Juanita Lee
This cinder block bench came together quickly and can easily be dismantled for winter storage. (Juanita Lee)

Stenciled stepping stones add personality to outdoor paths. (Juanita Lee)

A wine bottle tiki torch is a creative way to repurpose materials left over from a relaxing summer evening. (Juanita Lee)

I love relaxing in outdoor spaces. Spaces where I can sit, enjoy the sunshine, watch my kids partake in summertime fun and entertain when the weather is nice and my house is too messy.

Creating the perfect outdoor retreat could easily rack up a hefty price tag, and that's a price I'm not willing to pay for three, maybe four months of summer delight -- especially not when there is a resource called Pinterest at my fingertips.

The first item on my wish list was seating that tied together our deck and the large patio below. Pinterest had a plethora of great ideas that most certainly required me to seek the assistance of a professional, but I was strictly looking for a DIY project.

Cinder block bench

I landed on a cinder block bench. This bench is functional, inexpensive and just looks cool. This was actually a project my son could have tackled on his own, with a small caveat: he can't drive, and he certainly wasn't interested in paying for the materials, so he sought out Dad's help for those tasks. And honestly, the older our kids get, the less the opportunities we have to bond over a project, so this was win-win for everyone.

What I used:

10 cinder blocks

4 4x4x8 wood posts

1 can water sealant

concrete adhesive

1. For each bench end, stack three blocks horizontally on top of each other. Adjacent to that, stack two blocks vertically.

2. Using the concrete adhesive, adhere the blocks together in the two stacks, and then adhere the two stacks to each other. Repeat the process for the other bench end. Allow time to dry.

3. Seal the wood with water sealant.

4. Insert the posts one at a time through the top four cinder block holes, threading through the matching hole of the other bench end. One post will form the back support, and three posts will make the seat of the bench.

The wood is not adhered to the cinder blocks, so it can easily be taken inside during the winter to lengthen its life.

Painted stepping stones

My next mission was to create a fun, usable space under our deck. A colorful hammock, a Father's Day gift from 2013, made a functional, colorful addition to the existing shrubs, rock bed and vintage solar lanterns hung from plant hooks. But I still wished for a little more pop without adding clutter to the small space.

Using a minimal budget, I looked for a project that was quick, simple and something that could be easily carried out by two children, ages 7 and 11. I found this new twist on stepping stones and was instantly sold on its ease.

What I used:

Round, pre-made concrete stepping stones

Exterior spray paint


Painter's tape

1. Strategically adhere painter's tape or place a stencil on the stepping stone.

2. Spray paint the stones.

A combination of solid and patterned stones in a variety of colors gives your outdoor space its own personality. The longevity of these has yet to be tested, but even if the lifespan isn't long, it will be easy and inexpensive to repaint or replace them down the road.

Wine bottle tiki torch

Last, but certainly not least, the DIY wine bottle tiki torches spoke to me for many reasons -- but for the life of me, I can't remember any except for the wine! In hindsight, I can't really say this proved to be less expensive than just purchasing a tiki torch at a local discount store. But, that's not nearly as fun, nor is it as creative.

What I used:

Wine bottle

1/2" x 3/8" copper reducer

Nylon thread seal tape

Tiki replacement wick

Citronella torch fuel

Small rocks

Craft wire

Small beads

1. Fill the bottom of the wine bottle with small rocks.

2. Thread the craft wire through decorative beads and wrap it around the neck of the bottle. This is purely for decoration and is optional.

3. Wrap the nylon thread seal tape around the large end of the reducer several times, testing the size by inserting it into the bottle. You will want a fairly snug fit.

4. Thread the wick into the reducer. Leave 3/4" of the wick extending out the top.

5. Fill the bottle with Citronella, and insert the reducer and wick. Let the oil absorb into the wick before lighting.

Quick, easy projects the entire family can enjoy, both during the creation and the utilization, are worth the effort. And sometimes they even disguise the work, and it can be mistaken for fun.

Now, there is nothing left but the relaxing!

Juanita Lee and her husband, Jon, have three children in what they fondly refer to as their FamLee. She's a lover of sauerkraut and '80s hair band ballads, a tamer of chaos and a recovering shoe addict. Her day job is communications manager at Bismarck State College.