I knew before I even got to the door, that things weren't as innocent as they seemed.
With much begging and the substantial use of sad-puppy-dog eyes from Princess, I had finally relented and let her go outside on the porch to play. Because our porch is so large, our yard is so huge, and the road is such a long ways from our house, I feel comfortable allowing Princess to play outside by herself. I, of course, surreptitiously check on her from a window or door every few minutes to be sure that she isn't getting into any trouble. She doesn't mind this arrangement at all and will often come to the sliding glass door, knock to get my attention, and wave enthusiastically before going back to playing.
Today, I was busy online, researching a project I'm currently working on for a job. I could hear Princess's pounding footsteps running energetically from one side of the porch to the other and her high pitched giggle which I'm assuming was directed at the (annoyed) cat as usual. Therefore, I knew she was still safely on the porch. What I forgot, though, was that the tabletop charcoal grill we'd borrowed from my sister before my husband got around to assembling ours had not been returned yet and sat unobtrusively by the porch steps. This did not escape Princess's attention. When I finally tore myself away from my research for a few minutes to check on Princess from the front door, I had an odd feeling. Everything sounded normal outside, but somehow I knew it wasn't. The view that met my eyes when I opened the front door, was ashes everywhere, burnt up charcoal briquettes scattered around the porch, Princess's new pink camo hat laying upside down on the porch full of ashes, and a very dusty toddler. She had even included the cat in the fun by filling the cat's food bowl with handfuls of ashes and covering the (very annoyed) cat itself with more ashes. The grill lay disassembled with the cover over in the corner, the grate leaning precariously on the porch steps, while the grill itself, almost emptied of the ashes and charcoal briquettes that had filled it before, stood in gray dusty wonder in the midst of the carnage.
I stopped dead in the doorway, surveying the mess in astonishment while Princess, instantly realizing that there was a good possibility she would be blamed for it, pointed to the cat who was trying desperately to lick itself clean and said, "Uh-oh!" After a moment spent formulating a battle plan, I sprang into action. I brought a damp handtowel outside and wiped Princess down as much as I could, before taking her inside to the bathroom to strip her off her ashy t-shirt and khaki pants and hose her down in the tub. This done, I pulled a purple flowered dress over her head and let her loose to play inside while I attacked the mess on the porch. The first order of business was to pick up all the briquettes and place them back into the grill which I then reassembled. Then the cat was dusted off and her food bowl emptied of its unappetizing contents. I located my outdoor broom and swept the worst of the mess off the porch and into the yard, giving the grass the appearance of a recent minor volcanic eruption. Having learned my lesson, I popped inside to check on Princess who ignored me as she pulled all of her toys off the shelf where they had reposed for all of 28 minutes. Next, I filled several empty ice cream buckets with water and washed the remaining ash off the porch. The cat eyed me stonily from the corner of the porch where it had run for protection and was now trapped by numerous puddles. I moved it to the grass where it continued to lick the ash off its fur with an injured glare shot in my direction periodically. Satisfied that everything outside was clean enough until the next rainfall washed it even more, I headed back inside to feed my daughter lunch.
To keep Princess occupied and happy for extended periods of time on hot summer days, I fill a clean ice cream bucket with water, give her a pastry brush and a few measuring cups and let her enjoy it out on the porch. She needs dry clothes when she's finished, but it's worth it.