Summer Cooking: Chocolate and Marshmallows Are All That You Need!

Although that title may not be entirely true, especially if you like fresh vegetables and fruit and want to avoid those pesky things like scurvy or other vitamin deficiencies, they are definitely a staple for campfire treats over the summer!

Each year, my family looks for new summer recipes to try while we’re camping, barbecuing, or just cooking together. My kids are excited to discover something they can help with and add to our summer cookbooks. We experiment and have a great time finding different ingredients, measuring, and, of course, eating our final product.

Capturing the recipes can be just as fun as trying them out. A scrapbook of favourites might go camping with you. You could make a family cookbook by getting everyone in the family to send you their best summer recipes. Adding a picture of each relative would give it a personal touch.

Recipes and food, in general, lend themselves to stories — they tend to stir up memories and are a great way to get people talking about “days of yore.” Written in one of our family cookbooks, my grandmother’s fried chicken recipe starts out with “Go out to the hen house, choose a nice fat bird…”  (I’ll let you finish that). It was a fun (and funny) way to hear about her life and your recipes might just do the same — have fun with it!

Here are some of the recipes we will be adding to our book this year!


Chicken and Peach Skewers

You need:

Chicken (cut into cubes)

Bacon (cut in half)

Peaches (cut in 8 wedges)

BBQ sauce

Skewers (soak wooden ones)


What to do:

  1. Wrap bacon around chicken pieces and put on skewers. Alternate pieces of meat with peaches.
  2. Brush all with BBQ sauce and cook on the BBQ until chicken is not pink.


Banana Boats

You need:

Bananas (sliced lengthwise with peel on, not cut all the way through)


Chocolate chips



What to do:

  1. Put chocolate chips in the banana.
  2. Push marshmallows in over top of the chocolate chips.
  3. Wrap in tinfoil.
  4. Place on hot coals of a campfire until warm and melted.

Frozen Chocolate Bananas

You need:

Popsicle sticks

Bananas (peeled and cut in half)

Chocolate melting wafers

Toppings like peanuts or sprinkles


What to do:

  1. Put the Popsicle sticks in the bananas.
  2. Completely freeze bananas.
  3. Melt the chocolate and dip the bananas in.
  4. Roll in the topping of your choice.
  5. Put back in freezer.


Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad

You need:

Greens (your choice)

Feta cheese (or goat cheese)


Beets (sliced thinly)

Carrots (sliced thinly)

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil


What to do:

  1. Toss the beets and carrots in olive oil and roast in oven (or BBQ) until soft.
  2. Place beets, carrots, feta, pecans, and dressing on greens.

Put on a Show

“Come one, come all! The show is about to begin!”

These words echo through your backyard, inviting families of neighbourhood children to come and watch the production they’ve created. It will be a night of fun and memories as the performance unfolds.

It may sound a little daunting, but dramatic play is something kids do naturally. When they get together, they’re often making up stories and acting them out. Putting on an actual play or puppet show is just a different way to capture their creativity so everyone can enjoy it.

It can be as simple or complex as they want it to be. They can use a story or rhyme they know as the base for their play, or make one up. It could be a shadow play, puppet show, reader’s theatre (just Google it and a number of scripts will come up), or any other format they want.

They may want props — the crafty ones in the group will be excited to paint boxes or make puppets (sock and paper bag puppets are quick and easy). Costumes can also be made out of craft materials or old clothes and Halloween costumes. If it’s a night production, glow sticks and flashlights might be a good choice — a white blanket and a flashlight can create a shadow play.

Advertising a show is sometimes just as important as the performance and if they are a little entrepreneurial, they may even think to sell tickets and buy a treat for themselves afterwards.

There are many different ways a project like this can come to life. If you act as a guide instead of the director, you will be amazed at what kids come up with and they will be excited to show their families what they’ve done.

It’s a task that keeps them busy and having fun, and working with other kids in the community builds connections and helps people meet and get to know each other. How can you go wrong with that?

Pick Up a Book and Get Active?

A little counter-intuitive, isn’t it? For me, reading a book means finding a comfortable spot to curl up without distractions. How do you get active with something that’s supposed to be relaxing?

All I can say is that it’s a good thing literacy isn’t just about reading a book. It could be about a scavenger hunt with a detailed list to follow, or running a marathon and following the signs. Think about all the rhymes you used as a child skipping ( or doing clapping games ( These fun rhymes and songs help build vocabulary and a foundation in language – necessary for future literacy learning.

In my small village, we have an amazing program team that comes up with activities for kids to participate in all summer. The activity this past Monday was based on the television show “Mantracker.” (Here’s the link for those of you like me who have never seen it:

My kids got a map and a legend for checkpoints their team had to get a flag from.  If our summer programmer – all dressed in camouflage with fake leaves and everything – caught them, they had to give up a flag.

Not only did my kids have fun, but what a great way to engage in a literacy activity around maps and legends! Linking it to the popular show ensured the activity was well attended and the kids knew what to expect.

This summer, when kids are bored or become couch potatoes stuck to an electronic device with the usual excuses of “my friends aren’t home” or “it’s too hot outside” or – you know I could go on and on here – challenge them to find a way to get active in literacy! They could make up their own “mantracker” game, find a skipping rope and rhymes, or put on a scavenger hunt.

The possibilities are endless and limited only by imagination. And you never know. Someone may even enjoy reading a book while bouncing on a trampoline!

Capturing the Summer

How do you capture a summer of memories? Many people I know keep a journal and write in it faithfully – at least daily, and sometimes even more than that! I (yes, it’s confession time) have never liked journaling and am not one of these people. (Wow, it’s nice to finally get that out!)

Everywhere I go it’s about keeping a journal. I love writing and I love remembering all the things that have ever happened in our family, and I know I’ve forgotten some of it, or my re-telling is now a little inaccurate, but I am really bad at keeping a journal!

So what to do?

This summer, I’m challenging myself and I’ll challenge you to try to keep a journal in a different way: with pictures! Take pictures that tell a story for you. Is it about all the books you’ve read this summer and the crazy or exotic places you read them? Or is it about your family holiday?

You could print off your pictures and get your family to help you write a caption for them, or even do it online. There are some neat apps and programs that make it easy to do this.

One such app is Qwiki for iPhones. It is free to download and will put your pictures into a slideshow with music and places to write something about the picture. It does it all for you or lets you customize it yourself.

Whichever way you do it, whether it’s through a written journal, photos, or another way (which we’d love to hear about), have fun this summer and share some of your photos with us in the fall!

Time to Plant a Seed…

It’s that time of year when those of us who like gardening start making a plan.  What will we grow?  Where should we put it?  Is it safe to plant on the May long weekend (here’s hoping for no more snow)?

As it gets closer to the time, I’ve realized there can be a lot of literacy and numeracy involved in planting a garden – especially when you’ve got your kids helping you!

 My kids want their own garden, of course.  They choose seeds and we talk about whether they will grow well or not.  For example, we have some kind of critter that takes bites out of our carrots while they’re still in the ground – do we choose something else?  My son is also into herbs right now, so we talk about the different ways we could use them in cooking when they are ready.

We also plan out the garden so the seeds have the right amount of space, light, and soil.   We really have to think through how they grow and what the package is telling us – especially if it’s something we’ve never tried before.

Then comes the best part – the planting! We make our rows using two stakes and a string so they’re evenly spaced (at least that’s the hope – I think my garden is crooked). We plant the seeds the right distance apart, cover them, water them and then wait.

 When my kids were younger, we made a game of naming all the weeds that grow more quickly than our little plants. We’ve got the stinky one (stinkweed), the sticky, tangley one (not sure what it really is), the ouchie one (thistles), and the pretty yellow one that everyone is so determined to get rid of, but our guinea pigs love to eat (poor dandelions). That’s only a few of them, but you get the idea and I still use these names, even though the kids are older now!

These types of interactions and experiences help us reinforce the learning that is happening naturally, every day, in our lives as a family. I find myself learning right along with my kids in each situation – they have such a great view of what we do (and are much more patient in reading instructions most of the time). Gardening is just one way to help plant a seed that will sprout into so much more in our lives. Happy planting!

A “Hug” for Family Literacy

Every year in March I have the pleasure of doing a presentation for students in the Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta.  Dr. Margaret Mackey brings her students to the Centre for Family Literacy to help provide a real, practical connection for all the theory her class has been learning.

I am very passionate about family literacy and this type of situation – where a solid link can be made between the student’s learning and our practical experience – it provides an amazing opportunity to raise awareness and get others excited about it too.

During this year’s presentation, I talked specifically about a book called “Hug” by Jez Alborough.  It is mainly a picture book with just a few words, the most significant being the word “hug”.  The amount of words allow this book to be shared by a family in many different ways – in their own language, making up a story to go with the pictures, acting out the hugs and emotions together.  It is a wonderful and versatile book.

I have a fondness for this book in that it was one I shared with my children.  My son and I read this book together many times and I remember one day he was showing it to his sister.  He got so excited and came up to me afterwards to show me how he had “read” the book to his sister. He was three years old, but he knew what that book said and how it sounded. It was a proud day for him and for me.

Today, I received a thank you card from the students at my presentation. Inside were some amazing comments of thanks and excitement about what they had learned with me. The power of family literacy in helping adults who struggle with literacy was evident and they had seen the passion and care with which we work. The seed of knowledge about family literacy was planted within their learning and awareness was built.

Within all these wonderful comments, one stood out a little. One of the students had gone out and bought the book “Hug” after hearing my story for her new niece. I hope she is able to get as much out of it as I have!

Family Day Challenge

February 18 is Family Day! Family Day is a day that, although I’m feeling a little redundant in saying it, is devoted to being with family. It’s also a great reason to have a holiday in February since the groundhog doesn’t really justify one.

This Family Day, my family is participating in a challenge that is becoming more popular every year.  It’s called Family Day Unplugged. The challenge is to go without using your technology for a full day in order to devote all of your attention to your family.

Can it be done?  I personally believe it can, and probably should be done on a more regular basis. My family is planning on doing some snowshoeing or skating or bowling together – something we never seem to have the time to do, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Are you going to take the challenge?  Can you unplug for a whole day?  If so, what does your family plan on doing?

Whatever Family Day looks like to you, I hope you are able to enjoy it with your family in a way that suits you. If you would like more information on Family Day Unplugged, here is Edmonton’s website for the event:

National Family Literacy Day

This year’s theme for National Family Literacy Day on January 27 is “15 Minutes of Fun”.  It reflects the fact that it doesn’t always take a long time to do literacy activities with your children and that it should be fun for everyone!

What kind of activities can you do with your kids every day?  ABC Life Literacy has developed a list of suggestions at

Here’s what my kids and I came up with – I look forward to you adding your ideas to our list!

  • Make up a silly song from one we already know
  • Do a rhythm story game (clap, clap, snap, snap – one word for each clap or snap and we go around in a circle)
  • Read a book
  • Talk about traditions
  • Go for a walk
  • Play a letter game (name an animal then the next person has to name an animal that starts with the letter the last one ended with – eg. wolf – fox)

The Centre for Family Literacy has partnered with MacEwan University students in the Golden Key International Honour Society, to celebrate Family Literacy Day this year.  Bring your family to the Family Literacy Carnival event from 1-4 pm at the main floor of Robbins Health Learning Centre, downtown campus on Sunday, January 27.  More details can be found at:

Halloween Stories and Science Fun!

I think I have one of the best hobbies in the world!  Every Halloween, I become a mad scientist, doing science demonstrations at Fort Edmonton Park’s Spooktacular event.

 One of the things I love about this is that I get to create a character and a story to act out around the science experiments I’m doing.  It changes a little with every show, but that’s part of the fun!

This Halloween, as you get to act out a character that’s different from your everyday life, why not add some cool science activities to the mix?  Here are a few easy ones you could try!

Bone Growing Formula (A.K.A. Goop)

You need:

  • Deep pan or bowl
  • Cornstarch
  • Water

What to do:

Mix the cornstarch and the water until everything is wet, but there is no water sitting on top.  To mix it, you have to move slowly and gently.  This neat goop gets hard when squeezed or hit, but oozes when let go (it’s called a non-newtonian fluid for anyone who wants to look that up).  It’s entertaining for all ages – trust me, I had more trouble getting the adults out of it then the kids!

Fake Blood

You need:

  • 1 cup Corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp Chocolate syrup
  • 2 tbsp Cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp Red food colouring
  • 2 tbsp Water

What to do:

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix it up.  Add more red or chocolate syrup to get the colour you want, but it works out pretty well.  Want to really gross people out?  Taste the fake blood in a way that makes them think it’s real – it actually doesn’t taste bad!

For more great science experiments to do as a family, my favourite site right now is  They have great videos and all the instructions you need to have a great time this Halloween!!

The Book Report – Comprehension tool or a barrier for young readers?

My son is in grade four this year.  He loves to read – he’s like a sponge soaking up every great book he can get his hands on.

This year, he got to join the school’s book club.  He was so excited, especially since the next book he wanted to read “The Lost Hero” by Rick Riordan was on the list.  He got the book, read it in two weeks and proudly handed it in… at which time he was handed a book report sheet and told he needed to fill it out to get credit for it.

He came home and put it on the table and said “I hate book reports.”  I explained, reluctantly, that if he wanted to be in the book club this was one of the requirements (even though I didn’t know about it before and I don’t think I totally agree with it).  He is actually debating not being in the book club because of this. It doesn’t mean he’ll stop reading, but it really killed the joy of it for him.

So what do we do?  I understand book reports are used as a comprehension tool and to double check that someone has read the book, but what a turn off for the already reluctant reader!  Is it so bad, especially for a “club” if they can just say they read the book (I think it’s a different conversation for book reports that are school assignments, which have multiple ways to do them – reports, posters, building something)?

I’m at a loss.  I think I will be talking to the librarian, but what angle to I take?  Any thoughts out there??

By the way, the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series by Rick Riordan is a great read for young and old (my son’s the young and I’m the old).