One of the best purchases we’ve made since purchasing our house a few years ago is a cheap build-it-yourself picnic table kit from one of the big box hardware stores. We brought it home, put it together, and eventually painted it a really cool ocean blue color that we thought looked nice on our deck. It was part of a larger ‘beautification’ plan, which also included a few bird feeders and pollinator-friendly plants and flowers for a little mulch bed, for the driveway-adjacent area where we spent a lot of our time.

It’s not the best or most pristine picnic table—it’s often covered in stuff, the paint has started to chip and flake away, and there’s even some interesting fungus growing out of one of the ends, but since getting this picnic table set up, we’ve eaten outside nearly every day when the weather’s been pleasant (which is a pretty significant percentage of the days for a good chunk of the year here in northeast Tennessee) and I am continuously surprised at how much the practice of eating, together, outside changes our collective moods for the better.

I’ve not given much thought to the reasons for this effect (and really just noticed the correlation relatively recently), but I suspect it has something to do with the change in scenery creating a more ‘mindful’ approach to our meals. Inside, we tend to be distracted by whatever toy or trinket we happen to have nearby[^1]. Outside, we’re similarly distracted by all the goings on of our space, but they’re all shared distractions—when one of the kids points out a nearby butterfly or bug or that the dog has just snatched up a little fallen scrap, we’re all brought into that moment rather than staying in our own separate little worlds.

But the picnic table has created joy even when we’re not using it to eat. We carve our pumpkins each fall on the picnic table. The kids frequently paint or blow bubbles there. It’s a great spot to just sit in the spring when all you want to do is feel the warmth of the sun. So, all that is to say, here’s to you, picnic table. May you continue to bring our family joy for years to come.

A young girl paints a small castle while seated at a blue picnic table. A boy eats a (burnt) toasted marshmallow. A boy holds a stick over a miniature tabletop fire pit while seated at a blue picnic table. A young girl in a princess dress sips a large drink while seated at a picnic table. A firepit is in the background. A boy makes a snowball while standing on a deck covered in snow. A small girl stands ready to carve into a pumpkin. A boy stands carving a pumpkin, which is placed on the bench of a picnic table