Family summer activities, so far

By Lance Gardner (Lance) on August 4, 2011

The summer is supposed to be more than half over, believe it or not. Here are some of the fun family activities we have done so far. I hope you will share some of your fun from this summer, as well.

One of the first things we did very early this summer was go to our favorite bicycle riding place, check out what was in bloom, and get our two dogs (and my son) about as tired as we could.  This is always a fun adventure, and we found a recent burned area that was filled with native lupines.  These flowers smell wonderful, and as a bonus, some of the blue lupines were even very pale purple to white. 

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A month later, we invited some of our fellow members of the local native plant society to join us, with fair warning that it would be about 4 miles of walking (they did not have bicycles), wading, and in general nothing like a drive-up plant tour.  The paths are gravel roads and very easy to use, but if you are not used to walking and being out all day, it can be a bit much.  One of the people joining us was very knowledgeable about plants, and identified over 100 native plants, much more than I could have managed.  The other person kept quite busy writing it all down, which I also would not have been good at.  At the end of this trip, I had 2 very tired and wet dogs, 2 very tired and wet adults, and my son and I with a lot of plant names to try and remember.  However, I am not sure they will say yes when I ask them to join me on another easy walk!

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In conjunction with this adventure, I decided to finally put some serious effort into teaching my son how to ride his bike.  As the road is a bit rough and sandy in some areas, this may not have been the best area for learning to bicycle; but since I was anticipating extra time between admiring plants and walking, I also expected there would be plenty of time for teaching balance.  We did not quite master bike riding this time, but it was a good start.  After a few more lessons, he is now riding rather well, needing only a little help to get started. 

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He also had his first somewhat traumatic bike accident.  The roads around our house have some loose gravel from when they are resurfaced with a mix of tar, sand and gravel.  Well, he hit something while attempting to turn, and down he went!  I found out later he actually kicked the bike away from himself so he did not get it on top of himself, but the result was a well scratched knee with red running down to his socks!  Being a Dad, I checked it out, nothing really serious, but to take his mind off the pain I told him he now has his first bike injury, and with luck he will even have some battle scars to show off with whatever story he chooses.  He likes that idea and is hoping to have scars now!

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A surprise happening early this summer was the emergence of periodical cicadas.  I am not sure if they were 13, 15, 17 year or what age, but there were lots of them, noisy, flying about all over the place.  We collected a pile of wings for later craft use (we make laminated bookmarks out of found wings and feathers) and enjoyed the fun of something rarely seen. 

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Raising tadpoles from eggs is something we have done before, so we saved a whole bunch of frog eggs before I emptied his flooded sandbox.  At the bottom of this previous article is a picture.  This year we also put in some guppies to reduce the mosquito population with the bonus of having a bunch of guppies by the end of the summer. 

Gardening is of course always a part of our summer.  Early in the summer as the fennel started to bush out and really grow, we found some small caterpillars on the plant.  Since we had fun the previous fall with raising monarchs (story here), we decided to try our hand at the fennel caterpillars and see what they would turn into.  I knew they would be colorful, and we raised about 13 black swallowtail butterflies.  It was very interesting to watch those little caterpillars go from about ¼ inch to well over an inch, big and fat, in less than 2 weeks.  The fennel was eaten very quickly, but since the plant was big and also growing fast, the leaves were not missed.  Then they formed their chrysalis, and after about another 2 weeks, the colorful butterflies emerged.  What fun to have a butterfly take off from your finger for its very first flight!

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We are also having fun with some interesting plants, as well as the usual tomatoes, peppers, beans and such.  To make the garden more interesting, we planted rainbow carrots, bright lights chard, multi-colored miniature popcorn (yes, it really pops), and our big challenge for the summer: bushel gourds.  The gourds are supposed to get as big as a bushel basket, and can be used for lots of crafts, as baskets, or whatever else you may want to use a huge hollow container for.  What I did not know is that the plants also get huge!  Our 6 vines are trying to take over more than just their corner of the garden, and with leaves well over a foot across they can easily shade out anything else around.  They also climb, so I have to constantly beat them back away from the tomato cages and everything else they try to run over. 

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Another fun planting activity is that we are trying to make a living ‘fort’.  I have an old porch umbrella with no fabric left, just the metal spokes, that I stood up in the garden.  Last year it worked very well to cover it with spinning top gourds and moonflowers.  This year we are trying moonflowers and luffa gourds.  Unfortunately, it is close to the bushel gourds, so it is being covered with a bit too much, but still a fun growing experiment.

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My son and I both enjoy flowers, so we have many flowers scattered throughout the vegetable garden, from gladiolus to 4 o’clocks, marigolds and many colors of sunflowers.  These are all fun plants that add a bit of color to all the vegetable greenery.  Of course we have a variety of herbs, as well, so the garden is a wonderful mix of smells, colors, greenery and food.  The biggest problem is that the stuff grows so well, the paths are almost non-existent any more, and there is still lots of growing time left!  Somewhere in the middle of all this are 3 foot wide plant free paths, believe it or not!

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We have also had a few ‘making’ projects, such as a miniature wooden trebuchet from a pattern in Wood Magazine.  This is almost done, and as soon as it gets a finish, I will post some photos.  I used some wonderful striped oak from a tree we had taken down recently, and it looks wonderful.  This was a fun project, and we both enjoyed working on it together.  Now he wants to make a ‘treasure’ box, and has already worked up plans for it. 

Finally, he has decided bowling is a fun activity.  Although not an outside adventure (which is always my preference), it is an active pursuit that can be enjoyed on stormy or hot days.  Since we have had plenty of hot days (really?), having an inside escape can be a good occasional relief from too much heat.  Somewhere in the midst of all this activity, we even got his play room cleaned up and organized; not his idea of a fun time, but at least we got it done!

What have you been up to this summer?  Please share your adventures, tips, photos, and ideas on fun summer activities, as I am sure there are many activities to be enjoyed that I have not even thought of. 

Related articles:
activities, children, family, flowers, garden, summer

About Lance Gardner
I have an interest in just about anything that gets me outside, as well as anything that is alive or grows, and in making things. So my hobbies include gardening, outdoors, photography, dogs, woodworking, and most importantly raising my son.

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bushel gourds LaVonne Apr 7, 2012 12:36 PM 2
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