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Our Favorite Outdoor Summer Activities

It’s summer here in central Texas…and it’s HOT!  But, with four mobile kids, being stuck inside all day, despite the heat, just isn’t an option.  So, today, I thought I’d write about some of my kids’ favorite outdoor summer activities.  Some are childhood classics, some are definitely ‘farm kid’ pastimes, and others will just downright make you cringe!  Keep reading, if you dare! 

1. Playing in the Pool

What kid can resist playing in the pool?  We make occasional trips to the “big pool”…you know, the kind where the water is higher than your ankles.  But here at home, we don’t have anything fancy like that.  We buy a wading pool at the beginning of each summer.  We still haven’t found a way to keep them usable from summer to summer, so we have to get a new one every year.

I spend many an afternoon watching the kids splashing around.  Their splashes keep me just cool enough to stand being outside!  They play all sorts of imaginary games.  Dolphins, whales, “fast fish” (whatever those are), crocodiles, sea turtles, and even the occasional mermaid…my front yard is full of aquatic wildlife when the pool is out.  My husband and I are constantly amazed by the amount of communication skills that go into a single game of make-believe!

Plus, we (and by we, I mean my husband) can give the garden a good watering when it’s time to empty the pool.  Nearly everything – even playtime – has to pull double duty around here!

2. Rope Swing

Sometimes, though, playtime is actually an object’s second duty.  Several months ago, my husband slaughtered a pair of hogs.  I know many who read this may find that horrifying, but that’s just how life out here works.  Meat doesn’t come from your grocer’s freezer…not originally, anyway.  But, I digress…

My husband put a rope up in one of the trees to aid in processing the hogs after they were slaughtered.  The next day, our kids came out and found the rope still hanging from the tree branch.  They didn’t see a hog rope, they saw a fun time!  My kids are weird, remember?  They stand on the side of my old truck, hold onto the rope and jump off, swinging across the yard.

Occasionally, only under proper supervision (they know they’re not allowed unless one of their parents is right next to them), they get to “foot swing”.  They put a foot into the loop in the rope and (usually) their Daddy swings them up, high and fast.  Their ol’ Momma has even tried it a time or two.  It feels like flying…at least until you can’t hold on any longer!

3. Giant Building Logs

The. Best. Christmas. Gift. Ever!

These logs were a collaboration between my dad and my husband.  My husband came up with the idea, and my dad brought them to life.  These are landscaping timbers cut into varying lengths.  Then, Dad drilled holes at even increments along the flat sides of the timbers.  Pipes can then be inserted by the builder through all the layers to make sturdy structures…much like Lincoln logs, but on a much bigger scale.

These logs have built castles, houses, boats, backyard fences, corrals…you name it!  If Bear is missing, you can almost bet that she’ll be outside building something.  The rest of the kids really get into it as well, giving her ideas of new structures to build.

4. Bubbles

What list of outdoor activities would be complete without bubbles?  I usually make our own bubbles at home with a little Dawn, water and sugar…otherwise, we’d go broke buying bubbles all the time!  The kids really enjoy blowing bubbles.  They especially like to chase each other’s bubbles across the yard in hopes of popping them before they fall in the grass or float over the pond.  Occasionally, a bubble will float past a dog who will try to catch it.  Sadly, the dogs never have anything to show in victory, other than a bad taste in their mouth!

5. Catch

I know what you’re thinking when you read that title.  But, you’re probably wrong.  Our Border Collie, Patch likes playing with the kids.  She also likes playing catch.  A lot.  She’s usually the dog that ends up catching bubbles.  But, Patch will try to catch pretty much anything thrown in the air…tennis balls, sticks, dirt, fertilizer (much to my husband’s consternation), and of course, balls of mud.

One of the kids’ favorite variations on this game is throwing small twigs or pebbles into the pond.  Patch will then take a flying leap into the water (what’s not funny about that?) to try to retrieve whatever was thrown in.  If was a stick, she’s usually successful.  However, if it was a pebble. she’ll swim around desperately trying to find it.  Of course, the children think this is quite hilarious.  I wind up with four sets of muddy feet and a dog covered in pond scum.  What joy is mine!

6. Pond Hunts

Our pond starts to dry up in the late spring.  If we’re lucky, we get enough rain during the early summer that our pond doesn’t completely dry out (our first year living here was 2011, and by the end of the summer the pond was bone dry, not even a muddy spot left!).  But, either way, it gets much smaller.  Our children often form a little roaming band and tramp around the pond bed finding interesting critters, or playing some imaginary game.  The game often degenerates into playing mud-ball catch with Patch.

Bear will often bring her nature journal and nature identification guide with her.  She takes great pleasure in finding, drawing, and identifying little creatures and plants that have made their home in the dried-up pond goo!  I’m glad they have fun, and I suppose it’s even a little educational.  But, again, it tends to end in mud-covered shoes, clothes, and dogs!

7. Mud Fight!

Ah, I’ve saved the best for last!  I know this one is likely to make many of you shudder.  But, this is, hands-down, my kids’ favorite game!  They run outside as soon as it stops raining (usually before if there’s no lightening) so they can get to the puddles before they dry up.  As you can tell from the pictures, they get gross!  But, it’s nothing a water hose can’t fix.  I suppose all that fun is ultimately worth the mess!  If you would like some tips on how to deal with kids and mud without losing your sanity, check out this post.

 

And, because you really can’t get a real feel for this last one from just a picture, here’s a little video clip:

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I am a wife and the mother of five children.  I love my family.  We live on a farm…no pavement in sight.  You know what that means, right?  Dirt.  Dirt, dirt, and more dirt.  Then it rains.  Then comes the LAUNDRY!  Loads and loads and loads of it.  But, that’s just the tip of the iceburg.  

Let’s not forget the dishes.  My youngest doesn’t eat solid food yet, and is exclusively breastfed.  She doesn’t contribute to Dish Mountain.  So, that makes six plates, six cups, six forks, six spoons, six knives…plus all the pots and pans to cook in…for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Doesn’t my life sound glamorous?

Housekeeping is NOT one of my gifts.  Yes, I said it.  I don’t enjoy housework…I’m really not very good at it.  I don’t see all those little tasks that need to be done to keep a house truly clean and comfortable.  I’m generally happy if I manage to keep the dishes clean and enough clean clothes in my kids’ drawers.  I’m very lucky that my husband is an enormous help in this department, too!  He can often be found washing dishes with the kids (like, every night after dinner while I’m putting the baby to bed), folding laundry, or sweeping and mopping the floors.  But, there are always so many more things to be done…and with a two month old infant, even the basics often seem to slip.  Alas, I fall further and further behind.  There’s not enough time or energy to tackle that growing pile of clothes waiting to be folded…much less that big project that needs to be done!

But, I knew what I was signing up for eight years ago when I quit my job to stay home with my oldest…I thought.  Of course, the load has gotten a little heavier with each addition to the family, but that’s to be expected.  My biggest problem is that I tend to look at the housework all wrong.

I’ve always measured myself, and my personal success, on what I can complete.  What I can finish.  What I can check off that good ole’ to-do list.  With my housework, I always felt like such a failure.

“I found the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper!  Yay me!  I did such a great job today!”

Ten minutes later, I visit the bathroom and the hamper (OK, I’ll be honest, it’s usually the floor in front of the hamper) is already full again!  “All that time spent, and nothing to show for it.”  Sigh.

“Yay!  The dishes are done and put away.  The counters are clean and disinfected.  My husband’s coffeepot is sparkling!”

But then, “Mom!  Can I have a snack?”  And of course, if one person is hungry, everyone else realizes they’re famished too.  They find and finish their snacks, leaving dish carnage in their wake.  It’s not enough to justify a whole new sink full of dish water (No, we don’t have a dishwasher), but if I don’t do it now, after dinner it will look like a dish sculpture of Mount Everest.

I looked at the housework as something to be accomplished.  Completed.  Defeated!  But I got so discouraged because it just simply cannot happen.  It isn’t possible.  Even if I were to get every single article of clothing in the house clean, folded, and put away, we’re still wearing something while it’s getting done.  So it isn’t done.

If I can help my kids learn the right attitude about it all, they’ll be so far ahead of me.  My way isn’t the right way to think about all the housework.  Now that I have daughters who are getting old enough to actually help, I have to do my best to make sure they don’t get this attitude about work, and about life in general.  Because honestly, that’s what housework really is…LIFE!  If I can help my kids learn the right attitude about it all, they’ll be so far ahead of me.  

So, now, for that all important question.  How should I try to teach myself to think about housework?  How should I teach my kids?  I already know how NOT to do it.  But how SHOULD I do it?  Well, I’ve got to look at it as an on-going process, not something to be completed.  We can’t stop living because I just swept and mopped the floors.  I have to learn to accept that life happens.  There’s going to be a dog (or 3) who just took a nice swim in the pond trailing my husband who’s carrying a big pile of still mud-caked turnips inside from the garden the day after a good rain.  That’s ok.  So what?  I’ll try again tomorrow (and make my husband sweep again after he’s done washing the turnips!).

I also have to learn (and teach!) that if I’m doing my job right (which I rarely am), no one is going to notice.  But, that shouldn’t be why I do it anyway.  Housework is my act of service to care for my family, to make my guests feel welcome and comfortable…whether they called first or not!  This is one (of many) ways I should be showing love for others.  I should expect nothing in return…not even praise for a job well-done.

If I can impart this hard life-lesson early on in my daughters’ lives (and my sons’ too), that’s just another way to help them live happier, healthier, more satisfying lives than have I.  One way I’ve started is by making sure we do ourZone Cleaning  twice a day, every day!  This program really helps them break down each cleaning task into manageable chunks.  It also helps us all remember that keeping our home neat and clean is an ongoing process…not something to do that stays done forever.  We have to come back to it many times every day!

It’s a work in progress, but someday, maybe I’ll figure it all out!

 

 

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Living on a farm means living in the dirt.  Not only do we live on a dirt road, but we live 3 different dirt roads away from anything paved.  There’s dirt, dust, and gravel everywhere.  Now, what we have here is the beginnings of a recipe for a woman’s slow descent into madness:

  1.  Start with dirt
  2.  Add 4 young children
  3.  Add 1 farmer husband
  4.  Stir in 4 dogs

Mix all together well outside after a rainstorm.  Allow to marinate at least one hour.  Bring preparation indoors.

When we first moved out here, any time it rained, I would ban my poor daughter from playing outside until the mud dried.  But alas, I, a born and bred city girl, was the mother of a true country girl.  Staying inside all day was true torture of the worst kind for Bear.  And when a toddler is confronted with torture, they are experts at handing it right back to you.  


On those days when she was denied the right to play in the great outdoors, I was subjected to the worst punishments from my dear, sweet, daughter.  It was a vicious cycle.  The confinement I imposed on her drove her crazy, her cabin fever drove me crazy.  Something had to give.

The following year, after Lizard was born, was the great drought of 2011.  Mud…well, it wasn’t so much of a problem.  There were plenty of other problems…failed crops, the struggle to find and buy hay, and wild fires, to name a few.  But we didn’t have to deal with mud.  With all those other things to worry about, I forgot all about mud.

Eventually, rain came again.  And as usual, in Texas, when a drought finally breaks, it does so in dramatic fashion.  There were tornadoes and over nine inches of rain in one night.  It continued raining for the next couple of days, though not as torrentially as it had that first night.  We were so grateful for the rain, that all of us were out in it, playing in it and getting all wet.  By the end of the day, Bear was covered in mud from head to toe…and she was loving it!

A lot has changed since then.  Instead of 2 children and 2 dogs worth of mud, there are now 4 children and 4 dogs.  There’s also a husband, working in the garden, and in the pasture.  He brings in all sorts of root vegetables…turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes.  Guess what they’re all covered with?  You got it…mud.  There’s mud on the porch, mud on the floors, mud in the clothes, and mud in the sink.  What’s a mother to do to keep her sanity?  Well, here’s my few tips to deal with all the dirt. 

Have a designated set of clothes.

If you have a certain set of clothes set aside for your kids to play in when its muddy outside, you will save yourself a lot of stress!  These are the only clothes the kids are allowed to wear when it’s muddy.  They can all be washed together, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not all the stains come out or not.  We’ve been lucky enough to have a large set of well-used hand-me-downs from various donors to pick these outfits from.  Once a shirt or pair of jeans gets a hole, it goes into the “mud clothes” stash.  We also use my old t-shirts for this purpose.  Incidentally, you can also use these designated clothes to bring peace of mind to other “messy” activities…like painting, for instance.

Have a designated area for wet, muddy clothes.

If you can contain it before it hits your floor, the wet, muddy things don’t make so much of a house-mess impact.  This one is perhaps a little bit easier when you live in the middle of nowhere.  My husband built a little rack that sits next to our front door on the front porch.  When the kids come in wet and muddy, their clothes go on the rack, and they go straight to the shower.  No questions asked, everyone knows what to do.  It makes life a lot simpler.  The clothes can go out to the washing machine straight from the front porch, and all that extra mud never has to even come inside the house.

Ditch the carpet.

Carpet holds on to dirt and mud.  We have tile throughout our entire house now, except one room (and the floor in that room is on the list for replacement).  If you choose tile, choose a darker color for your grout…it won’t stain as badly (even when you seal it, it still will stain eventually).  One of my biggest regrets about the way we finished out our house here originally was choosing to put carpet in the bedrooms.  I had my reasons, but I have to admit, it was a mistake.  You can always add throw rugs that can easily be washed on top of a hard flooring option.

Learn to accept imperfection.

With 4 kids, living on a working farm, and 4 dogs…my life is going to be messy.  There’s no getting around it.  If it’s muddy outside, there’s going to be some mud on the floor.  If the kids don’t track it in, my husband’s boots will (and to be honest, if mud is the worst thing I have to worry about on my husband’s boots, it’s a good day!).  And the dogs are sure to have rolled in it before coming inside.  If you come visit me, and it has been raining, my floors will be dirty.  Just close your eyes, don’t look…and for goodness sake, don’t worry about your own shoes!  

Mud is always going to be part of life.  Especially out here.  There are some things in life worth worrying about.  Mud just isn’t one of them.  So, I’ll accept the fact that the dogs will track in dirt and deposit it all over the house.  I’ll be grateful for that sink full of muddy vegetables for my family to eat.  I’ll let my kids go outside and be mud magnets.  I’ll let them have fun and be kids.  We can clean it all up.  I refuse to lose my sanity over it. 


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