How to Build and Indoor Swing

Background

The Minnesota winter is upon us and kinderclaustrophobia is setting in. I guess it’s not really a phobia, more like a hysteria, resulting from prolonged exposure to rambunctious children in a confined space. Either way, what we need is a swing in our living room.

I’m not talking about a traditional swing, the kind at the playground with two ropes, the one-dimensional kind that only moves forward and back. Even better is the tire swing type – with a single connection point up top you get a second dimension, swinging and spinning in all directions.

It gets better. By inserting a trampoline spring or two you can swing in the third dimension: vertically. Three dimensional swinging, indoors.

Materials

  1. Stud finder
  2. Large hook screw(s), 5/16″ x 4″ works well
  3. Carabiner(s)
  4. Trampoline spring, max load should be above 60 lbs
  5. Rope, 1/4″ is perfect
  6. Dowel, 1 inch thick, a foot or two long
  7. Drill with 5/16″ bit
  8. Sand paper

Indoor swing materials   More indoor swing materials

Assembly

  1. Find a stud – First, I used the cheapskate method, knocking around till my knuckles were raw, then hitting a nail through the sheetrock until it stuck into something wood-like, which it never did. After many nail holes in the ceiling, I bought a $10 stud finder at the local supercenter.

  2. Stick in the bolt – A friend gave me a solid loop bolt thingy that he found at Ikea – they sell a little indoor swing kit for pretty cheap. I put that one in the living room. In the kids room I used the hook screw, which is cheaper and just as strong.

    Indoor swing bolt   Indoor swing hook screw   Lots of indoor swings

  3. Rig up the trapeze – you can cut the dowel to any length, but I made mine about two feet long, enough to sit on, or dangle from by ones knees. Drill a hole in each end, just wide enough for the rope to pass through, and tie some knots. PVC pipe also works, but you’ll need some grip tape. This twisted clove hitch works too.

    Indoor swing dowel   Indoor swing dowel knot   Indoor swing pvc handle

There you have it – in about 30 minutes, a flippin swing, in your house. By nature, kids need to put in a certain amount of acrobatics every day. Now, the ninos can release their wiggles without dangling from the curtain rods or the chandelier.

Variations

A simple rope swing works nicely, but my kids don’t have the grip strength to hold on. They can stand all right on a huge knot tied in the end, but one of those disc seats would be perfect.

My 1 year old was jealous of her older siblings so I grabbed a bucket seat for $14 at Menards, a hardware store in our neck of the woods. They had a nice build-your-own-playground section with plastic slides and outdoor swing kits, vinyl seat with chains. Home Depot had nothing of the sort, though they were the only place with springs.

My buddy Tim-o, who inspired this project, installed a series of swings in his living room. That’s right, a series. The handles are PVC, each about six inches long, and a few feet apart.

Canoeing the Minnesota River

In my three years as a scoutmaster our small troop has gallivanted all across Minnesota, traversing sections of the Superior Hiking Trail and the St. Croix Scenic Byway, and making a ruckus in a dozen or so state parks. Of all our journeys, including our 20-mile hike, uphill both ways on our knees, none was as adventurous or life-threatening as our canoe trip down the Minnesota River.

Background

Our scurvy crew consisted of four gung-ho boy scouts and three fearless leaders, distributed in three heavy canoes with an assortment of hiking packs and duffel bags full of clothes and food, a few fishing poles and tackle boxes, a 5-gallon water carrier, and a variety of last-minute items tossed into plastic grocery bags. Most importantly, we had sunflower seeds of all flavors, including dill pickle. Our waterproofing consisted of wrapping everything in black garbage bags. The scouts were certain that no amount of water could penetrate a Hefty bag with a triple granny knot.

We budgeted four full days of paddling to complete the 70 miles of waterway from the north end of Lac qui Parle to Vicksburg County Park 2. With the river flowing at about two miles per hour, even if pirates stole our paddles we could float the distance in about 8 hours per day were it not for the dam portages, which cost us a couple hours each. Portages are sections of a water trail that you cover by foot to reach a different waterway, or in our case another section of the same waterway. We had three portage points and, fortunately, there weren’t many pirates.

Highlights

Our biggest challenge, besides staying afloat while defending ourselves from the ravenous insatiable mosquitoes, was finding shelter. When the Department of Natural Resources says that they maintain the free campsites interspersed along the river, what they mean is they’ve abandoned them all to overgrowth so that you couldn’t find one if you were standing in it. There’s a good reason they’re free – they don’t exist.

Our first night on the river, as the sun disappeared and the zombie apocalypse mosquitoes attacked, we parked our canoes on the only piece of private property we could find. Another leader set off to ask, or, if necessary, beg the owner to let us camp on his shoreline. Our only other options were to continue paddling, in the dark, until the next imaginary DNR campsite, or bushwhack through the overgrowth with our pocket knives. Either way, we wouldn’t be roasting mallows or telling ghost stories around a campfire.

But Randy, the owner, saved the day. In addition to not chasing us off with shotgun a-waving, he welcomed us and even offered us his stash of firewood. We thanked him profusely and later marveled at how his simple kindness had saved us from a sleepless night with much blood loss.

As expected, the challenges continued. On day two the current slowed to nothing and no matter where we turned we always had a head wind. Each of us was certain he was paddling more than his weight. We all wanted a break but were too proud to admit it. During our longest portage, carrying canoes, gear, and our tired selves through the town of Granite Falls, Betty from the VA insisted on buying us pizzas and soda. The scouts consumed the pizza instantly, and we rested in the shade for an hour and shot the breeze with some classic war vets. Also in town, we accepted three watermelons and 24 ears of sweet corn from an insistent fruit stand owner. A scoutmaster couldn’t ask for better examples of generosity.

Day 4, the Last

Despite the exhaustion the scouts were optimistic and things worked out well, at least until the last day of the trip – I had returned to the Twin Cities the night before, so the details from here out are all second-hand.

With one fewer person, one fewer bag, and only a day’s worth of food, the group had consolidated all the gear and people into two canoes – the third they towed, empty, with a rope. This worked out well until the current picked up and they came to a section full of debris. In the most treacherous spot downed trees obstructed much of the river, and though the towing canoe made it through safely, the towed one did not. It snagged on a tree and couldn’t be shaken – the only option was to cut it loose!

Unfortunately, as soon as their canoe was freed it lost balance and was flipped by the current. The two scouts and one leader capsized. The remaining canoers paddled upstream with all their might and rescued one scout and the leader, as they struggled to hold on to nearby trees. The other scout successfully body surfed through the rest of the chaos and was collected a quarter mile down river.

In Conclusion

No serious injuries, but what a disaster! I regret not being there to help. A gear bag, tackle box, two fishing poles, some clothes, and many sunflower seeds were claimed by the river that day, along with the empty canoe. The DNR campsites were also never found.

Yet, despite all the trouble and suffering the trip was a success – the scouts earned their sea legs and two merit badges, we met some of Minnesota’s finest, and we got really tan. Most importantly, we immersed ourselves in the wilderness, took a serious thrashing, and came out on top, humbled but empowered. That’s what outdoor adventures are all about.

Here’s a text file of the itinerary, created by one of the scouts.

Adventures in France: Some Photogs

This weekend I uploaded a couple dozen photos from our ridiculous 4-month trip to France. It was our most ambitious family adventure ever – all others pale and then shrivel up in comparison. Details to come in future posts…

I’ve organized the pics into the following categories:

  1. Skies – stratospheric and celestial phenomena
  2. Creatures – non-human lifeforms, mostly repulsive ones. Creatures not photographed include decapitated birds (the work of our cat Sila), the rolly polly infestation in our shower room, and the centipede habitat under our couch
  3. Home – our physical dwelling, a renovated shepherd’s cottage, and the surrounding regions

Enjoy!



Homemade Gifts from Dad: Lego Picture Frame version 2.0

My son was momentarily very impressed by Lego picture frame version 1, but his first question was “can I break it?” Version 2.0 should last at least a day.

Lego picture frame
Version 2.0

Really, the Lego picture frame isn’t for kids. It belongs in a hipster’s retro-decor kitchen or bathroom, next to their abstract Super Mario artwork. A permanent Lego creation defeats the purpose of Legos. Like any construction toys, they’re made to be destroyed and rebuilt, over and over. And just as I’ve passed my Legos on to my children, they will pass them on to theirs, and so proceeds the Lego circle of life, the generations of Legos.

My buddy Tim-o recently told me that our planet has more Legos than people. Apparently (link), a few other species could be outnumbered as well:

More than 400 billion Lego bricks have been produced since 1958. There are about 62 Lego bricks per person of the Earth’s population.

That seems wrong, both statistically and morally. People are starving, right? Fifty Lego bricks aren’t going to do them any good, unless they’re the edible ones, but those are just candy. We need nutritious Legos.

They are an excellent toy, and brilliantly mass-marketed, but to be honest, and to destroy the chances that they ever sponsor my blog, I admit that I prefer not to support the endless production of more Legos. I also prefer the basic extensible blocks to the newfangled specialty pieces that have limited use. Call me old-fashioned.

As the ultimate homemade gift from dad I recommend getting some bulk pieces online (Craigslist usually has a hundred or so postings), building a sweet ship or castle, and leaving it under the tree, or outside their bedroom door.

Lego Adventures: Fishing, Saving Planets, Getting Bad Guys

My son made a laser flier digger booster without destroying the Lego picture frame:

Lego laser flier digger
Laser flier digger booster mobile

In his own words:

It’s called a convotomater, because it catches fish, and this robot machine that goes down on this thing actually catches sharks, because some people say that they want sharks, so that’s why they catch sharks. Do you know what the threetow is on this? It’s the thing that spins and shoots the fish out. And what do you think this one is? This sucks up fish and then shoots them all the way to the city so people can eat them. They land in front of their houses, in a bucket.

This one has little bugs on top and you push this button and it goes into the water and it’s poisonous so the fish eat it and die. And this one looks under the water and takes pictures of fish, so they know what kind of fish it is. It’s called a three-moto-headed skywalker.

Sounds like Deadliest Catch, only more inventive and more efficient. From the sea to your doorstep – genius!

The design is all his own, but we do try to balance out the destruction and bad guy getting, which seems to come innately to a 5-yr-old boy, with something constructive like space exploration or rescue missions. The laser flier digger booster, aka convotomater, does it all:

And it can turn into a ship. Actually, this is a space ship, it’s not a water ship. It fixes other ships if they break. And it has special tools and it can fix the planets, so if Zupiter broke they can put if back together with this robot. This one drains holes in the planets so they can put nails in them so fire can’t get in and break the whole planet and it would explode.

And this robot in space keeps electricity in this wire thing that spins around, and gives electricity to any rocket that doesn’t have electricity. And this bullet one shoots out of the front and goes and makes sure the planets aren’t chemicaled.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the best robot ever. This one on the side that has the rocket launcher on the bottom, it takes pictures of planets so they know which planet it is, and it knows how to spell it. So that’s how this spaceship works. Isn’t that cool?

The coolest. Of course, we’re always prepared for the bad guys:

And if bad guys come it will shoot this laser thing out, and it has cracking chemicals.