Thursday, July 17, 2014

Free Fun in Your Backyard

3 Ways to Have Fun in Your Backyard* for Free

#1: Pop Off Head Races
The best things in life are free, or so they say. Whether or not you agree with that old adage, there is a lot of entertainment that's either free or dirt cheap right in your own backyard. *Or in our case these things are found in the neighbor's backyard. I appreciate nice grass and weeds aren't permitted in our actual yard. Consulting Google for the official name of the weed we call a "pop off head" yielded some interesting results that are only legal in about 23 states. This isn't that weed. Please consult the picture above to see the plant used for this edge-of-your-seat backyard entertainment goldmine.

To have your own Pop Off Head Race, first, select a sturdy weed and snap it off at the base of its stem. Choose a starting line and take turns launching the Heads. Wrap the stem around itself about two or three inches from that rocket ship shaped brown head. Hold tight to the loop and slide it toward that brown part. When your skills become more advanced, try giving a little wrist flick at that moment when the stem snaps. The brown head should go flying. Some in our family (you know, me!) can send one of these babies about two yards. Keep track of your Heads and measure to see which has traveled the longest distance.

Sometimes the stem cracks without the head launching. Not to worry, as long as a little stem remains, feel free to relaunch. If you can't get it to go at all, try another Pop Off Head.

Every child I have shown this to is astounded. My own kid made us have six races on every walk for a few years straight. It may been that the young people in our neck of the woods are easily entertained, but I think this warrants a try in your house!

#2: Picking Berries

My first memories of picking wild raspberries are from a time when I was too little to walk through the tall grass myself. I rode on my dad's shoulders carrying an empty container. When it was time to fill the container, I was placed on the ground at my mom's side where I could reach some easy pickin's and not encounter any poison ivy.

We picked every summer, eventually remembering from year to year that the raspberries ripen around July 4th give or take a week. After raspberry time, wild blackberries come into season. I'm not a fan of the pit found in wild blackberries, but they do make lovely pies for those that are talented in that way.

Wild raspberry bushes are easily identified by the bright whitish/mint greenish stalk found on the first year bushes. No berries are produced in the first year, so look for the older plants that surround these new ones. Berries are ripe and delicious when they deepen to a dark almost black color.

#3: Visit County, State & Local Parks
This one is definitely outside of the backyard and does cost a bit more than nothing, but for the price of whatever fuel you're burning you can have a whole day of fun. Pennsylvania has gorgeous State Parks. We visited Moraine most recently, but we also really enjoy Presque Isle and McConnell's Mills. Allegheny County (all that surround Pittsburgh) offers lakes and hiking trails much closer to my home. We don't have to travel far to feed our stale bread to a goose or 50. Julia is always amused by a unique playground and a change of scenery is sure to cure any case of summer boredom.

One of Allegheny County's lovely lakes.

The Allegheny County Parks' department finds these geese to be rather problematic.
Feeding them probably doesn't encourage them to leave, but it really is fun.

A nifty bridge on one of the many hiking trails at Moraine State Park.
And if you're still looking for things to do on a budget, check out these ideas. Some of the things on that list could keep you busy for years!