Product Recs to Inspire an Epic Summer

14 cool products to enjoy the sun, outdoors and water sports

👋🏻 Welcome to the 26 new subscribers who have joined us since last week (a weekly record for Mind The Beet!🔥).

Here are some previous posts that might interest you:

We are grateful you are choosing to spend a few minutes of your Sunday morning with us.  We strive for weekly articles that give a sense of our slice of life with a mix of product recommendations, practical advice, or thought-provoking leadership and career framings.

Our goal is to earn 500 subscribers before the start of summer.  Word of mouth is how a newsletter at this early stage grows, so we need your help!   Please consider wishing a happy, safe and epic summer to a few of your friends by forwarding this along to them!

-Helen and Adam


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I spent my formative years in Southern California, a place where summer is a serious business:

Four years ago we decided to buy a cabin in the mountains about 2 hours outside where we live – a place filled with forests, rivers, lakes, and a much slower pace of life.   It was a privilege to be able to do this for our family – although it was also a tradeoff conversation about how we wanted to use our budget and time off.  Travel is important, but we imagined the deeper impact we could have on our kids by giving them a connection to the outdoors and a frequented place dedicated to fun.   As we looked to build connections with other families with young kids, we theorized it would be easier to invite people to a “cabin weekend” than the typical logistical balance of “hurry through the dinner and play date and get the kids home before they crash.”

I’ve spent the past four years looking for various ways of increasing the fun value of summer weekends at our cabin.  

So yes, this is a thinly veiled attempt to add a bit of gravitas to what amounts to a toy buying spree to be the fun dad.  Nonetheless, not only are there a few great products I wanted to share, but also some tips on how to use them that I discovered as I iterated on how to set up and use all this.

With temperatures rising, I hope you find something here to up your game this summer, find something whimsical for the kids, or just in general enjoy the outdoors.

💦 Best Water Balloons Ever

Let’s just set the right tone for this post here that we aren’t going to take ourselves too seriously.  These water balloons have been an instant hit with the kids:

Seriously, where were they when I was a kid?   Fill 100 balloons in 60 seconds, attached directly to your hose nozzle, self-sealing, easy clean-up.  Biodegradable. 

Kids favorite game: Can dad hit himself in the head with a water balloon? 

It’s harder than it looks.  #parentingtakespractice

🔥 Fire!  I have made fire! (and it’s magic, too).

There are some experiences that just connect feelings, tastes, smells, and touch together into a visceral memory.  I hope s’mores and a roaring campfire as the sky turns to dusk is one of those for our kids. 

Here are my four product tips for campfires:

  • Fire pit. This Landman fire pit is sturdy, easily portable, and makes clean-up a breeze.  Per a pro tip in an Amazon review, I also covered the pit in a high heat Rust-Oleum and that’s essential for it to last multiple seasons. 

  • Starter. These bricks are by far the best thing to have on hand to make starting a fire easier.  I’ve tried various other fire starters but these are the cleanest to store, easy to scale up if you want to get started quickly, and environmentally friendly.

  • Lakeland Mills Log ChairsThese campfire chairs feel sturdy, are milled from cedar, and surprisingly comfortable.  I love the look and durability of something not made in a factory and no MDF – just logs and screws:

  • Magic Fire: Now for a bit of whimsy.  Add these packets to a fire (after you are done cooking) and they turn the flame bright shades of blue, green, and red.   I told my oldest daughter that I was writing a post on cool summer things at the cabin and her first words were “Are you going to talk about the magic fire, dad?”  That is for sure a Dad ✅.

🦄 Float Like a Pro

The local beach near the lake of our cabin is a scene.  Who can outdo themselves in crazy cool floats?  10 seater each with their own drink holders? Check.  Giant duckies? Check.  Swans? Check.  I went to college in LA and let me tell you, Sunset Boulevard has nothing on this state park.

We may have invented a game called the Unicorn Head Dunk, but Helen here demonstrates the more tranquil aspect of our floating experience.

If you are looking to up your float game, I’d highly recommend Funboy (the founders are grad school buddies of Helen).   

🛶 Water Crafts

Over the past four seasons, we’ve accumulated a series of tools for floating our local rivers.  Our approach is more of a lazy float vs. any serious sporting activity: think MGM Grand Pool rather than Grizzly River Run.

Here’s my favorite recommendations:

  • Paddles: Bending Branches makes awesome carbon fiber paddles at reasonable prices, made in America.  Paddles are the only thing they make and I love supporting depth companies.

  • Life Jacket: Chinook is another company that has depth in their category.   Their kayak life jacket is specifically designed to be comfortable in a kayak seat by having a thin mesh in the back so there are no lumps between you and the seat.   Plus the various straps and pockets and zippers are like catnip for a dad trying to organize and be prepared for a day on the water.

  • Kayak: The Dagger Zydeco 9.0 is my favorite kayak for a casual river float.  The key here is that it’s short, so it fits even in a small sized SUV.  Easy to carry to the water, light to pick up.  They also optimized it not for sport but rather seat and leg comfort.   Its length and lack of a stabilizing fin does mean it doesn’t track that well – but it more than makes up for it in convenience and comfort.   I really enjoyed working with a small online outfit called Austin Canoe and Kayak – great selection and customer service.

  • SUP: The Body Glove inflatable stand up paddleboards are the ways to go.  We went with some fiberglass SUPs that you see in the picture above – but the Body Gloves are sturdy and more stable in the water.

  • Inflatable Boat: Everyone buys the Intex inflatables – those bright orange rafts you see all around, but they are just too cheap, don’t last and can ride low in the water to the point where it’s a LOT of work to paddle.   We’ve had luck working with a small outfit called Sea Eagle – their boats are a lot heavier but will last multiple seasons.

🦟 Holding the horde at bay

Dealing with pests and wildlife is part of cabin life.   Here are a few tools or projects I’ve found helpful:

  • Mosquito Vacuum.   There are a lot of gimmicky inventions out there but this is a machine that I found actually effective as I put it to use, especially early season to prevent the exponential growth.  The Blue Rhino Mosquito Vacuum burns a small amount of propane to create CO2 (one tank lasts a month or more) to attract bugs along with chemical attractants, using a mix of a sticky surface + small fan to suck bugs in.  I like the 24/7 nature of the device, the multi-pronged approach, and the concrete advice on how to set up depending on where you live (different type of mosquitos thrive in different geographic regions– who knew? 🤷‍♀️).

  • Bearicuda Bins. I was on the hunt for years for a trash can that can keep stinky food waste for weeks without smelling up the entire garage.   I looked at various augmentations to existing trashcans and gimmicks on Amazon, but eventually found a small family company who sells the Bearicuda: a screw top, rubber sealed trash can.

  • Casper Retractable Screens.   One house project we recently completed was adding retractable screens to our outside doors. It took me a while to find a solution for doors that were not sliding glass.   To start small, we first went with very cheap Velcro screens on Amazon just to prove out that keeping the doors open would be something we wanted to do.   Once validated, I did research on various options for things that can attach to doors that swing open & shut.   The Home Depot’s “Cut the screen to fit yourself” was too cheap and the professional install way too expensive ($1000/door).   Casper Retractable Screens was a perfect middle ground.  You measure yourself, give them the results up to the 1/8th of an inch, they machine cut the screens to fit and ship them to you.  It was half as much as the local professional install and easy to put in myself in under 30 minutes.  They retract when not in use and are completely out of the way in that mode.  Highly recommend.

😲 One More Thing

You know that feeling when you buy something online and then it shows up and it’s like 10x as cool as you even imagined it could be?   The type of purchase the brings back childhood wonder that life is indeed sometimes epic?  This purchase was one of those for me:

It’s one of those things that tips the cabin from being a great place to be into a place of whimsy and amusement-park level fun.  If you are so inspired, here are a few tips:

  • If you get one that has a pool/water in it, it’s a lot harder to maintain and clean.

  • Consider looking at Wish, a marketplace app that mostly ships direct from China.  There are often deals for large ticket items like these that ship direct from factory.

Wrapping Up

It’s worth mentioning that it’s easy to overdo it with these house projects and blow your budget.   While the total cost of everything in this post is well below the cost of a single weeklong family vacation, I still approached all this with research, rigor, and where possible testing out with something cheap to ensure we’d enjoy it before splurging.   Stay within your means and budget.

This is also a good time to remind folks to be safe.  Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of 14. (Tips for parents.)   90% of wildfires are human caused (Tips for homeowners).   Be safe out there.

Coda on Privilege

We end every Mind the Beet post talking about our privilege and ways in which we give back.   For this post, it seems appropriate to discuss our support for nature and healthy forests.   There was a favorite hiking ridge near our cabin in danger of being clear cut and a coalition of many organizations and community members was brought together to chart a different way forward.  In particular, we were able to support the Chelan & Douglas County Land Trust to purchase the property and as of this legislative session the area is officially a Community Forest, a new program in Washington State for preserving sustainable forest recreation areas for the enjoyment of all.   Folks like the Sierra Club and others do great work at the national level, and often their funding helps local projects, but I’d encourage folks to “act local” when it comes to conversation projects and investigate the local Land Trusts and conversation groups in your area.  We’ve had a way more meaningful relationship with the land – and the volunteers who care for it – thanks to that approach.