The disaster in our backyard

The disaster in our backyard

One of the universal truths about life it that sometimes the most difficult situations are the ones that create the best and most long-lasting memories.

These are the times when everyone in a family has to set aside his or her agenda and expectations and work together as a team. They have to think strategically and problem solve together. And sometimes, they have to race against time to work toward a solution.

That’s what happened to our family this morning. And I’m certain that someday we all will look back at Dec. 26, 2016, and be able to laugh at how we worked together to fix the disaster in our backyard.


As many people know, we built an ice rink in our back yard this year. This is the fourth year that we have built a rink, so we consider ourselves somewhat experienced in how to build a solid rink that will endure for the winter. However, it was the first time we had built a rink at our new house, and it was the largest rink that we had ever built.

For the past week, we have been excessively excited about the fun and joy the rink has brought our family. Our kids have had lots of friends over and spent hours during the day and into the evening outside skating. The kids have played broom ball, we taught our youngest to skate, my husband and I have enjoyed skating and we have had big plans to invite friends over throughout the Christmas break for some outdoor fun.

I wasn’t too concerned when I heard the temperature was going to suddenly rise to nearly 60 degrees today. What’s the worst that could happen? I assumed the ice would melt, giving us a nice smooth surface to skate. No worries.

This morning, we were getting our things together to head out to celebrate Christmas with our family. We could see out the window that the rink was full of water, but we still weren’t concerned. The hubs went out to check on things, and when he came back in, he delivered the startling news.

“The ice rink is done.”

I struggled for several minutes to comprehend the meaning of the word, “done.”



I went outside to see for myself.

Constructing a backyard ice rink is a fairly simple process. It’s basically a wooden frame, an enormous piece of plastic and a ton of water. Because the yard at this house has a slight incline, the back of the rink is about two feet deeper than the front of the rink. My husband had built a large wall at the back of the rink to hold the extra water. The plastic was clamped to the top of that wall.

As the ice melted and the wind picked up overnight, the plastic had been pulled away from the clamps. It had been pulled under the water and was sitting at the bottom. There was no way to pull the plastic back up because it was weighed down by an enormous iceberg that is 35 feet wide by 45 feet long, mixed with thousands of gallons of freezing water.

As we both stood looking at the situation, our minds were racing with the inevitable situation before us. Without the plastic tarp as a barrier, water was already leaking out several cracks in the wooden wall. It was only 8 a.m., so the ice would continue to melt as the temperature rose all day. The water would continue to pour out the back. We needed to leave town in three hours and while we were gone, the water would freeze again, trapping the tarp underneath. We wouldn’t be able to fill the rink again because we wouldn’t have the tarp to hold the water. So basically, several hundred dollars in materials and water and about 40 hours of work were now all going to waste.

As my husband said, “Done.”



“We can’t leave.”

I’m not sure why this thought had not crossed our minds before. We were going to have to all deal with our sadness of missing my family gathering. We needed to stay here and come up with a plan.

His suggestion sounded crazy to me.

First, we would need to drain the water. I watched in dismay as we purposely let thousands of gallons of water pour out the back of the rink.

Next, he would use a chainsaw to cut the ice the length of the rink about five feet in from the wall.


We would remove the huge chunks of ice.


We would remove the wall and pull out the separated sheets of ice.

We would pull up the tarp.

We would move the back wall in about five feet, reattach the tarp, patch the holes and have some chance of saving the rink.

All hands on deck.

For the next six hours, my husband and the kids went to work. (I mainly took photos, made food and cleaned up after everyone.)

I remarked several times that I was very thankful we had a 60 degree day to get this done. “If it wasn’t 60 degrees we wouldn’t have this problem!” my son kept reminding me.

We raced against rising temps that threatened to melt more ice, letting even more water pour out before my husband could reassemble the wall.


Shockingly, after a full day of hard labor and team work, the rink is looking good. We went from thinking the situation was hopeless, to creating a plan and working together to make it happen. Everything is put back together, and we are hoping the holes in the plastic are sealed. We are all sad we didn’t get to be with family today, and everyone is sore and tired.

Hopefully, sometime in the future when everyone is warm and dry or maybe skating on the rink, this day will make us smile. Maybe someday, this day will stand out from all the rest as one of those days when we worked together to solve a crisis.

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Fun on the ice

Fun on the ice

This is our third year to build an ice skating rink in the back yard. We took last year off because we had such a mild winter that we didn’t think it would be worth the effort. This year, in contrast, we were already getting some super cold days in November, so we decided it was time to once again transform our backyard into an ice rink.


Building the rink is a simple process. But it IS a lot of work. CapableDad has it down to a science at this point. He keeps the same wood each year to build a large wood frame that is about 40 feet long and 30 feet wide. Then we buy a large sheet of plastic to lay inside the frame. The plastic is sold in rolls that are 100 by 20. That means, we have to roll out the plastic, cut it in half and then very carefully tape and glue the two strips together to make it wide enough. This was the first year I helped with this process. It’s really not hard, but it is a major pain. We put two strips of duct tape on each side and fill the overlap with caulk. After about an hour of crawling along on my knees, carefully pushing the air bubbles out of the duct tape, I was seriously wondering if it could be possibly worth so much effort!

A few days later, the rink was full of water and frozen over and the kids went out for their first skate. I immediately decided it was totally worth it!




We already have had many weekend games of broom ball on the ice rink, and lots of skating time. I put Christmas lights on the back of the house this year, and my husband got a sound system that can withstand the cold so I can listen to music while I skate. He also built a homemade “zamboni” to smooth out the ice after it snows.

It’s been so cold already this winter that we have had lots of time on the ice! It definitely makes our winter a lot more fun!alayna    group


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Skating Rink Construction, 101

Back in the fall, the weather reports predicted that this winter in Chicago would be one of the worst in memory. We were supposed to have more snow and more freezing temps in December than ever before.
We were excited. Last year, our entire family was converted from winter haters to — dare I say it? — winter lovers!? Of course, we still prefer summer, or fall or even spring. Winter is definitely not our season of choice. But we had so much fun last winter that we were kind of looking forward to it.
Our house was a winter sport wonderland last year. The kids figured out how to use recycling bins to pack huge bricks of snow and build tall snow-boarding hills. My husband built an ice skating rink in the backyard. And we had that awesome blizzard to provide a playground of snow!
When we heard the prediction for this winter, we decided to make our skating rink bigger and better than before. Our plan was to start construction Thanksgiving weekend and be ready with a pond full of frozen water by Dec. 1.
But then… it didn’t snow. And the temperatures didn’t drop. December was mild, and we barely got a dusting of snow. We couldn’t believe it when the first two weeks of January felt more like spring than winter! We started getting used to playing outside in 40 and 50 degree weather.
Finally, the snow came today. CapableDad has been working overtime in the backyard to get the ice rink ready before the temperature dove into the 20s. Here’s the step-by-step of this year’s skating rink construction project.
First, we decided to move the play structure so we could extend the rink by 10 feet.
Next, he built a frame around the area, which is about 30 by 40 feet.
Our yard is fairly level. However, it does decline by about eight inches from the front to the back. To save on the cost of water, my husband put wood pallets in the back of the rink. He and two friends collected the pallets from all sorts of places.
The frame on the very back of the rink is about three boards high and it’s only one board high on the front. The goal is to have five inches of water on the most shallow part of the rink.
They were working hard all day yesterday and into the evening. The temperature was in the mid-50s most of the day and the kids were playing without coats!
The guys put plywood across the pallets and then filled in the step to the ground with leaves and grass. The kids thought this made a great stage.
Next they had to lay the huge piece of plastic across the frame. My husband bought the plastic at Home Depot. One piece isn’t wide enough, so they used duct tape to attach two pieces and secure the seam in the middle. This step is crucial. If you leave any gaps or holes, the water will leak through and you will spend hundreds of dollars watering the lawn!
They don’t actually attach the plastic because it could pull and rip. They just laid it across the area and over the frame. As we added water last night, we tried to remove air bubbles and get the thick plastic to lay as flat as possible.
We filled the rink halfway last night. We got several inches of snow this morning, which added to the water level. It will take several days to freeze. We still need to add more water, which will help smooth out all of the bumps left by the snow.
I read that the temperature is supposed to get back into the 40s next week. We’re hoping it’s not true. We are actually cheering for more snow and more cold so we can put on our skates soon!


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Ice sculptures

Well, our skating rink has changed to a swimming pool. Or maybe a fishing pond. The kids have been fishing in it anyway.

Here are a few of their catches, which they proudly displayed in a SHADY spot:

They found a guitar:


And an ice garden:




And the United States: (oops! It’s upside down!)


And, of course, with three boys in the hunt, you knew they would find a gun:


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The skating rink

This is a double post from my daily photo blog. I’m starting to really get in the hang of posting a photo every day over there, and I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would! But for those of you who read in a reader or via e-mail and you don’t check the link to my daily photo blog, I’m posting this one both places.
Our ice-skating rink is finally complete. It turned out far better than I ever anticipated!
Because we started so late building it, we couldn’t even consider trying to level the yard first. It’s funny that even in a yard that seems fairly flat, a few inches of decline can make a huge difference when you are thinking of filling a space with water.
The rink is about 28 feet by 26 feet. My wonderful husband had to build up the far side because it is about six inches deeper than the opposite corner. This means we have about eight inches of water in the deepest section and only about two inches in the diagonal corner.
We’ve learned a lot about the freezing properties of water. It took us nearly a week to add layers of water and let them freeze. In the middle of this process, we got several inches of snow. That seems like a good way to fill the rink with water, right? Well, not exactly.
It’s too cold for the snow to melt and create a nice smooth surface. If it freezes, it will create bumps that have to be chipped away. So, snow means we need to shovel the rink!
But after much waiting, much shoveling, much filling, much chipping away at uneven ice, we finally got  to skate this weekend!
I joined in on the fun on Sunday afternoon. The rink doesn’t seem like it would be big enough to really get good exercise. But it actually is. It took me a few laps to find my center of gravity. I haven’t ice skated in about 10 years.
Once I did, I spent about an hour going around and around. We brought out some music, which was even more fun!
These days, we closely monitor the weather. But unlike most years when we moan and groan if it drops below 20, we are starting to look forward to those days! We want to keep our ice frozen so we can have lots more fun on the rink.


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