Archives For Kids Outdoor Play Spaces

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This is a little off topic, but it is important so I wanted to share. The Camden Children’s Garden is being evicted by the State of New Jersey and given two months to clear the site. So I am joining the Blogger Day of Action to Save the Camden Children’s Garden I am including some pictures from over the years  (thanks Tim). The garden was designed by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates with Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects.

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It was one of the first projects I worked on when I start at VSBA. I only worked on it a little bit but it was such an exciting project to be involved with and I still have fond memories of the opening party. It is one of the best examples of Steve Izenour’s built work. Not only is the Children’s Garden a great place to take the family but they also do SO much great work in Camden supporting and running community gardens around the city and offering youth education, training and employment.

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Michelle Obama even highlights it in her book “American Grown”. It is a sad day that the NJ would decide to take something with such positive impact to such an under served community and destroy it.

Please consider adding your support to save the Camden Children’s Garden. Sign the petition here.

Here are some related articles:

http://articles.philly.com/2013-01-25/news/36550264_1_dinosaur-garden-camden-city-garden-club-children-s-garden

http://articles.philly.com/2013-01-28/news/36579132_1_garden-club-valerie-frick-amusement-park

http://camdenchildrensgarden.wordpress.com/category/first-lady-michelle-obamas-book/

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Beautiful Mix of Fall Colored Perennials & Shrubs including Coral Bells in 2 Colors and Barberry

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend. Saturday was splendid here and we took the opportunity to head over to Tyler Arboretum to enjoy the fall weather and let the kids run around in the woods (and up into some treehouses). I have to say that Tyler is pretty great. Over the last few years they have added a lot of kid friendly treehouses and experiences, that are the right mix of nature paired with activities to keep the kids occupied. So if you are in the Philly area I highly recommend a visit.

I thought I would share a few of the interesting plants and creations that we saw on our visit.

Berm with tube for the kids to climb through.

Maisie loved this tube with a berm on top. I was impressed that the plants could survive on top, including a beautiful Oak Leaf Hydrangea and some purple beautyberry (which make excellent cuttings also). Depending on the topography of your yard this would be pretty easy to replicate.

Gnome Bridge: I love the use of twigs for guardrails

Palette Shed

I really liked this shed that used a palette vertically on one side and filled it with annuals. The vintage terracotta roof tiles are also a nice touch.  I think this would be an interesting idea for someone to liven up a boring shed.

Bamboo Teepee with Rock Seats

I really liked this extra large bamboo teepee, complete with large rock seats. I have a stockpile of bamboo, so I am excited to try replicating this somewhere (Zdenka I am thinking of your house).

Beautiful 7′ tall light purple asters

Very Interesting Mystery Plant: Can someone tell me what this is? Asclepias physocarpa? (Thanks Stacey!) The seed pods are amazing.

Beautiful Mix of Annuals still holding strong

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Sam seeing the slide installed for the first time

Well it has been a long time coming, but we finally have a slide set up off of our deck! I first thought about adding this a couple of years ago, since we don’t have space in the yard for a full swing set. This spring I put a plan together and figured out where to put the sandbox and swing. The only component left was the slide. Then I looked and looked on Craigslist, with no luck. Then summer hit and the last thing on my mind was working out in the yard. Well at the end of the summer I got lucky and someone about a block away put a slide out for the garbage. I drove past it and got very excited. We were on our way to a kids birthday party and couldn’t stop. I thought sure it would be gone by the time we got back, but fortunately it was still sitting there. I walked over and found that it was in incredibly good shape and looked to be about the right height! Then I proceeded to run down the block with it like a silly kid.

Sam testing out the new slide

It has been sitting in its new home for the past month waiting for me to get around to cutting the handrail and bolt it in. This weekend I got tired of the kids asking if it was “nailed in yet” and decided to get it functioning while they watched a movie.

Drilling for the new Carriage Bolts to hold the slide on the deck

The first step after determining the rough location was to determine how I was going to attach the slide. The slide had 2 holes at the top. I decided to reuse these and bolt through the deck. Our decking is 1 1/2″ thick pressure treated wood. This gave us a nice strong material to bolt through. I drilled a small pilot hole at each location to make sure it was a clear shot. I ended up having to shift it over about 1/4″ to miss the joist underneath.

Guardrail after removing the spindles and lower horizontal member.

Next I removed the portion of the guardrail that was in the way. I unscrewed the vertical spindles. Then I took one of them and doubled up the spindles on the freestanding side. Then I used a sawsall to cut the bottom member.

Then I drilled the final larger holes and bolted them in with carriage bolts (the kind that are round and smooth on top). I also used a large washer underneath (to increase the bearing on the wood) and then a locking washer (to keep it nice and tight) and finally a hex nut. I used a 3/8″ carriage bolt. It looked nice and sturdy and I new that the top would cover the slide holes.  I spent about $3 for the bolts, washers and nuts. Pretty good deal!

Finally I had Mr. S. stand on top of the slide to make sure it was nice and tight and I used a wrench underneath to do the final tightening.

Our deck is a little over 5′ off of the ground (a lot of play slides are designed for 5′). So after the top was installed I did a little regrading at the bottom. I also made sure that the bottom of the slide was firmly in the dirt (by about an inch) so that it wouldn’t move.

The slide is definitely a little steeper than it would be on a playset, which makes it extra fast. The kids LOVE it. I think if I had smaller kids I would have added some additional dirt to the bottom.

Here is my rendering from this spring:

Rendering of play area from this spring.

And here is our play area now:

Sam making good use of the “new” slide.

I am pleased to be able to give them areas to play outside without sacrificing a large portion of the yard to swing set. What do you think?

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Completed DIY Sandbox w/ benches and Lid (and beach umbrella)

Today is my long overdue instructions on building our new sandbox! It seems like as soon as we had it finished the weather was too hot to use it. And now the mosquitoes are in rare form making it uncomfortable to be outside. Fortunately, I convinced Maisie that a little time out there this morning would be nice.

I wrote about the first part of the installation a while ago. I thought I would show Part 1 again so that everything was in one place.

Inspiration

Sandbox Design from Ana White’s website

We decided to go with the plans from Ana White’s website based on this design. Of course I had to tweak it a bit (when have I ever gone the easy way). The design is for a 4′x4′ model. We decided to go with a 5′x4′ design so that the kids would have a little bit more space for playing and to fill out the space. We also decided to use 2x10s for the sides. The design calls for 1x8s but since we wanted it deeper and we were widening it, I decided to increase the depth (plus a 1×10 and 2×10 are pretty much the same price). The nice thing about the plans is that they are designed to use standard length lumber, so all I needed to do was adjust a few pieces from 8′ lengths to 10′ lengths to make it work. I also added an extra piece to the back of the bench on each side to accommodate the extra foot (so there are 3 boards instead of two).

Site Leveled & Ready for Installation


Step 1: Locate the Sandbox and Prepare the Site

First on the list was moving the big piece of slate over to accommodate the sandbox. For this I used a spade and all of my arm strength to push it over the 5′. It was a pain and took me an embarrassing amount of time, but I managed to do it myself. Of course it wasn’t level! So it took last weekend with the help of Mr. S. holding it up to actually level it out. Then we leveled out the ground under the sandbox, moved/cut back a few plants and we were set. We also added the landscape/weed blocker fabric to the bottom, to help keep the sand separated from the dirt.

Wood Cut & Landscape Fabric Added

Step 2: Pick Up the Wood & Cut to Length

I went over to Home Depot and picked up the pine boards (I didn’t want to use pressure treated in an area with kids). I had the guy at HD cut the 2×10 boards for me, since my saw only cuts up to a 2×8 in one pass. Of course I hadn’t double checked my measurements so I still ended up having to cut the shorter pieces again at home. All told I spent about $96 for the wood, screws, glue and hinges. I spent about an hour measuring and cutting all of the wood.

 Step 3: Finish the Wood

This is by far the longest step. We are staining our wood green to match our garage and shed. We had some already, which was nice. The downside is that it is oil and takes a while to dry. Since almost all the wood will be visible depending on whether it is open or closed we need to finish all of the sides. I am using a small roller with the stain. I am still NOT finished with this. It needs 2 coats and so far only the bottom has 2 full coats. Everything else only has one coat right now. Unfortunately the weather has not been cooperating with us. I am hoping to have all of the staining done by the weekend so I can get this finished!

The kids taking a break from the water table to test out the sandbox

Step 4: Installing the Base/Sides:

Mr. S. stained the base 2x10s first, so those were ready to go in (we are leaving the side that will be exposed to the sand unfinished because I am concerned with it wearing off with the sand against it). We used nice long 3″ screws (3 per corner). I use almost exclusively screws with star bits. Home Depot now sells them (I use to have to hunt them down) in the deck screw area. I LOVE these! No slipping or stripped screws. Plus they are meant for exterior use, so they will hold up well. The Home Depot ones are tanish yellow in color and blend in pretty well with the wood.

The kids using the sandbox for the first time

Step 5: Putting in the Sand

I bought six 50 lbs bags of play sand to get started (I think we will need another 6 or so to fill the 18 sf). I looked for play sand that had been “prewashed” to minimize any contaminants.

Half Finished Top/Bench

Step 6: Making the Lid

This is the most intimidating part of the project, but really isn’t that hard. We used 14 boards all together for this (+4 armrests & 4 back supports)

-2 1x4s on each side as the base for the seat (see left side of picture above). These are permanently screwed to the frame

-2 1x4s on each side for the seat (this part flips over and has the armrests on the inside)

-3 on each side for the back of the bench (2 1x4s and 1 1×6). On Ana White’s instructions they only use 2 1x4s but since we are a 1′ wider I need to add a 1×6 to each back.

A. The first thing you want to do is layout all of the boards to double check the spacing. We were in between 1/4″ and 1/2″ in between the boards. If you have a piece of scrap wood or cardboard and the right thickness this will help keep the joints even. I ended up using a piece of scrap Styrofoam that i had on hand from some packaging.

B. Screw in the permanently attached pieces on each side.

C. Screw the arm rests on to the seats (making sure that the spacing matches the pieces that you installed previously

D. Screw the back supports on to the back pieces.

E. Test fit the pieces to make sure everything is going to fit properly.

Back and seat being attached together with hinges

F. I found it was easiest to attach the back and seat together first. This allows you to install these in a flat position instead of at an angle (since these hinges are on the inside when the sandbox is closed). I used 3″ strap hinges that are galvanized.

Sandbox in closed position

G. Attach the seat and back to the box with hinges while everything is flat.

H. Attach handles if you are using them (we chose not to since it is pretty easy to lift the way it is).

Maisie in the sandbox

Step 7: Test out the new sandbox!

Maisie busy with some new sand toys

I hope everyone has a great weekend! We have a summer cold going through the house and are hoping a quiet weekend will give everyone the rest that they need.

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Sam using the new tire swing!

We have been meaning to hang a tire swing for over a year, but somehow never seemed to get around to it. Well I finally put it on the “Must Get Done This Spring” list.  Of course, my requirements were very specific (it always seems that the easy solution is not the one I pick). So the research began!

Tire Swing Requirements:

1. Design has to have a connection that won’t damage our old beloved pine tree. That immediately ruled out chain and thinner rope.

2. Tire swing that would hang horizontally to allow for holding 2-3 kids.

3. Reuse one of our old tires. Recycling at its best!

4. Ideally the design would not have unprotected chains adjacent to the tire (to prevent little pinched fingers).

5. Ideally it would come as a kit, so I wouldn’t have to source all the parts separately.

6. Be reasonably priced (I was hoping to spend about $40)

What I quickly learned is that most kits are designed to fit on a swing set and have a bolt connection. I also found several DIY instructions, but none of them dealt with how to attach it to the tree without using rope or chain. I also saw that a lot of them seemed overpriced to me. I also went over to Home Depot and found almost nothing that would work.I also discovered that covered chain is quite expensive.

Here are a few links to the options I found:

KITS

Tire Swing Kit #1

#2 Eye Swivel

#3 Tire Swing Option

#1: Tire Swing Kit w/ Coated Chains ($59.95). This also did not include the connection to the tree or extra chain.

#2:  Swivel for allowing the tire to spin without twisting the chain above. ($9.99)

#3: Tire Swing Tree Hanger by Woss Gear ($37.49)

DIY Instructions

#4: Popular Mechanics Instructions

#5: Instructables Instructions

#4:  Popular Mechanics Instruction for Building a Tire Swing.

#5: Instructables: How to Make a Tire Swing.

I found these instructions useful but quickly realized that by the time I source all of the parts it was going to be difficult and expensive and I was concerned that I would end up with a weak link somewhere and it wouldn’t hold up.

So after studying my options I went with #3. It looked durable, included everything but the swivel and met all of my requirements. I came out to a little more than $40 due to shipping, but it was a breeze to install (about a half hour). The only prep work required was drilling holes in the bottom of the tire so that water wouldn’t sit in there.

Woss Gear Tree Attachment

Heavy Duty Chain

I really liked the mechanism for attaching it to the tree. It was simple webbing (good for the tree) and had a self-tightening cleat. I also liked the super durable triangular link that attached to the chain below.

Tire Swing w/ webbing attachments

The tire itself is attached with webbing that is sewn into a loop, so you just pass the webbing around the tire and through the loop. Then the same piece has a sewn loop at the top to attach into the quick link that also attaches to the chain.

The New Tire Swing!

Sam is a big fan, although he mostly swings back and forth rather than around. I might still pick up the swivel separately, but for now he seems perfectly happy with it. I guess I need to get moving on the slide now!

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Sandbox Half Opened w/ Tall Seat back

Our new sandbox is in full use now, I still need to install half of the hinges (HD ran out) but it didn’t stop the kids from making use of the it over the weekend, at least when it wasn’t 90+ degrees out.  The side that is finished works great! It is easy to open and close, and the seat is nice for the kids. As an added bonus it limits the sand spill on that side.

Sandbox Closed

The 4′x5′ is a nice size and I am really glad that we extended it the extra foot. When it is closed it is relativity unobtrusive. I still need to do some planting near it, although I did manage to finish the rough grading around it and the adjacent stone that I moved.

So far I would say I have spent about 8 hours on it. with about 1/2 hour left to finish installing the hinges. Definitely not insignificant, but now I have something that fits the space perfectly and is very functional.

I will be putting together a full tutorial soon with more detailed photos of the installation and tips I found along the way.

Tire Swing Kit from Woos, $37.49

We also installed the tire swing this weekend, which I am pleased to say only took about 1/2 hour. I love it when something actually goes according to plan! I used this kit from Woos. It had everything (except the tire) and I really liked that it used webbing instead of chains at the bottom (so now pinched fingers). The only other thing that it didn’t come with was a swivel, to allow it to spin better, but so far that doesn’t appear to be an issue. I will post more on this project as well.

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Sandbox Part 2

May 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

Sandbox looking from the Kitchen Window

The kids made good use of the sandbox yesterday afternoon while I worked on staining the top. I bought six 50 lbs bags of play sand to get started (I think we will need another 6 or so to fill the 18 sf). I still have one more coat of stain to do on the backside of the boards for the top/seat. The stain is drying incredibly slowly (fingers crossed it will be dry by the weekend so I can get this guy finished).  I am also going to pick up some pvc pipe to mount on the inside of the box. These will be mounted on either side to hold up the beach umbrellas.

I am really happy that I could watch them from the kitchen and am pleased with the placement of the box directly in front of the window. The kids wasted no time taking off their shoes and socks. Now I have to make sure that I wipe the kids off before they come in the house. Sam also went and found his beach chair right later when Maisie was napping. He proceeding to lounge back and play quietly in the sand.

Maisie and the digger

Sam and Maisie playing together (at least for a brief moment)

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Sandbox Part 1

May 23, 2012 — 1 Comment

Sandbox in Progress

I first wrote about the sandbox almost 2 months ago. I think it is time to get moving! The basement has taken precedence for a while, but the kids are getting impatient and I am looking forward to them having some additional play space outside.

Inspiration Sandbox Design

Sandbox Design from Ana White

We decided to go with the plans from Ana White’s website based on this design. Of course I had to tweak it a bit (when have I ever gone the easy way). The design is for a 4′x4′ model. We decided to go with a 5′x4′ design so that the kids would have a little bit more space for playing and to fill out the space. We also decided to use 2x10s for the sides. The design calls for 1x8s but since we wanted it deeper and we were widening it, I decided to increase the depth (plus a 1×10 and 2×10 are pretty much the same price). The nice thing about the plans is that they are designed to use standard length lumber, so all I needed to do was adjust a few pieces from 8′ lengths to 10′ lengths to make it work. I also added an extra piece to the back on each side to accommodate the extra foot.

March

April

Mother's Day

Site Leveled


Step 1: Locate the Sandbox and Prepare the Site

First on the list was moving the big piece of slate over to accommodate the sandbox. For this I used a spade and all of my arm strength to push it over the 5′. It was a pain and took me an embarrassing amount of time, but I managed to do it myself. Of course it wasn’t level! So it took last weekend with the help of Mr. S. holding it up to actually level it out. Then we leveled out the ground under the sandbox, moved/cut back a few plants and we were set. We also added the landscape/weed blocker fabric to the bottom, to help keep the sand separated from the dirt.

Wood Cut & Landscape Fabric Added

Step 2: Pick Up the Wood & Cut to Length

I went over to Home Depot and picked up the pine boards (I didn’t want to use pressure treated in an area with kids). I had the guy at HD cut the 2×10 boards for me, since my saw only cuts up to a 2×8 in one pass. Of course I hadn’t double checked my measurements so I still ended up having to cut the shorter pieces again at home. All told I spent about $96 for the wood, screws, glue and hinges. I spent about an hour measuring and cutting all of the wood.

 Step 3: Finish the Wood

This is by far the longest step. We are staining our wood green to match our garage and shed. We had some already, which was nice. The downside is that it is oil and takes a while to dry. Since almost all the wood will be visible depending on whether it is open or closed we need to finish all of the sides. I am using a small roller with the stain. I am still NOT finished with this. It needs 2 coats and so far only the bottom has 2 full coats. Everything else only has one coat right now. Unfortunately the weather has not been cooperating with us. I am hoping to have all of the staining done by the weekend so I can get this finished!

The kids taking a break from the water table to test out the sandbox

Step 4: Installing the Base/Sides:

Mr. S. stained the base 2x10s first, so those were ready to go in (we are leaving the side that will be exposed to the sand unfinished because I am concerned with it wearing off with the sand against it). We used nice long 3″ screws (3 per corner). I use almost exclusively screws with star bits. Home Depot now sells them (I use to have to hunt them down) in the deck screw area. I LOVE these! No slipping or stripped screws. Plus they are meant for exterior use, so they will hold up well. The Home Depot ones are tanish yellow in color and blend in pretty well with the wood.

Step 5: Putting in the Sand

Goal for today, so stay tuned!

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Front Garden Texture: Allium Shubertii, Peonies & Penstemon 'Husker Red'

It has been raining for days here, okay so it is more like rain, drizzle, gray skies, repeat. This morning was the first real blue sky I have seen in a while. So I took this opportunity to take my weekly garden photos. What is hard to see in the photos is that everything grew at least 6″ in the last week. I think the plants really enjoyed the cooler weather and rain, but I have been itching to get outside.

Allium 'Karataviense'

I have been waiting for weeks to finally see my newly planted Allium ‘Karataviense’ to bloom alongside my caramel heuchera, and they finally popped a couple of days ago.

Allium & Huechera

Allium & Irises

Allium Shubertii

My Allium ‘Purple Sensations’ got a little pummeled by the rain, but most seem to have survived, if a little droopy. My Allium ‘Shubertii’ is HUGE (think beach ball sized). Can you tell how much I am loving my alliums right now?

False Indigo

Amsonia (Blue star)

Rhododendron

The Baptisias (False Indigo) that I planted last year are looking great. I’ve heard that they don’t transplant well but if you leave them alone they will grow very nicely with little water. So far so good. Typically they come in blue and purple, but I quite like the yellow. My Amsonias (Bluestar) are also doing quite well. They tend to look a little sparse the first couple of years, but once they are happy they will also do quite well with little water. I guess it helps that both are native plants.

My big old Rhododendron is also blooming. It is at least 50 years old based on the trunk. I actually need to do quite a bit of pruning on it this year, to thin out some old branches and cut it back to size, but that will have to wait until after I enjoy its blooms.

What is blooming in your garden right now?

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Deck from Last June

I have been talking about creating some backyard spaces for the kids for a long time (over a year now).  I decided it is time to act now! The kids LOVE being outside but are lacking a good spot to dig and play and it is becoming an issue. We now have a large hole in the grass thanks to a treasure hunt.  I am hoping to provide them with some space that they can call their own and spend some good imagination time.  Our backyard is fairly small and I don’t want to loose too much more grass since we have just enough right now to kick and hit a ball. That pretty much rules out a traditional playset.

I saw this picture last year from gardenphotos.com and it really resonated with me. We have a deck that sits about 4 1/2′ off of the ground and the space underneath was totally sealed up by lattice. I don’t actually like our deck very much. It serves a useful purpose of a place for the grill, a couple of chairs and a few pots, but it doesn’t have any redeeming qualities otherwise.  I have several native honeysuckles growing on it along with a bunch of grasses and perennials to hide it as much as possible.  So the thought of altering it a little bit to make it more of a play space is very appealing.

Rending of New Kids Area

The Plan

1. Fort under the Deck

On Wednesday I decided to start. I took my jigsaw and made some cuts into the lattice. We now have a door and a window. I will be adding some pine trim to reinforce the lattice and cover the rough edges. Sam can’t quite stand under there, but the kids couldn’t wait to get under there. I gave them a couple pieces of extra rigid foam from the basement to sit on. I will be building a little wooden spot on sleepers sometime soon, but I have a feeling that they will be busy digging in the dirt for a lot of the time. There is some moss under there and I might even plant a few ferns as well. I am also considering ordering some burlap to help give them some more privacy and create a door.

Option 1: Sandbox w/ built in cover that turns into seats.


Option 2: Sandbox w/ corner seats


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

2. Sandbox

The kids have been asking for a sandbox since they could talk. We used a baby pool filled with sand when they were smaller but they are too big for that now. I also want something that I can cover when not in use. I am still debating 2 options. Option 1 is really cool because it has a cover that turns into a seat. This model is only available in England. But the good news is that over on Ana White’s website someone came up with plans based on the design. Option 2 would be simpler to make but would require some sort of fabric cover.  The one advantage with this one is that I could make it a little bit bigger without having to recalculate all of the dimensions for the plan. We are planning on picking up a couple of beach umbrellas to shade it similar to the Option 2.

The sandbox will sit in between some slate stones on the patio. It may seem like a strange spot, but I like that it is really visible from the kitchen window and will be close to the table if we are sitting outside. In the future this could also easily be filled in with a planting bed or more slate.

Another Rendering of the Back Deck with Slide

3. Slide

I still have plans of installing a slide right off of the deck (I would like to attach it to the bottom rail of the guardrail). I am actually on the hunt on Craigslist and Freecycle for one. I haven’t found quite the right one at the right price, but I have hopes in the next couple of weeks of finding one.

4. Chalkboard

I haven’t decided on a location yet, but I think a chalkboard made of exterior grade plywood would be a good idea. The kids love to draw and I think this might be the answer. I just need to find the right spot to put it.

5. Plants

I temporarily moved the birdbath to the spot in the photo, but I think I will need to move it further from the kid area. I think I will be planting this area with durable perennials and grasses. So far I am leaning towards hosta in the shadier spots and some shorter grasses in between.  I will also probably put in some small stepping stones in between the sandbox and deck.

Next Steps

The good news is that all of this work is doable in small increments. Last year I had bigger plans, that never got done because they couldn’t be broken down into little projects. The kids are old enough now that they will even “help” for brief periods of time, especially if it is for them.

First on the list is reinforcing the trellis. I’ve picked up the wood and just need to do a little cutting and screwing. The total cost so far is about $9.50. Next up will be moving the piece of slate where the sandbox will go and getting the spot ready for the sandbox. I probably won’t get around to building the sandbox for  a couple of weeks but the kids are super excited, which helps keep me motivated.

I hope everyone has a good weekend! We have some painting and cleaning to do in the basement.

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