The Most Delicious Camp Ever

paulding & company desserts camp recipe

When it comes to summer activities, I generally try to engage my kids in the process and send them to camps that interest them. This year, for example, tech camp, lifeguard camp, and a family performing arts camp took up most of the summer. But every once in a while, I pick something for somewhat self-centered reasons, which is how my 11-year old daughter ended up at a week-long cooking camp at Paulding & Company.

paulding & company desserts camp 1That’s not to say that she wasn’t interested—she’s always liked puttering around in the kitchen. But how could any parent (except maybe one with a diabetic child) possibly pass up a camp that promised to “seek out the best desserts from around the world” and “indulge ourselves in the sugary wonders of the world”? To deprive my daughter of a week-long sugar rush—and myself of tasty treats–seemed almost cruel. (A momentary flash of guilt was relieved by the fact that the camp would also provide “a full and balanced lunch” every day.)

Fortunately (was there any doubt?), my daughter was completely on board. And, boy, did Paulding & Company deliver.
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Sometimes, You’ve Just Gotta Get Away

So you’re taking a trip with the kids. Whether you’re going by car, plane, or some other way, you’ll need to keep them safe, occupied, and relatively quiet. Here are some fun, new musts-have travel take­­-alongs.

delsey heliumHelium (Delsey)
If you’re like most parents, part of your job on family trips is to be a pack mule, dragging luggage, laptops, and lovies all over creation. Bags in Delsey’s Helium line are durable (on one trip, ours were loaded onto 16 planes, nine boats, and nearly 20 trains and still look great) and lightweight (making them easy on the back and minimizing those evil airline baggage charges). Available in three sizes and your choice of standard or bright colors. All are equipped with a TSA-approved lock and retail for $160 and up. http://shop.delsey.us

eagle creek sight-seeing tablet courierDay Traveler (Eagle Creek)
We’ve been big fans of Day Traveler bags for a long time. Our new favorite is the Site-Seeing Tablet Courier. Like the other bags in the line, this one is durable, lightweight, and accommodates a surprising amount of stuff (the split-book design makes packing a breeze). It’s also water resistant (so no worries about spilled drinks or rainstorms), has a host of pockets in various sizes (perfect for phones, glasses, wallets, laptops/tablets, and more), and comes with RFID-blocking technology (which keeps your personal information safe), Retails for $45 at http://shop.eaglecreek.com

eagle creek weekenderAdventure Weekender (Eagle Creek)
If you’re going on a quick trip, this one is perfect. It’s got plenty of room for a computer, a change of clothes, those just-in-case-we-get-stranded-overnight necessities, and is still small enough that the flight attendants won’t try to make you gate check it. You can lock the zipper pockets, and the Adventure Weekender is easy to stack on larger bags. If you’re looking for durability and versatility, this one’s for you. $150 on http://shop.eaglecreek.com

vinci tabletVINCI Tab III M 5” Learning Tablet (VINCI)
If you have a little one who’s not quite ready for a big tablet, the VINCI Tab III is made to entertain, engage, and educate. It comes with a great bumper (which incorporates a handle) to protect it from those inevitable childhood drops and “oopsies.” The company says the VINCI is aimed at kids 18 months to 9 years, but we think it tops out at about 6 years—today’s tech-savvy kids will be on to far more sophisticated tablets by then. But the little guys will have a great time learning and playing without getting overstimulated. The fun, game-based apps teach math and reading skills in an enjoyable way that they’ll want to play over and over—and that will keep them quiet wherever they happen to be. What a great way to keep those young minds humming without having to resort to “Angry Birds” or “Fruit Ninja.” $129 at http://store.vincigenius.com

swimways sea squirts life jacketsSea Squirts life jacket (SwimWays)
Going for a swim with children who are less than 100% water safe? You can literally keep their head above water with a number of swim aids from SwimWays.  They’ve got a wide variety of vests, life jackets, baby floats, and other products, so you’ll have no trouble finding something for each child’s swim abilities. The Sea Squirts life jackets are adorable and even sport a stylish fin (orca, dolphin, or clownfish). The Power Swimr swim training system comes with nine flotation pads which you gradually remove as your child moves from floating to swimming. Please remember that when it comes to children, no swim aid can substitute for mom’s or dad’s watchful eye. Be safe. Sea Squirts run $47 and the Power Swimr is around $21. https://www.swimways.com/

Taking the Boredom out of Family Game Night

We’re all about families having fun together, and game night is one of the best ways to do that. But playing the same games over and over can get a little stale. So, in the interests of injecting a little more fun into your family’s game night, here are some great choices that will keep you and yours engaged and laughing.

Battle SheepBattle Sheep (Blue Orange Games)
Simple to learn, fun to play, but a new challenge every time. Players start off with four board tiles (there are a total of 16, so up to four can play), which they take turns laying out until the board is complete. Each tile contains four “pastures.” Then, each player takes his or her herd (a stack of 16 color-matched sheep tokens) and places it on one of the pastures along the edge of the board. The goal is to put your sheep on the most pastures. Move as many of your sheep as you’d like—but you have to leave at least one behind, and you can only move in a straight line. Seems simple enough, but if you’re not paying attention to your opponents and plotting out your own moves a few in advance, some of your flock could get penned in. The first few times you play, you’ll probably be on the defensive—doing whatever you can to keep your flock free. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll go on the offensive and start blocking everyone else. The board tiles and tokens are sturdy and the game is great for building strategic- and abstract thinking skills. For 2-4 players, ages 7 to adult. Retails online for around $21. http://www.blueorangegames.com/

LoonacyLoonacy (Looney Labs)
Loonacy combines elements of Crazy Eights, Uno, and Dominoes to make a fun, fast-paced game. Players start with seven cards, each with two images on it. The goal is to be the first to empty your hand by matching at least one of the images on your cards with one on the cards in the face-up pile(s) on the table. All you need is quick reflexes, a good memory, and a lot of luck. The fewer the number of players, the more discard piles you have (two players have four piles). That adds an element of strategy to the game since there are so many matching options. But as you add players, the number of discard piles decreases (five players have only one pile), which turns the game into a completely crazy free-for-all—something that may frustrate younger players. Takes only 5-10 minutes to play for 2-5 players, ages 8 and up. Retails for about $12.16. http://www.looneylabs.com/

regular show fluxxcartoon network fluxxRegular Show Fluxx and Cartoon Network Fluxx (Looney Labs)
If you’re looking for free-for-alls, this one takes the cake. It starts so peacefully, with each player getting three cards. The rules are simple. Draw one and play one. But here’s where the fun starts. Each card played can change the rules of the game, requiring you to draw more cards, talk in a cartoon voice, play all the cards in your hand;, steal cards from an opponent, and so on. Rules can be combined if they don’t contradict each other (for example, you might have to draw four cards and talk in a cartoon voice). Regular Show Fluxx features characters from the Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show,” while Cartoon Network Fluxx features characters from nine CN shows, including “Powerpuff Girls,” “Eddy,” “Adventure Time,” and “Samurai Jack.” Both are for 2-6 players, ages 8+ and retail for around $16. http://www.looneylabs.com/

Hitting the Road

Despite all the rosy news one hears these days about sinking unemployment numbers and a rising economy, plenty of people are still having financial issues. As a result, a lot of families are taking their vacations a little closer to home. This week, we review a few cool items that will make any family road/camping trip a success.

reese car top carrierReese Explore Car Top Carrier (Reese Brands)
Once you’ve decided where to go, it’s time to start packing up the car. Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to bring way, way too much, which leaves barely enough room in the car for the people. One great solution is this roof-top carrier from Reese. It’s made of lightweight-but-durable nylon that will keep your belongings clean and dry regardless of the weather, and is a lot easier to attach to your car’s side rails or cross bars than many of its competitors. Best of all, it’s expandable (going from 12 to 16 cubic feet of storage), which is a big help if you’re trying to carry awkwardly shaped items. Retails for about $65 at http://www.walmart.com/

dragons adventureDragons Adventure World Explorer (DreamWorks)
Keeping the kids entertained on a long drive can be a challenge. Ideally, you’ll have a mix of tech and no-tech options. When it’s tech’s turn, Dragons Adventure is perfect. It’s inspired by the How to Train Your Dragon movies and set on the Isle of Berk. As you might expect from DreamWorks, it’s beautifully designed and quite interactive. There are quests—light signal beacons, move a sheep from one place to another, but Dragons Adventure has a few twists that make it truly unique. In it-home mode, players (who can be either Hiccup or Astrid) fly around the world, rescuing dragons from evildoers. But the real fun starts on the move. The app uses HERE maps to bring the roads you’re driving on into the game in real time, so players will see familiar landmarks as they fly their dragons. It also info from The Weather Channel to change the weather conditions in the game, and data from Foursquare to determine how many Vikings appear along the route. Another neat feature: If you plug in your starting point and destination before you start, the game will wind down as you reach your destination. Free for Microsoft Windows phones and tablets.

mountainsmith conifer 5+Conifer 5+ (Mountainsmith)
Once you get there, you’ve got to sleep somewhere, right? You can’t do better than the Conifer 5+. To say it’s roomy doesn’t do it justice. The tent itself has 83.5 sq. feet of floor space, lots of interior pockets, and a ceiling height of 6’2”, so there’s plenty of room for two adults, three kids, and a dog or two. There’s also a “porch,” which adds another 30 sq. ft for storing luggage or just hanging out. It’s quick and easy to set up, but best with two people—especially if it’s windy. Directions are printed right on the stuff sack, so they’re a lot hard to lose. Prices range from $285 to $360. http://mountainmith.com/

washdropsWashdrops (Cequent Consumer Products)
After a long road trip, you’re going to want to wash that car. But today, when everyone’s concerned about conserving resources, wasting all that water is a big no-no. So what’s an environmentally savvy parent with a filthy vehicle to do? All you need is one bucket of water and Washdrops . It’s non-abrasive and leaves you with a shiny surface without repeated rinses. It’s completely non-toxic—no solvents, butyl, phosphate, or ammonia—so when you’re done you can use what’s left in the bucket to water your garden. $10.95-$22.00. http://washdrops.com/

Hey, Kiddo, Let’s Get Outa Here

With technology making its way into every aspect of our lives, kids are spending a lot less time playing outside than we did when we where their age. And even when they do play outside, it’s often in a highly structured activity (like soccer, swimming, and most other organized sports) that doesn’t give kids freedom to explore, create, or just have fun. There are alternatives, however, and this week we bring you four of them.

jumparooJumparoo Frog Pogo Stick (Geospace)
Most pogo sticks bounce up and down on a post, which makes it hard for little kids to keep balanced. But the Jumparoo frog pogo stick has a wide, rounded base, which lets your pollywog bounce around to his or her heart’s content, giggling all the way. It’s great for developing coordination and balance, plus it’s a great workout. Oh, and if that isn’t fun enough, the Jumparoo ribbits with every boing. For kids 4 and up who weigh 28-62 pounds (yes, that means you’ll have to stay off of it—but Jumparoo makes adult-sized pogo, if you want to join the fun). $77.50 at Amazon, or at http://www.geospaceplay.com/

flymax footballFly Max Football (Geospace)
Every child—boy or girl—who’s ever picked up a football has dreamed of throwing a deadly accurate 50-yard bomb. But those of us who are not named Manning, Rodgers, Brady, or Kaepernick have had to settle for much, much shorter and not-terribly-accurate passes. But with the Fly Max Football, you and the kids can actually throw on-the-money passes up to 100 yards. The Fly Max looks like a cross between a small football and a hollow rocket ship with fins. It has a dial that you can set to maximize distance for either rightys or leftys. It also makes a cool buzzy-whistly sound as it files. Made for future first-round draft pics 6 and up—and the grownups who do their laundry and drive them to practice. $19.99 at http://www.geospaceplay.com/

top tossTop Toss Pro Lawn Game (Ideal)
Top Toss combines elements from horseshoes, bowling, and other yard games to create a truly unique and fun outdoor activity for the whole family. Your first task is to build the tower, which looks like a short ladder (it’s actually almost four feet high) with a wide base. That’ll take about five minutes. Then, it’s on to the actual game. Players take turns throwing bolo balls (imagine an 8-inch piece of yarn with a soft golf ball attached to each end), trying to get them to wrap around the rungs of the tower. The rungs get smaller as the tower gets taller, so high ones score more than lower ones. Because set-up and tear-down are so easy, Top Toss is a great choice for the backyard, the beach, or even indoors. For two or more players ages 8 and up, Top Toss comes with three bolo balls, all the steel rods and plastic connectors you’ll need to build the tower, bilingual instructions, and a storage bag. $34.99 (or $54.99 for the “pro” version that comes with two towers) at http://poof-slinky.com/product/top-toss/

T-ballMy 1st Sports T-Ball (Poof)
What a great way to introduce your little one to baseball. Set-up takes all of 15 seconds and then it’s home-run derby time (with a subtle lesson in hand-eye coordination). Excellent for outdoor play, but it could work indoors too. The ball and bat are made of foam, so even if your little slugger really smacks one, damage should be minimal. Best for preschoolers (most kids over 5 are ready for the more traditional T) $22.99 at http://poof-slinky.com/

Summer Brain Drain? Not Around Here

Now that summer’s here and the kids are home, parents are looking for ways to keep their little ones’ minds sharp over break. Old standbys like activity books, worksheets, and reading are great at keeping those brains busy. But there are also a lot of fun reading are all important to keep learning locked in, there are fun toys you can add into the mix that kids will enjoy playing–and learning—with.

telly teaching clockTelly the Teaching Time Clock (The Learning Journal International)
This little guy is perfect for kids who are learning to tell time—and yes, that’s important even in an era where clocks with hands seem to be going the way of the ichthyosaurus. Actually, with Telly, you can teach the kids both analog and digital, a feature you rarely find on the same teaching clock. There’s also a “quiz mode,” where Telly asks the child to match the digital time shown on his face by moving the hands on his (literal) face. Bonus: Among his many talents, Telly is a real, working clock, making him a nice addition to a child’s bedroom. Comes with three AA batteries. Retails for $28 on http://www.tlji.com/

magnetic spell and learn boardMagnetic Spell and Learn Board (The Learning Journal International)
This is a great way to teach your kids letters, sounds, and spelling. Some of the magnets have short words and pictures of the words on them. They can then “write” out the spelled words with the magnet letters. This type of hands-on learning is a great way to build phonics, vocabulary, spelling skills, and early reading skills. The board and interlocking magnets make putting words together into sentences or poetry a breeze. And the handy storage compartment makes clean-up easy and minimizes missing pieces. Retails for $20 on http://www.tlji.com

turbo land rocketTurbo Land Rocket (Scientific Explorer)
This toy offers a different type of hands-on experience that’s a lot of fun for a one-on-one parent-child adventure or a whole brood of kiddies. As you might assume from the name, you’re going to be building a rocket—a really fast one. The kit comes with almost everything you need (and easy-to-follow directions). The only thing you’re missing is the rocket’s fuel, which consists of vinegar and baking soda. It’s a real blast and you’ll want to do it again and again. Unlike so many science-based kits, you’ll actually be able to. The manufacturer claims the rocket can go more than 200 feet. Ours didn’t go quite that far but it definitely attracted a lot of neighborhood kids. $26 on http://poof-slinky.com

root vueRootVue (HSP Nature Toys)
If you want to see science literally come to life, this indoor garden is for you. It’s kind of like an ant farm, where clear plastic windows gave you a chance to see how ants build tunnels. But instead of insects, you and the kids get a chance to see how root vegetables grow—the leafy tops up, and the roots down. RootVue comes with “eight super-expanding grow mix wafers, three packets of seeds, identification labels, water wicks for self-watering system” It also has a simple water basin and drainage system, so it’s pretty much mess-free, and a 16-page booklet that has easy-to-follow instructions for doing a variety of experiments. Aside from the science part, there’s also a nutritional component: when kids grow their own veggies, they’ll be a lot more likely to eat them. $35 on http://www.hspnaturetoys.com