Homemade Strawberry Coconut Lime Popsicles

We’ve been steadily checking items off our big list of summer fun. Today, since the weather was a bit meh and I was feeling estranged from our house, we stayed home and finally got around to making popsicles.

These recipes all sound fancy and fantastic, but it was 7:30 a.m. and I had two tiny helpers, so a real recipe wasn’t going to happen. Here’s what we improvised instead.

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Strawberry Coconut Lime Popsicles
Makes about 8 popsicles

1 can coconut milk
10-15 frozen strawberries
Juice of 1/2 lime
Maple syrup, to taste
Unsweetened, shredded coconut

Do not shake the can of coconut milk before opening. Open and skim off the layer of cream from the top (reserve for another use — like coconut whipped cream!). Add about half the remaining coconut milk, frozen strawberries, lime juice and maple syrup to a blender and blend until smooth, adding more coconut milk if needed. Add a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes and pulse until combined.

Sprinkle a pinch of coconut flakes in the bottom of each popsicle mold and fill each mold with the puree. Insert the popsicle sticks and freeze until hard, about 4 hours. For us, that meant lunchtime!

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Great success!

They aren’t too sweet, but were a huge treat to the kids. Mara mowed hers down to a stump then traded me for the remaining half of my popsicle. Nice move, little one.

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Kidventures: Family Kite Festival

We’ve checked a few small things off our summer to-do list so far. Hit up the New Berlin farmers market, went to one of Peter’s softball games, bought tickets for SummerStage, booked a massage (for my birthday tomorrow afternoon!). A few other things are plotted out.

Fly kites at the lakefront was on the list, and the other weekend we did the next best thing: watched other people fly kites at the Family Kite Festival.

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It was a gorgeous morning to be at Lake Michigan, in part because there wasn’t much wind. Probably not exactly what the kite festival organizers were hoping for.

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But we were able to enjoy the sun and water.

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And a gigantic bubble machine!

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Corban took hold of my DSLR camera (with the strap around his neck) and shot some photos.

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I took some photos myself as we sauntered around.

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And by late morning, the wind started to pick up a bit, and the sky began to fill with kites.

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We left just as the crowds and wind were picking up, but it was still a perfect Milwaukee spring morning.

Summer to do list: 50 things to do in Milwaukee

Summer is perfect and yet so fleeting here in Wisconsin. So we try to stuff as much outdoor fun as possible into three months. I’m sure this will be even more intense once the kids are in school.

I’ve realized in the past year that it’s not only OK but good not to plan something for every day of the week. Our schedule fills up without a whole lot of effort, and on days when we have nothing planned I’m either relieved to have no pressure or appreciative of the opportunity for spontaneity.

On the flip side, it’s frustrating when activities we’ve been wanting to do slip off our radar because of lack of planning.

So this summer, I want to strike a balance between filling our days with friends and fun and taking a break to relax in our backyard. I want to be intentional about hitting up certain places and activities, and also leave room for impromptu whimsy. So I’m creating a list to help guide my planning in both areas, as well as a few other categories.

Here is my Milwaukee summer to do list.

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Kidventures

Weekday (non-workday) adventures with the kids and friends.

1. Milwaukee County Zoo. We got a zoo pass a few weeks ago and have used it three times already. I love our zoo as much as the kids do, and many of our friends do too, so I foresee this as a default activity on nice days.

2. Imagination Station. This fully accessible playground in Oconomowoc looks rockin’.

3. Farmers markets. Corban and I had a lovely date at the Tosa market one Saturday morning last fall, making me realize farmers markets are excellent spots for one-on-one kid time. This season I’d like to hit up Tosa again (live music, and it’s near train tracks), plus New Berlin (near a playground), Waukesha (on a river) and West Allis (huge). Here’s a map of all the markets in southeastern Wisconsin.

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4. Urban Ecology Center. Playground, nature center with turtles and snakes, trails and public art. Sounds perfect (minus the snakes, but Corban will love that).

5. Fox Brook Park. This Waukesha County Park has a lovely little beach and playground.

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6. Fly kites at the Lake Michigan shore.

7. Walk the Milwaukee Riverwalk and meet Peter for lunch at Bartolotta’s Downtown Kitchen.

8. Fox and Branch concert. This kid-centric music duo has a regular lineup of free concerts.

9. Wehr Nature Center. Hiked there for the first time a couple weeks ago and it is an oasis.

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10. Splash pads/pools. There are a bunch of options (this map isn’t even up to date), but I’d like to try tot time at David F. Schulz Aquatic Center, Cool Waters Family Aquatic Center (they open at 10 a.m., earlier than many pools) and any splash pad in our vicinity. We just finished a much-needed session of swim lessons for Corban so I want to keep him in the water this summer.

Activities at home

Quiet mornings, rainy days and other fun at home.

11. Backyard camping. Complete with campfire and s’mores. The sleeping part could very well be disastrous, but in that case we’re only a few feet from our beds.

12. Make play dough. Easy enough, right?

13. Make soap clouds. Trippy.

14. Balloon ping pong.

15. Marble race track. Judging by how much they love the golf ball tracks at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, both kids would go crazy for this.

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16. Treasure hunt. Need to figure out the details of this.

17. Make popsicles.

18. Kiddie pool/sprinkler. Obvi.

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19. Yoga. Or at least play around with some kid-friendly poses.

20. Neighborhood bonfire.

21. Outdoor movie night. After the kids go to bed.

Weeknight fun

Forget bedtime. It’s hard to resist all these fun summer weeknight activities.

22. Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club show. Every Thursday night. Waukesha has a water ski club, too.

23. Cheer on our church’s softball team, of which Peter is a member.

24. New Berlin Concerts at City Center. Haven’t made it to one of these free summer Wednesday night concerts yet.

25. NEWaukee Night Market. Music, art, food, etc. in the streets of downtown Milwaukee, four Wednesdays this summer.

26. River Rhythms. Free Wednesday night concerts at Pere Marquette Park. Somehow, I’ve never been to this. The lineup is excellent. (Side note, why is everything on Wednesday night?!)

Fam-ventures

Weekend outings to enjoy with the whole family.

27. Pewaukee Beach. Do some late afternoon beach bumming then grab dinner by the water.

28. John’s Drive-In. Just heard about this place, but a throwback spot with root beer floats sounds right up our alley!

29. Fishing at Greenfield Park.

30. Old World Wisconsin. We have never been to this step back in time. Might as well go while both kids are still under 4 (a.k.a. free).

31. Canoe the Milwaukee River. It’s worth it to join the Urban Ecology Center simply for the benefit of free canoe, kayak, bike (and more) rentals.

32. Green Meadows Petting Farm. A preschooler’s paradise.

33. Berry picking. We still have strawberries in the freezer from Barthel Fruit Farm last June. Best strawberries I’ve ever tasted. I wouldn’t mind going back this year, or heading up north a bit to pick blueberries.

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34. Bastille Days. In the city of festivals, I love that this one is a true street festival, with free entertainment and a mini-Eiffel Tower. And beignets.

35. Brewers game. Would love to take the kids now that they’re old enough to get excited about it. Corban went to one (vs. Cardinals) game so far this year and loved it.

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36. Wisconsin State Fair. I love everything about it.

37. Milwaukee Parks Traveling Beer Garden. Sip a pint of Sprecher while the kids play on the playground. Looks like it’s coming to Greenfield Park this year, yay!

Dates

Adult time, just the two of us or with friends.

38. SummerStage at Lapham Peak. The outdoor theater has several plays and concerts this summer. Looks like a good lineup to choose from.

39. Brenner Brewing Co. tour. I bought a Groupon for this, so we definitely need to check out this new-ish art-centric brewery.

40. Art Bus. Never done this, but have heard it’s a good time.

41. Biloba Brewing Co. Family-owned craft brewery in Brookfield.

42. Escape MKE. Another Groupon purchase. This is a timed mission where you’re locked in a room with a challenge to accomplish. Teamwork!

43. Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. We have tickets so need to go to a performance in June.

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Me time

Because there are things I like to do that Peter doesn’t.

44. Summerfest. We’ll be out of town for more than half the festival this year, but there are bands I wouldn’t mind seeing every night that we will be in town (not that that’s feasible…). Let me know if you’re game for some music!

45. Massage. I now have two gift certificates for massages, and I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to carve out time for myself to use them. So it’s on the list.

46. Bike the New Berlin Trail. It’s been a long time since I’ve biked, but I’m itching to get out there once again.

Road trips

Our kids are not at great ages to travel, but we’re doing it anyway.

47. Door County. Booked! Peter and I have our first solo getaway planned since we became parents. Can. Not. Wait. We are staying at an adults-only B&B/lodge in Ephraim, Wis.

48. Camping. Ideally, this will happen twice: mid-summer via a canoe trip on the Lower Wisconsin River (a.k.a. paradise. It is beautiful.) and early fall with a group from church.

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49. Branson, Mo. Family reunion time. Waterpark. Theme park. Hiking. Cousins karaoke night. Etc.

50. Colorado. A house rental impulse buy with friends at a live auction, but I don’t think we’ll regret it.

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Would you look at that, an even 50!

I know that’s a lot, and I don’t expect to do it all. I’d just like to consult this list as we plan out our summer and as we find ourselves with free days. Nothing wrong with plain old playing with toys at home or walking to the neighborhood parks, but Corban and Mara do a LOT of that, especially when I’m at work, so this is my counter to that.

Bonus: I didn’t put this on the list because we’re doing it today, but hiking and picnicking at Minooka Park is also a great summer activity!

More resources: 50 things to do in Lake Country this summer | 100 things to do in Wisconsin this summer | Things to do for free or under $5 with kids in Milwaukee | 50 family fun spring break ideas13 rooftop spots to check out

What’s on your summer to do list? What else should I add to mine?

In the garden

Last weekend we were at my parents’ after our niece’s birthday party, and Corban helped his Papa with a little gardening.

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I’m torn about how much gardening to do this year. It’s a lot of work, so I’m tempted to take a year off… but I know the kids would love to “help” and it’d provide some great teachable moments.

My dad is already a month in with spinach, lettuce, beans and all sorts of other seeds.

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Some new ornamentation was added to their backyard since our last visit. The concrete stepping stones we made for my grandparents in 1999 have found a new home now that their house is being cleaned out.

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Corban still has a little growing to do to catch up with my 13-year-old hand.

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And I found that apparently my hands have grown just a tiny bit since then.

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The afternoon felt like a taste of summer—warm air, lush grass and a long evening of grilling and relaxing.

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Plus some good old-fashioned ball-throwing.

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I’m finally starting to move my camera off automatic setting. With some shutter speed adjustment, I captured this little sequence:

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To bring this back to gardening, we did do a little planting adventure yesterday, using the planting kits in the goodie bags from Isla’s party. We dubbed it “Curious Corban Plants a Seed.”

Since we can’t grow plants inside due to mischievous kitties (see my solution for fresh flowers here) I have been wanting to make mini terrariums using some glass jars from our bathroom. These little pots were the perfect size for that.

It was pretty magical watching the freeze dried dirt pellets grow into a pile of soil.

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I potted the soil and little fingers were eager to push in the seeds.

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It’s a “shrinking plant” that reacts to your touch, so this could be fun once it grows.

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They will probably outgrow the jars quickly, but by then hopefully we can plant them outside.

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Even after all this fun and a good chunk of hours spent doing yardwork this weekend, I’m still torn on the to-garden-or-not issue. What would you do? Take a year off and focus on landscaping and a few potted herbs, plus trips to the farmers market? Or plant some tomatoes and zucchini and pray for regular rainfall (less manual watering = less work)?

Learning through food: Resurrection/Easter Story Cookies

Throughout history, food has served as much more than physical nourishment for mankind. Sharing a meal with others is a bonding experience, a sign of hospitality and respect and a way to show love. Cuisine is a huge part of every culture, and one that many people take pleasure in.

No matter how much we eat, within hours our hunger returns. As one of the essential needs shared by every person on earth, food is powerful. We celebrate with food. We mourn with food. We worship with food. It connects us to one another and to the past.

We see that especially this time of year—those who are Jewish honor Passover by eating unleavened bread as their ancestors did in their hasty flee from slavery in Egypt; the lamb shankbone on the seder plate commemorates the sacrificial lamb God required of his people that night he freed them (and for Christians this symbolism goes further to represent Christ’s sacrifice in order to free us from the bondage of sin); eggs represent new life, in the most basic springtime sense and also in the context of Jesus rising from the dead; empty eggshells remind us of the empty tomb Jesus’ loved ones found the morning he was risen; and the Lord’s supper, first celebrated just before Jesus’ death, is a sacrament that has brought Christians together in worship for millennia.

Food as a metaphor is a beautiful thing.

This weekend I decided to use baking cookies as a hands-on storytelling device with Corban and Mara. At age 3, Corban’s eager little heart is soaking in the Easter story, and I hoped to use this as another way to help it take root. At age 18 months, Mara just was excited to be helping in the kitchen with us, and that’s good too.

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These Resurrection Cookies or Easter Story Cookies can be found all over the Internet. Each ingredient and step tells a part of the Easter story with scripture and symbolism. I used this handy printable sheet to guide us, along with our shiny new Reformation Study Bible, but halfway through it was getting too chaotic to flip through the pages so I just stuck to reading the scripture verses off the recipe.

The ingredients are simple—all things we already had on hand.

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1 cup pecan halves

1 teaspoon vinegar

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the pecans in a plastic freezer bag and have your child break them into small pieces by beating them with a wooden spoon. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19:1-3.

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Have your child smell and taste the vinegar before adding it to a mixing bowl.

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Explain that Jesus was offered sour wine/vinegar to drink while He hung on the cross. Read John 19:28-30.

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Add the egg whites to the bowl, explaining that eggs represent life and Jesus loves us so much He gave His life in order to give us life. Read John 10:10-11.

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For some reason they were blowing in the bowl.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt into your child’s hand and have him taste a bit before shaking the rest into the bowl. Explain that Jesus’ friends and followers cried salty tears when He died. Read Luke 23:27.

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Of course, after tasting the salt, you have to let them taste the sugar. This was by far Corban and Mara’s favorite part. Let’s just pause and observe.

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Yes, I let that happen.

Gradually add the sugar to the bowl while beating the egg whites on high with a whisk attachment. A stand mixer helps tremendously for this recipe. As you add the sugar, and your kids lick the spilled granules off the counter, explain that even though Jesus died, the story is sweet because He did it because He loves us. He wants us to know we belong to Him. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16.

Continue beating the egg whites until they are glossy and stiff peaks form (peaks stand straight up when whisk is removed). This will take a while—10 to 15 minutes.

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While you beat the egg whites, have your child observe how white the mixture is and explain that white represents purity and Jesus cleansing us of our sins. Read Isaiah 1:18.

I’ll be honest, I had to be somewhere so I rushed it and didn’t quite let the egg whites get to stiff peaks. This was a big mistake—make sure you keep beating until the peaks stand straight up and don’t fold over when you lift the whisk out!

Gently fold in the pecans.

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Drop the mixture by spoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper. Explain that these mounds represent the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

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Can’t resist a little taste.

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By this point the scripture passages were background noise, but I still was able to have meaningful discussions with Corban about the symbolism. Since this wasn’t his first (or last) time hearing about these concepts, it was fruitful as another way to let the story sink in.

Now it’s time to put the cookies in the oven. Close the door and turn off the oven immediately. Have our child put a piece of tape over the door and explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed and secure. Read Matthew 27:65-66.

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Now go to bed. Ask how your child feels to leave the cookies until tomorrow, and explain that Jesus’ friends were very sad when He died and was placed in the tomb. Read John 16:20, 22.

Leave the oven closed until the next morning. Then remove the cookies and have your child examine them.

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The sides of the cookies will be cracked. When they taste them, they will find that they are hollow. Explain that on Easter morning, Jesus’ friends were surprised to find the tomb empty. Jesus was alive! Read Matthew 28:1-9.

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Now I have to confess that our cookies were not hollow. (Womp womp.) I believe it’s because the egg whites were still at soft peaks rather than stiff peaks when I stopped beating them.

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But do you see these faces? Do they care?

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We pretended they were hollow. The kids were still excited Jesus was raised from the dead. And mostly just thrilled to be eating cookies at 8 a.m.

I’m sure this activity will bear more spiritual fruit as they grow older, but I think baking is a wonderful teaching tool even at this age—or maybe especially at this age. Food has that way of connecting with us all.