The monthly envelope full of local ads and coupons arrived a couple days ago.  As I flipped through it, one summery dessert caught my eye:  a dessert pizza.  It was an advertisement for a local pizza buffet, "only" $5.99 for the buffet.  
Well, we have 7 people at home, so $6 x 7 is not something we're willing to spend very often.  :)  Instead, I could make this for under $4 with what I had on hand.  Frozen blueberries and strawberries are always in the freezer here; I get them at DollarTree in the frozen section.  Cream cheese stores way beyond its sell-by date, so I stock up when it's $1 for 8 ounces.  A local store recently had whipping cream at $.33, and it stores quite a bit past the sell-by date, plus it can be frozen.  And I stock up on butter when it's on sale, then keep it in the freezer.

What are some of your must-have-on-hand ingredients?

Cookie base
1 stick butter (1/2 c.), softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1/3 c. buttermilk, kefir, OR sour milk (add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to fresh milk to make 1/3 c.)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Cream the butter with sugar; beat in the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Combine baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour; stir in to the other ingredients.  Grease or spray a 10x17 rimmed cookie sheet or 14" or 15" round pizza pan.  Drop cookie dough on top and pat into an even layer; wet your fingers so the dough doesn't stick so much to you.  Bake for 14-20 minutes, until light golden brown on edges and underside.  Cool completely.  

3 oz cream cheese
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla

2-4 cups berries or other fruit (I used 1 cup frozen blueberries, about 1 1/2 c. frozen strawberries)

Spread the topping over cooled cookie, cut into squares, and then sprinkle or decorate with fruit.  Serve; cover and refrigerate any leftovers.
This is actually an instrument.  Or a noise maker, depending on your perspective and the personality of the child holding it.  It's a variation of the Brazilian & African cuica, used in Samba music.  (See a video of an actual musician using a higher quality cuica on the YouTube video below. 

At any rate, this one can be made to make a clucking or 'gobble'y sound.  These are entertaining by themselves, or add it in to an impromptu marching-around-the-yard band!  You could have a whole flock of chickens or turkeys.

To make one, you'll need
A disposable plastic cup, googly eyes, paper/real feathers/paper or foam beak, an 18-20” length of cotton (not nylon) yarn, something to poke a hole with, a paperclip, dollar-bill sized piece of a paper towel, water.

Using a nail or whatever works, poke a hole in the top.  Thread the string through the hole, and tie the top end of the string onto a paperclip or washer, to keep it securely on the right side of the hole!    Decorate.

If you want to see someone make one and use it, see here.  

Have fun!
To make the sound, while holding the clucker still with one hand, get a square of folded-over wet paper towel and grab the string, making quick yanks down the string.
Want something meaningful to do on the Fourth of July?

There's a whole slideshow of possibilities, on my home page.

Or you can find some great local thing to participate in.  If you're anywhere near the Wasatch Front, two great options are the Orem FreedomFest, and the week-long Patriot Camps for 1st-6th graders.
FreedomFest has several free events, including the Walk of Freedom, "Cries of Freedom, the Musical", and Constitution Hall.

If you'd like something low-key that keeps you inside with the air conditioning running, watch The Swamp Fox, a Disney series on a real-life Revolutionary War hero.  Keep in mind some things are embellished in it; for instance, Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox himself) was actually only 5'2" and 42 years old.  But it's good family watching and can lead to even better reading up later.
There's nothing that stimulates creativity like boredom does.
My 15-year-old was bored yesterday and came up with this idea:

Draw on wood using the power of the sun.

Normally I'm not a fan of solar power:  a couple years ago, a solar panel manufacturing company was considering building in my city.   Our city council starting reading the research and crunching numbers, and eventually declined the move.  Why?  The council members discovered that when you add up everything it really takes to build and run a solar plant, it takes MORE energy to produce each panel that it will generate in its lifetime.  

Anyway, back to this solar-powered art:

A magnifying glass, when held close to something with bright sunlight behind it, creates a concentrated beam of light, as most any inherently pyromaniac 12-year-old boy might tell you.  

So he used that as his woodburning technique, holding the magnifying glass steady in one spot until a little wisp of smoke appeared, then moving it over a fraction of an inch.  (See the light beam below?)  He freehand drew it as he went, though you could sketch in pencil first (which is erasable!) and then burn over those lines.

Note: there are some safety considerations here, obviously.  One of them is keeping an eye on your child if they try this.  And I recommend doing this in a nice green grassy area that is not prone to catching fire.  Another is protecting yourself from the sun.  He wore a jacket with a hood, since he sat with his back to the sun for about 2 hours to make this.  Too bad he didn't think to put on pants instead of shorts.

Voila!  Wood burning with no specialty tools necessary except a cheap dollar-store plastic magnifying glass!

Pull weeds while you’re talking on the phone- better yet, while you’re on hold.  Yesterday I managed to get the above bed completely weeded, plus another one (3x50) while waiting to speak to a real human on the phone.  

 Go for a walk or a run outside; when you’re, do your stretches next to something that needs weeded.  Hey, if you’ve gotta bend over anyway, you might as well make your hands useful!

Pinch little weeds out as soon as you can identify them.  This is a bit of a change from what I used to do, pulling them out as soon as they appeared.  Years ago a wise neighbor pointed out all the volunteer perennials in her flower beds… and changed forever how I weed.  Instead of indiscriminately pulling every seedling in the bed, now I only pull when I know what it is.  This isn’t as hard as it seems; 90% of the weeds in my yard are one of the same nine or ten plants.  Figure out what your common weeds are, and learn to identify them as small as possible.  If you don’t know what it is yet, let it grow until you do.  There are only a few plants that will spread horribly if you wait- and you’ll be able to identify those pretty quickly.  Generally speaking, most plants spread only once they’ve flowered and set seeds.  You’ll get a lot of pleasant surprises by weeding this way; right now close to 1/3 of the flowers in my yard are volunteers!  I’ve even had bushes and trees free this way.

Use weeding time as one-on-one time with a child. Let them tell you about their day, or their new project, or the book they've been reading, or whatever else.  I have great memories of fixing barb-wire fences on our farm because of this- it meant time to talk with my dad.

Spend time in your yard, in all parts of the yard.  You’ll better notice what needs done.  And you’ll enjoy it much more than from indoors!  Another neighbor told me to have a place to sit somewhere on each side of the house.  Sit and read, or watch the kids, watch the sky, watch the bugs, whatever brings you joy.  Gather a bunch of fresh flowers for a vase every couple days.  Enjoy those efforts!

Side note: if you have these flowers, too, you have an edible weed in your yard. This is "pepperweed", also called "tall whitetop" - Lepidium latifolium-, a perennial in the mustard family. The seeds are good to eat and taste like... yep, pepper. The leaves and stems are also edible and taste spicy, similar to watercress or arugula. - Just don't eat them if they've been sprayed with herbicide. See other posts on this site for more "free veggies"!
This was a fun project with my preschooler- quick and easy for me, fun for her. 

To draw the butterfly outline, first start with a 9" paper plate.  You can draw it completely freehand, or try to follow the instructions below.  :-) The double dotted line in the center is where you glue the body.  I used a twig (and folded the plate backwards along each line so the wings could flap a little), but other options include a craft stick or pipe cleaner -- cut a length double plus 2-3" longer than the body should be, fold in half, twist together, leaving the top 1- 1 1/2" free, for the antennae.

  Draw a line horizontally, 3/4" below the center of the plate.  This is the line that will separate the top wings from the bottom ones.  Make a mark about 1" in from each edge along this line, then draw a curved triangle at each side with the mark at its tip and its base at the plate edge.

Next, draw a faint line from top to bottom, through the center, perpendicular to the first line.  Make a mark 3 3/4" from the top, and another one 2 1/2" up from the bottom of the plate.  This will be where the wings touch.  Draw a curved triangle with its tip at the mark and its base at the plate edge. 

Wouldn't these make cute decorations for an outdoor party?  Picture them hung with fishing line from trees, perched on tables or shrubs...
When everyone's out of school, what do you like to do? 

I've always been the kind of person who wonders where that side road goes, who likes to stop and read all the historical markers, and who likes to explore little areas to look at trees, or rocks, or whatever is there.  Last year I decided it was time to start doing some of those things, instead of just wondering what was out there and feeling trapped in a rut.  And have fun with my children, exploring with them.

I started with a brainstorming list; local places I'd wanted to visit.  Then I asked my children what places they wanted to go.  Not surprisingly, most of their 'wish list' places charge money to go to.  We go on a little 'field trip' once a week, while my husband is at work.   The biggest way to keep my teenagers happy is by including a 'food stop'.  For instance, when we go on a hike to the waterfall up Battle Creek canyon, we first stop at Daylight Donuts, a cute old house that's been converted to a drive-through donut shop.  When we go to visit friends in Cache Valley, we either visit the Gossner cheese factory to get fresh cheese curds ("squeaky cheese"!), or drive up to the Pepperidge Farms factory to see what goodies are at their outlet.   And we 'have to' visit the Climbing Tree at the mouth of Blacksmith Fork canyon- a fabulous old willow with some branches that obligingly rest on the ground so little ones can climb up.   Before we go, I also like to look up history or tidbits about the area, so I can talk to my kids about it as we drive, or point out things like the old trail along the road, or where the railroad used to run, or where the pioneers built their first reservoir.
When we drive into the mountains and come out through a different canyon, I pull out our map when we're home, and show them how the canyons and mountains connect.  Most of what we do just costs gas money, plus whatever snack we stop and buy to eat.  About once a month we'll do something that costs more. 

What's interesting in your area?  Ask neighbors, a random mom at the grocery store, look online, call your city's tourism center.  Here's part of our Ideas List:  (Everything's more fun when you invite another mom and kids to come with you!  And as you can see, we never get everything done in one summer!)

-drive all the way up Emmigration Canyon, loop across to Heber.  Stop at Granny's for shakes, stop at the old train depot to see the Heber Creeper.  Go home through Provo Canyon, stop to play and eat lunch at Vivian Park (bonus if the Heber Creeper comes puffing in while we're there).  One of these times I'll let my older kids tube down the river, too. This route passes 5 reservoirs- tell my kids their names and a little history, including which one supplies our family's water.

-visit Stansbury Island (west side of the Great Salt Lake) to see the oolitic sand.  Float in the lake.  

-dig for geodes near Dugway

ride bikes over to the nearby lake, play in the stream and lake, watch the clouds go by.

-find some of the hot springs in the area

-drive back to the family farm (2 hrs away), walk by the river, hike up the old cabins, then climb the hill.

-visit the Fremont Indian sites to see the hieroglyphics; see the Anasazi dwellings (takes more gas money, this is in the "more expensive' category)

-visit This Is The Place Heritage Park- try to time it so the mulberries are ripe on the trees lining the dirt street.  Remember a little money to buy old-fashioned candy from the glass jars in the General Store.

-drive through Parleys Canyon (originally the Golden Pass Toll Road), brush up on the history of the canyon, Sentinel/Suicide Rock,  and Park City.  (Great family history; Parley P. Pratt is an ancestor of mine.)  Drive home through Provo Canyon, stop to hike to Bridal Veil Falls.  Stop at La Brioche, an Argentinian bakery started by a former neighbor of mine, for their bread-apart bread ($1.79/lb, similar in taste to French bread) and Dulce de Leche-filled meringue cookies.

-hike to the Y, visit my sister, and get ice cream at the BYU Creamery.  If we're not worn out, also go through the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum(which is free; it's also one place I worked when putting myself through college).  Maybe make it a separate trip and also see the Museum of Paleontology. 

-Visit the Kennecott (Rio Tinto) copper mine again.

-Spend a day at the Thanksgiving Point Gardens (probably just the Children's Discovery Garden, for them- shrub mazes, water features to splash in, miniature lighthouse to climb....)  Maybe have lunch at Porter's (or at the Garden), or drive a few more miles to The Peppermint Place's outlet.

day trips with just the older kids: hike Mt. Olympus, or Timpanogos.  Visit Timpanogos Cave.

- Go to Fault Line Park, have races rolling down the steep hill, which is a fault scarp.  Eat lunch there, drive over to the G.K.Gilbert Geologic Park, (also see here)  which is on another part of the fault line, as well as on a glacial moraine.

-spend a morning at the Wild West Jordan Park.  Munch on Conchas,  Cochinitos, and/or bolillos from  Alicia's Panaderia (Mexican bakery) nearby.

If you want more Utah ideas, check outUtah Family magazine's "No Bored Kids" summer calendar    or Utah Outdoor Activities.  If you're in a different area, try a search for similar terms.