel. At least a magazine. Nailed it on the magazines. "Read," via CD book, the fabulous Delicious, by Ruth Reichl.
12. Go the lake. Stop for ice cream on the way. (Recurring theme alert.) We went, we stopped, we licked.
13. Go camping with my parents. Their philosophy is, "We'll do all the work! You just relax." Yes, I am spoiled rotten, and no, they are not available to loan out. In the memory books. See "And the Award Goes To: A Summer 2015 Bests-Of List" for more on just how great this turned out.
14. Do Bible studies with my girls. (Full disclosure: totally shameless plug for Sweet For Your Soul.) Done! Thank you, GALS (Girls and Ladies) Sunday School class on the book of Esther!
15. Hang sheets on the clothesline and inhale the clean-air scent when I slide into a freshly-made bed that night. Joy upon joy. Oh, yes, I love my clothesline.
16. On one of the season's hottest days, slurp Peppermint Patty Frozen Hot Chocolate while watching Frozen with my daughters.  No central air? No problem! Not yet. But apparently some of the hottest air of the season is coming for us here in Michigan, so maybe we'll squeeze it in. (Looking for the recipe for this A/C in a glass? Here it is!)
17. Tie-in to #16: listen to The Piano Guys 100% fabulous version of "Let It Go." Am listening to it this very minute under the "better-late-than-never" clause. And mama, if you've never heard this, click the link right now. It will bring you joy, it really will. Want proof? My teen just walked by and heard this playing. "Oh my gosh, is that the Piano Guys' 'Let It Go'? I love it!" I promise: you'll love it, too.

Coming soon: "What I'm Hoping to Do This Fall"! What would you put on that list? Let me know, and I'll include it from the get-go. If you're a blogger, feel free to leave a link to your site, under the "share-the-love" clause.

August 30, 2015

Lessons From My Daughter: Creative Habits of Successful Students

I have her permission to tell you this: my 16-year-old daughter is not the smartest kid in her class.

She says so herself. When her peers tell her, "You're so smart," she usually responds, "No, I'm not. I'm just organized, and I work hard."

Oh, but our Lydia is loving and lovely, and her dad and I are crazy about her. And we are so grateful she has a capable, healthy mind and that she is motivated to work hard. We take neither her mind nor her motivation for granted.

But our first-born does not score in the highest percentiles on standardized exams. She won’t be getting a 2000 on the SAT. We didn't need to have her take the entrance test to know she would not have been accepted into our area’s accelerated math and science program. (Which is fine, because she detests math and science.) She struggles to figure out sales tax without a calculator. She needed a tutor to get through geometry. She will not be the valedictorian or salutatorian on graduation day. She doesn't particularly like school. I suspect her IQ is average.

And yet: heading into her junior year in high school, and after carrying her toughest academic load yet, she’s holding onto a 4.0 GPA. She’s been Student of the Month several times and was recently inducted into National Honor Society. When teachers tell students to work with a partner, Lydia’s classmates ask for her. In band, she’s first-chair clarinet, marching band section leader, and a repeat honor’s ensemble participant. She takes five dance classes a week and in her spare time leads kids’ small-group time and summer camp workshops at church.

I’m not saying all this to brag about her. (Really!) And to parents who might be thinking, “Big deal! You should hear what my kid does!” I earnestly say, “Congratulations! You must be so proud!“

I’m sharing Lydia's story because I’ve noticed five habits she's chosen to hone that could help other average-minded students succeed—both in school and out of it.

This isn't about a GPA or a list of achievements. This is just about what has worked for my daughter. Maybe one or more of these habits will work for your student, too.

1. Review. Practice. Repeat. “Practice makes perfect”? I don't think so. I’ve watched Lydia study algebra and listened to her play the clarinet and snuck glances at her rehearsing dances, and in most cases, what practice actually seems to make is possible.

Lydia reviews study notes again and again. She goes over dances in our living room so often that her father and I hardly ever get to spend any time in there. She practices her clarinet solos over and over until even I have every note memorized. 

Still, she's never perfect when she takes the test or plays the song or performs the dance. There's always something that could be better. But her practice usually makes it possible for her to get the grade or the rating or the performance she's after. 

She's learned that practice is stronger than nerves. Lydia is almost always nerved-up before a test or competition or performance, but all those reviews and repetitions train her mind and fingers and legs to do what needs to be done, in spite of butterflies in her
Smart students set themselves up for success by redoing, rehearsing, and rehashing—and then doing it all again. That old “I work best under pressure” claim? Most successful learners recognize a veiled excuse for procrastinating when they see it and have figured out that repeated exposure to material—scales or scientific formulas or whatever—spread out over time is what really gets the job done.

High achievers also know they cannot only rely on learning in the classroom or dance studio or on the athletic field; they have to review, practice, and repeat on their own. When the owner of Lydia’s dance studio announced the scholarship award Lydia would eventually receive, she first described the recipient without naming her name. My daughter didn't know in advance that she'd won the award, but as soon as her teacher said "she practices all the time at home,” Lydia knew preparation had made her dream possible.

2. Make tools accessible. At the end of the last school year, there were biology final exam review sheets taped up all over our house. If I'd wanted to, I could have learned about passive transport while I was
brushing my teeth. (I didn't want to, BTW.) On weekends, Lydia’s clarinet is usually assembled and perched on its stand in our formal dining room-cum-music room. In her bedroom, various piles of papers, books, and other materials are strategically scattered all over the place.

Smart students eliminate obstacles to doing what they need to do. If Lydia’s clarinet is hidden away in her case (or, worse, left in her band locker at school), she’s a lot less likely to practice than if all she has to do is pull her instrument off the stand, stick it in her mouth, and play. And those biology review sheets decorating my bathroom wall? One-stop shopping for exam prep and dental hygiene.

3. Rotate subjects, strategies, and settings. Trying to cram one subject for long stretches is not the most productive way to truly learn a thing, and savvy students know it. 

Lydia’s studying, practicing, and free time away from school usually looked something like this last year:
Mixing up environment, tools, methods, and activities helps learning take hold. Dancing releases stress and clears Lydia's mind for further memorization. Pizza with family boosts the feel-good chemicals in her brain, so everything else work better. And while she sleeps, the problems my daughter has solved, the vocab she has memorized, and the scales she has practiced get mentally filed away for future recall.

4. Get creative with time management.  Lydia’s time is crunched (whose isn't?), so she’s gotten really good at maximizing her waking hours. She loads review sheets into plastic storage bags for shower study sessions. She does balance and core-building exercises while she brushes her teeth. She listens to required reading on audio books while she figures out what she’s wearing for the week. All this doubled-up effort leaves her a little time for mindless TV and sleeping in on weekends—both of which play their own part in her success.

5. While you’re eking out the little picture, keep the big picture in mind. (Or, make the choice to do what you have to do today so that tomorrow you might have the choice to do what you want to do.) When my daughter gets bogged down in the minutiae of high school required classes and course credits, I encourage her to keep her mind’s eye on what she wants to do someday.

Besides music, Lydia loves working with preschool–age kids. Area community colleges offer programs in her field, and on a different note (literally), she found out that if she attends a particular community college, she can enroll as a guest student in the marching band of a local university. It's possible that only a couple years down the road, my daughter could spend her days alternating between getting a degree in early childhood education, working at a preschool, and playing her clarinet in an esteemed marching band. All of which she would love.

But to get to that point, Lydia, like most good students, has to muddle through formulas for respiration and quadratic equations and research papers. In the middle of this muddling, she reminds herself that doing what she has to do now—and doing it well—is setting her up to be able to do what she enjoys down the road.

I sometimes wish my daughter had been gifted with a genius-level IQ that might make learning come easily. But most of the time, I’m thankful she's had to work hard to achieve success. She couldn't choose the mind she was born with, but she does have the power to choose how she uses the mind she has. In the future Lydia is building for herself, she’ll certainly have to keep working diligently. But because of the habits she’s practicing now, I think she’ll know what to do and how to do it well. 

And the hope of witnessing my daughter succeeding at something she loves is more valuable to me than an off-the-charts SAT score any day.

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Okay, mamas, what's your best good-student strategy? Don't keep it to yourself...share it here. Post a tip, or leave a link!

Gratefully shared with:
Tell It To Me Tuesdays

August 26, 2015

And the Award Goes To: A Summer 2015 Best-Of List

Several posts ago, I went on the record that I'm not a big fan of summer. I'm a fall and winter girl myself. I file this under "Things I'm Not Crazy About That Most Other People Love." 

But, I have loved this summer in so many ways. And not just because I haven't had to pack school lunches. A lot because of that. But not just.

In appreciation and gratitude, and to give the season its due, here are 10 of our bests from summer 2015. 

Best Gooey Chocolate Mess in a Pan That You Can Make in About 10 Minutes: Inside Out S'mores BarsSo I was at our annual church picnic, surveying the dessert territory. I found a pan of chocolate gooeyness, which I felt called to sample. Then I felt called to take a second serving so I could wander around the picnic and find out who'd made it so I could get the recipe. I took my plate and randomly surveyed the first person I came to. "Did you make this?" I asked without much hope. "Yes, I did," she answered. Well. If that wasn't divine intervention, I don't know what is. A few ingredients, a few minutes, and a lot of chocolate heaven. **Late-breaking news: I just made a pan of these and used Jet-Puffed S'more Marshmallows instead of the mini version. My daughter lined them up like a fluffy marshmallowy comforter over the graham crackers, and we are very, very happy.**

Best All-in-One Quintessential Camping Experience: S'mores + sunset + campfire combo at Wilderness State Park in northern Michigan. From our campsite that was essentially on the beach, my parents, my girls and I watched an incredible, drawn-out sunset over Lake Michigan while we watched the campfire while we ate s'mores. 

(In case you're wondering: my wonderful husband was home keeping the mortgage paid up while we camped. Which, actually, was just fine with him because his idea of "roughing it" is a hotel room with no ESPN. We "camp" with him as a family in a cottage on the lake of his growing-up years. That's "roughing it" to me because there is no dishwasher. There is, however, ESPN. It all works out just fine.)

Best Social Media Post from My Teenager: My 16-year-old and I spent a day going to the beach, buying blueberries, and eating ice cream while we waited to pick Daughter #2 up from a hang-out date. That night, my eldest posted this: "There's nothing better than spending the day with my momma. Got to lay on the beach, get fresh blueberries without the hassle of picking them ourselves, and finished the day off with Sherman's Ice Cream. I'm going to remember this day for a while." Me, too, sweet, too.

Best Mom-As-Helper-Child-As-Leader Experience: While our teen was pounding the practice field at band camp (summer camp on hormones), our tween was leading a dance workshop at our church's Adventure Camp (VBS on caffeine). Because my 11-year-old was not much older than her students, I hovered around as the "mom presence." Watching my baby plan, organize, teach, lead, love, and inspire ranked right up there with my all-time great mom moments. 

Best High-Flying Memory-Maker: Wherein one intrepid grandma (my mom) took her granddaughter (my daughter) parasailing over Michigan's Straits of Mackinac. 

Best Non-Toxic Weapon-of-Mass-Weed-Destruction: Homemade weed killer that really works. One more reason to buy vinegar in bulk.

Best Game-Winning Scrabble Move: My husband and I were playing Scrabble while were away on family vacation. (As if we would have been sitting around playing a game if we had not been on vacation.) Yore and yon were already down. And directly under yore's "o" and to the right of yon's was a triple word score. And I had an x. Double "ox" = 50 points. I'll take that (rare) victory, thank you very much.

Best Sister Moment/Photo-Op/Post: Daughter #1, about Daughter #2. "I know my sister loves me when she's willing to join me on the Ferris wheel at Michigan's Adventure, even though she's afraid of heights." 

Best Party Game/Craft Revision By a Clean-Freak Mom: My younger daughter hosted 3 friends for a birthday sleepover and wanted to play the Twister/shaving cream game that apparently makes frequent appearances on Pinterest. I envisioned food-coloring stained everything and had a sudden longing for a Chuck E. Cheese's party. Thank goodness for a brainstorm at the craft store: paint that specifically promised to be "washable from hands and most machine-washable fabrics." We found a 6-pack with all the required colors that was, with my coupon, only about $3. My older daughter, bless her soul, mixed the shaving cream and the paints in disposable foil trays and loaded the Twister palette. The tweens loved it, and no one ended up with dyed digits. 
Best New Ice Cream Recipe: Lemon Frozen YogurtJeni's Splendid Ice Creams-style. You have to know that if I put a recipe on a best-of list, and it doesn't involve chocolate, it must have other redeeming features. This does. Among them: creaminess, lemony-ness, and lick-the-ice-cream-canister-with-your-finger deliciousness.

Thank you, summer...see you next year.

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Thanks for reading this far! What's on your summer bests-of list? Nominate your favorite in a comment or on Facebook

Gladly shared with Fellowship Fridays!


August 23, 2015

7 Reasons I Love Being the Mom of a Teenager

A couple weeks ago, I posted "8 Things Moms of Young Daughters Have to Look Forward To (Really!). (It was also very kindly published by Mamalode.I loved hearing from several moms of girls who said my little list encouraged them not to dread the teen years quite so much. (There also seems to be a lot of shoe-sharing anticipation going around.)

Which is fabulous, because there's plenty of that dread out there. 

Search "parenting teenagers," and all sorts of results along the lines of "How to Survive Having a Teenager" and "What To Do to Get Through the Teen Years" and "Help! There's A Teenager in My House" come up. 

Words like "nightmare" and "brutal" and "alien" pop up with rather alarming frequency.

And maybe understandably so: between school schedules and interpersonal relationships and hormones and fledgling independence and that tricky not-yet-fully-cooked-teen-brain thing, being the parent of a teenager is not for the faint of heart (or will or mind or stomach).

But, as I tried to prove in my earlier post, having older children is something to look forward to, not fear! It's a season to anticipate, not avoid! And because I think this applies whether you're parenting sons or daughter or both, here are a few more joys I'm discovering about mothering someone whose age ends with "-teen."

Witness the passion. No, I am not talking about teenage dating...that, surely, is a subject for another list. I am talking about watching your teen do something they love and possibly are somewhat good at.

When my girls were younger, they dabbled in the usual sorts of activities many kids try out at some point: gymnastics, cross-country, choir, basketball, piano lessons, dance and band. All along, I waited for them to hit on The Thing that would make their hearts happy. The Thing that they would want to do even when they were tired and grumpy and overloaded with homework. The Thing that they might even be a little gifted at. 

For both my girls, that Thing ended up being dance. And also, band. These Things fill them up. They motivate and inspire them. They are their passions. And I love to watch my daughters do these Things because that passion shows on their faces while they do them.

When you have the joy of watching your child do something they love to do, that they have worked hard to do as well as they can, you get a gift.

I know some kids find their Thing far earlier than the teen years. And I know some teens (and adults!) still haven't found theirs. But when it happens, it is beautiful to behold.

Who's driving? Eventually, not you for a change. Okay, let's just jump right into the thick of it. Yes, having a teenage driver is rather terrifying. You simply cannot think too much about it. I'm convinced God invented teenage drivers as a clever trick to get parents to pray more.

But beyond the anxiety, there is this: it's great! it's handy! 

A couple weeks ago, my daughter wanted to go to a local lake by way of a friend's house. My other daughter needed to be, well, not there. Normally, this would have required about 17 trips by me back and forth. But no: my new driver took herself off, went to the friend's house, went to the lake, came home...okay, she took a detour at the end of the day to the busiest commercial stretch in our area to go to a consignment shop, which her father approved because she couldn't get through to me. But still. I did not have to do those 17 trips. Yes, I filled my time with intercessory prayer. But I did other things, too. 

And then, just recently, both my girls were offered the huge honor of being student teachers for a preschool dance class at their beloved studio. Said class is on Saturday mornings. I said, "Sure, you can do it!" Because, hello, I WILL BE HOME EATING PANCAKES IN MY PAJAMAS while they drive off down the road. Real maple syrup, anyone?

I'll be taking a nap now, thanks. The other day, I told my girls I was going upstairs to lie down for a while. (I'm still trying to catch up on my 700 hours of sleep debt accrued during my girls' respective first two years of life.) "Okay," they mumbled, not even looking up from whatever it was they were doing. 

And that's the thing: I didn't really know what they were doing, and it didn't matter. It was a lazy summer afternoon, and they weren't engaged in anything illegal, immoral, or dangerous, so what did I care about the specifics? Nor did they care that I was taking a break, so long as dinner eventually materialized. 

Remember those days (maybe you're living one right now) when you put your baby or toddler down for a nap and then hit the bed yourself, praying you didn't hear anything resembling crying for at least 20 minutes? Well, this isn't then. This is full-on, REM-cycle napping if you want to do it and if the rest of life permits, because your teens DO permit.

And it's not just about taking a nap, you understand. It's about doing any number of things you want or need to do on your schedule, and having your teenagers not really care because they are occupied with their own stuff. It's quite lovely. And no, no, no, I do not feel "unneeded." 

Into the deep. There is no doubt you can have serious, weighty discussions with a 2-year-old. I often wrote down the uncensored, unfiltered things my girls said when they were younger. (See the paragraph that starts "I'd love to hear from you" way down at the bottom of this post for one of the most memorable examples. Which I did not need to write down to remember. For obvious reasons.) But all along when you are raising little ones, you're preparing them to think for themselves. And when they get to the teen years, you get significant glimpses-- or, once in a while, full-on views--of that. 

Sometimes, you get to hear what they believe. My husband and I have tried to write faith in God on our girls' minds and hearts. Now, we have the regular joy of seeing what is etched there and to witness them making our faith their own. When my girls tell me they want to do in-depth Bible studies or start a "Girls of God" Facebook group or that they're working on one fruit of the Spirit every day, I am stunned and thankful and amazed and humbled and convicted. I've tried to teach them in the past, but as they get older, I am more often their student.

Can we be friends? When my girls were small, I understood I needed to be their parent, not their friend. They had friends; I was the mom. I had to establish my authority for their own good. Getting them to like me was not my job (although a steady supply of secret-recipe chocolate-chip cookies over the years did help that cause significantly).

Now, though, I'm seeing the beginnings of a shift. Make no mistake about it: I. Am. Still. The. Mom. But I also get glimpses of sweet friendship, especially with my teenager. A few weeks ago, I took my tween to a movie. (Inside Out. Loved it. And I do not like "kids'" movies. If they make a "Sadness" stuffed doll, I want her. And I do not like stuffed stuff. Anyway.) My 11-year-old took her friends; I took my 16-year-old. We sat apart from the middle-school set and had a great time. She's also my companion when her sister "hangs out" at the mall or the beach and I need to be "around" but not really "there." 

I'll say it again: I am still The Mom. I still have to discipline and lay down the law and be un-fun. In the midst of this, though, I regularly catch glimmers of the friendship my daughters and I are building together...a gift now and a source of hope for the future.

Here's what they really think of you. Was that a cringe I just felt reverberating across cyberspace? Oh yes, I feel you. And to any parent reading this who's ever heard "I hate you" or "I don't like you" or "I don't love you" or something much, much worse, I'm cringing on your behalf. 

But there is also the other side, and it hits deep, too. 

Unlike the wonderful, blissful, unconditional love of a younger child ("I wuv you, mommy"), "love" as it is expressed out loud from a teen can be very conditional. Because of this, when you hear it--and when it is not an affectation connected to getting the keys to the car or a curfew extension--you know you are getting something true and tested and borne from experience. My 16-year-old has seen me at my best and my worst. So when she tells me, "I'm so thankful I have a mom I can talk always make me feel better," I know I'm on the receiving end of take-it-to-the-mom-bank reality that has passed through the filter of all the times I didn't make her feel better. 

The fruits of your labors. "Do you need help with that? Do you have everything? Are you ready to go? ARE YOU READY TO GO!?" Remember the last time you uttered one of these mom-standbys? Oh, right: "Yes, and it was about 30 seconds ago!"

So the thing about teenagers is that sometimes--sometimes--they do this stuff ON THEIR OWN. Not always. In some cases, not often. But, for instance, last week when we were on vacation at a family lake cottage, the inflatables needed to be, well, inflated. My teen got them around, hooked up the air pump, and went to work. From our chairs on the beach, my husband and I yelled, out of habit, "Do you need help?" To which she calmly replied, "Nope! I've got it!" Nice. 

This is also the girl who came into the kitchen the night before band camp and told me, "I've got my instrument and my flip folder and my music and my water bottles and my sunscreen and my Frogg Togg and my lip balm and my tennis shoes." Which pretty much took care of my requisite "do you have...?" inquiry. Very nice.

Here again, do I feel unneeded in the face of all this self-sufficiency? Are you kidding me? Please. I mean, no...but thanks for asking! Moms of teenagers are still absolutely, desperately, regularly needed. All I'm saying here is that sometimes you just don't have to blow up the darn floaty whale and you get to sit by the lake instead. Which is also very nice.

I can't close out this tribute to teenhood without going on the record again about something very importantI know many, many parents have stories of teenage years they are just trying to survive or did just barely survive. I am truly so sorry for you.

I know my husband and I have been protected from much heartache and that, but for the grace of God, we might well go where other parents have gone.

And I know teenagers come in all moods, temperaments, personalities and dispositions. I'll be the first to admit that if my in-house teen rep hadn't inherited a significant dose of her father's wiring, I'd be writing a very different kind of post. "How to Parent a Teen Who is Exactly Like You When You Can Hardly Deal With Yourself," maybe?

Also, we are so very not done yet. We have miles to go before we sleep. Anything could happen. 

But this far in, we are not just surviving the teenage years. We are loving them. 

And if these years are still ahead of you, know this: for all the reasons I've mentioned and so many more, there is a very good chance you'll love them, too.

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Are you looking for more insights into the deep, dark mysteries of the adolescent brain? Here are a couple other sources to check out...

Are you the parent of a teenager? What would you add to this list? 

Are you the parent of a child who will one day be a teenager? What are you looking forward to? Because mama, I know your answer isn't "nothing"!

August 3, 2015

Sand. And Salsa. And Sour Patch Kids.

As a lifelong Michigan girl, my favorite stretch of sand along the Great Lakes has to be the beach at Lake Michigan Recreation Area, 15 miles south of Manistee in the northernish part of the Mitten State. 

Big, private sites at the campground and a seemingly endless expanse of sand lakeside lured our family back year after year when my brother, sister, and I were growing up. 

Once a summer, we pulled into a campsite, hauling our pop-up camper—“pop-up” being a highly euphemistic or idealistic or unrealistic term, since the camper did not so much “pop up” as it was cajoled, cranked, hoisted, fastened, and secured. 

While my parents battled the camper (“Russell! There is a GAP in this door!”), my sister and I performed our requisite chore of positioning and securing the clothesline. Then we headed to the beach with towels, magazines of questionable literary value, Wheat Thins, and Tootsie-Rolls. 

Now, as adults, my siblings and I camp with our parents and our children a little closer to home but still on Lake Michigan. The pop-up camper has been replaced by a travel trailer that very nearly sets itself up. And my brother's tent. And my sister’s three-room “lodge.” And my parents' conversion van, a.k.a., the "camper annex." Which I happily avail myself of.

The Tootsie Rolls of our youth have given way to Sour Patch Kids, which don’t melt and, being coated with sugar, nicely disguise the inevitable sand. I highly recommend them for your next beach picnic. (Get the jumbo bag.) If you’d like to pack something a little more substantial, bring along My Sister's Strawberry Salsa with Cinnamon Chips.  All the fruit in the salsa makes a healthy snack, and if any sand finds its way in, just tell your crew it’s cinnamon-sugar. 

My Sister’s Strawberry Salsa with Cinnamon Chips
This recipe comes together very quickly if you have a food processor. But I’ve also included instructions for making it by hand in case you don’t have heavy machinery in your kitchen.

4 cups plain multigrain chips (such as Sun Chips or, if you’re an Aldi’s fan like I am, Clancy’s Multigrain Crisps…just make sure to get the plain version—this is not the place for sour cream and onion)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray
1 ripe kiwi, peeled
1 apple, any variety, peeled, cored, and seeded
2 cups strawberries, rinsed and stems removed
¼ cup strawberry spreadable fruit (Smucker’s Simply Fruit or something similar)
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper for easy clean-up. Spread the multigrain chips in a single layer on baking sheet. Coat the chips lightly with butter-flavored cooking spray.  Mix together 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over chips.  (You can use any extra sugar mixture to make cinnamon toast…or your next batch of these highly addictive chips.) Coat the chips again with cooking spray. Bake for 8-10 minutes, watching carefully toward the end of the cooking time to prevent the sugar from burning if your oven runs hot. Remove from oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. If not using immediately, store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

If you have a food processor, cut all the fruit into chunks of about the same size and place in the bowl of the processor. Pulse about 8 times, until coarsely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add in the spreadable fruit and the brown sugar. Pulse another 8 times or until desired consistency. If you do not have a food processor, chop or dice all the fruit as coarsely or finely as you like it, then gently combine it with the spreadable fruit and brown sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Chill the strawberry salsa for at least 15 minutes or up to a couple days. If you’ll be eating this on the beach, pack the salsa in a cooler with ice and the cinnamon chips in a glass or plastic storage container so they won’t get crushed. Makes approximately 1 ½ cups salsa and 4 cups cinnamon chips. 

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