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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

DIY Lego Advent Calendar

For as long as we have had kids, my wife and I have enjoyed creating a homemade advent calendar - a countdown to Christmas. The first year we did it, my wife hand folded and glued paper bags out of wrapping paper, numbered each one, and we inserted a Christmas story/Bible verse, a song, and some treat. Yeah, you do things differently when there is only one kid.

Over the years, this has slightly morphed.  A couple of years ago, we ditched the homemade paper bags for some small cotton bags that we got at a local craft store. We also got numbered buttons that we put onto each one, numbering them one through 24. In addition to the slips, we added something that we could do as a family to show love to others. These include things like take a treat to a fire station, call a grandparent, or sell a toy and give the money to a charity. While we don't get to every task, they help keep us in the mindset of thinking of others for the season.

Additionally, since it is an Advent calendar, we have traditionally included some treat for the kids. Candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup... Actually, scratch the last two, but we reluctantly gave our kids treats because we wanted them to have something to look forward to.

This year, however, my wife and I had a game changer. We saw a Lego Advent calendar, but at a cost of close to $50, without our homemade focus on acts of kindness, and looking like it would only work for one kid per calendar. So we decided to adapt a Lego set to our existing Advent set up.

We snagged a great cyberdeal on a Lego Friends set--$24 for 300 pieces, which included a boy and a girl (a definite must for multi-gender families). We printed the PDF of the instructions and cut them into 24 manageable steps. Then we separated the Legos into the bags, along with the verse, the daily task, and the day's instructions.

Each night, as a family, we read the story and think about ways to show love to others. The kids then each get some of the Lego pieces and the day's instructions, and add to the set. The great thing is that they have no idea what they're building, so we get to hear their guesses each day. As we move through Advent, they will get a clearer picture of what they are creating
as more and more pieces come together.

May you and your family have a wonderful Christmas season as you spend time together, look for ways to show love to others, and celebrate the traditions and joy of Christmas.

Merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tonto Natural Bridge: A Great Hike for Kids

It is no secret that I absolutely love the state I live in. The fact is that Arizona has the best climate, the greatest outdoor treasures, and the coolest places to explore. If this were an academic paper, I wouldn't need to cite sources, because this is common knowledge (at least for those of us who live here). And for all of the years I have lived here, I find that there are still new places to explore, especially with kids.

So a few weekends ago we loaded up into the family truckster and headed to the mountains. The destination was Tonto Natural Bridge. This is an Arizona state park that is just north of Payson (just under two hours from the Phoenix area). While it is a kid friendly state park, it is not pet friendly, so Kona had to stay home.

When I read about the hiking trails, they all seemed pretty short, with the longest trail being 1/2 mile long. The suggested amount of time for this short trail was one hour. I was pretty sure that Arizona State Parks had grossly underestimated my kids, but two hours seemed to be minimum amount of time needed for a decent hike.

Destination: Tonto Natural Bridge
Driving time (from Phoenix): <2 hours
Time hiking: 2+ hours
Distance: 1-2 miles
Cost: $22 for a family of 5 (depending on kids ages)

My kids loved the hike. There was a lot of scrambling up rocks, sliding down rocks, watching daddy grab his chest because he thought he was going to have a heart attack because of how close the kids were getting to the edge of everything. But all three kids, ages 5, 7, and 9, did a phenomenal job on the trails, with almost no complaints.

The Natural Bridge itself was amazing. While my hope is to inspire Arizonans to visit (or non Arizonans to come to Arizona to experience our breathtaking beauty), I won't go into the details of why the Tonto Natural Bridge is truly spectacular. However, I can say that it is amazing to walk over and through this natural wonder. The kids loved looking at the rock formations, the caves, and the waterfalls. It was truly beautiful.

Let's go back for a minute to the daddy heart attack. My kids were being kids. They were exploring and having fun. They weren't doing anything reckless, or dangerous, or careless, nor would I allow them to. But in my mind, every step was the one that caused them to careen down the rocks into the icy pool under the bridge. Or the one that made them slip and fall and break an arm. And then I saw my younger self, my 9 year old self, in my daughter's exploration, and I remember my dad telling me about all of the grey hairs that we caused him (cue The Cat's in the Cradle now). So dad, I'm sorry. I now understand.

But my hope is that in letting my kids explore and have fun and, yes, give their daddy some grey hairs, they will grow up to be independent risk takers. They will hopefully look for opportunities that others might shy away from, but, because I let them crawl around on some rocks or slide down some boulders, they will take those opportunities and those risks.

So this is hopefully the first of many posts that will be about exploring the great state of Arizona. I'm hoping that my family and I can begin to travel to various sites around the state, both known and unknown, and inspire both ourselves and our readers to go explore. Be on the lookout for more articles on great places In the Backyard.

Until then, stay safe, remember to breathe, pack plenty of water, and let the kids be explorers in the great outdoors.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving Tree: Helping Kids (and Parents) Learn Gratitude

Fall is a wonderful time in Arizona. The temperature finally shifts from surface-of-the-sun to absolutely perfect. We are able to open our windows and go outside. And while most of the country is raking up leaves and preparing for snow, we are getting ready to enjoy our sunshine for the next six months.

But, just like the rest of the country, as we move into November, we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. As parents, we look for ways to teach our children thankfulness. Enter our Thanksgiving Tree.

Every year, we crumble up brown packing paper in the shape of a tree and cut out dozens of paper leaves. Each evening, before dinner, each member of the family takes a leaf and writes down something that we are thankful for. The one rule is that whatever it is cannot be repeated. We get things like, "I am thankful for family" (sweet), to, "Vitamins" (weird), to, "Quesadillas" (who's not?). But as we move through the season, and the tree gets more and more leaves, our kids are learning to be grateful for all of the things that they have.

And I've come to realize that my gratitude increases. On the bad days at work, I am still thankful for my job. When breakfast is a half-warm piece of toast because I didn't have time to let it actually toast, I'm thankful that I have something to eat. When I get cut off by another driver on my way to work, I am thankful that I have a car, and thankful that my horn works (yeah, I'm still learning). The fact of the matter is that the Thanksgiving Tree is just as much for me as it is for all of us. So whether it is leaf shaped papers taped to a crumpled paper trunk, a notebook with a list, or a stack of index cards, I encourage you to practice gratitude for the next couple of weeks.

Oh, and by the way. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Termites: A Metaphor for Life

I am a total know-it-all. Well, maybe not a total, but I definitely inherited a great, staunch, German,
self-reliant, I can do it myself attitude from somewhere (probably from both sides, with a little sprinkling of marrying into it). This is great for the most part. I like to get things done. I like to research. I like to figure it out. But it recently bit me in the backside.

About a year ago, we were having our bimonthly organic pest control service from Blue Sky Pest Control (Phoenicians, I highly recommend them if you're having pest problems - contact me below or through Facebook and I can get back to you with information) (also, doubly parenthetically, did you know that bimonthly is defined as either two times per month AND every other month? Talk about confusing). Our pest control professional found a termite tube and let us know that we should get an extensive termite inspection. We did, and the inspector, while not finding any other termite tubes, recommended getting our house treated for termites.

And my self-reliant, know-it-all self kicked in. I thought, "Eh, it's just one tube. Probably just an exploratory tube. We're not going to have a termite problem." I listen to Rosie Romero, of Rosie on the House, almost every Saturday. And Rosie says, "There two types of homes in Arizona. Those that have had termites, and those that are going to get them." But somehow that did not sink in, and I ignored the termite problem.

Fast forward to this past August, and our bimonthly (meaning every other month) service technician again found a couple of termite tubes and recommended a termite inspection. This time, the termite inspector found six termite tubes. We went from a small problem to a big problem.

The good news - it was treatable, and much easier than what I had in mind. The bad news - because I had let the problem go for a year, there was much more work to be done, which meant that the cost almost doubled from the initial proposal. But I'll focus on the good news - it was treatable.

Here was the treatment. We did not have to empty our house of all living things while a giant balloon was inflated around our house with toxic gasses slowly killing the soul of our home. Instead, the technicians from Blue Sky drilled holes in the driveway, patio, and interior of the garage every 16 inches. They then sprayed Termidor HE, which is a termite barrier, into the hole. The Termidor goes under the foundation and spreads out, creating a barrier to keep the termites away.

So now our home had dozens of holes around the foundation. But the holes are then filled, and not just filled, but color matched, so that unless you're looking for them, they cannot be seen. And anybody who looks at my driveway or garage that closely has way too much time on their hands and should probably get a hobby.

My initial termite problem was ignored, and instead of going away, it got worse and worse, mostly unnoticed, until a bigger problem was recognized. Maybe my termite problem is a great metaphor for life. If I had addressed the problem when it was first identified, the cost would not have been as high. However, because I let it go untreated for so long, it not only didn't go away, but it became much worse.

Could the same be said for an apology that goes unspoken? An unkind word that is not forgiven? A government policy that is outdated but ignored? Is this too philosophical for a blog about termites? Well maybe I'm just in a philosophical mood. After all, I just put up a barrier that termites cannot get through, which means that they will be heading to one of my neighbors' houses. So maybe I will need to get that apology ready.

But instead of ending on that, I want to end with something about my kids (this is Renaissance Dad after all). After all of this, Little E, my kindergartner, found a termite tube at school. He was telling me about it one day, and I asked him if he showed it to anybody. His face lit up and he said, "YEAH. I showed all of my friends." I asked him to tell his teacher the next day. And then I got an email from the teacher, thanking me for Little E's termite inspection. She said that she didn't think anybody would have noticed it where it was.

I think we have a future Renaissance Dad in the making. With maybe just a little bit of a know it all thrown in.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Remodeling Stairs with Decorative Risers

When my family and I decided to redo our floors, I knew that our stairway would be a challenge. Do you remember the scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, when Pee Wee Herman came across the pet store that was on fire? Pee Wee ran in and opened the puppy cages. Then he ran by the snake terrariums, gave a look of disgust, and continued to save the kittens. On and on he went, passing the snakes, making a face, and saving other animals. Finally, he knew that he could no longer pass the snakes, so he grabbed two fistfulls of them, ran outside, and passed out.

That was how I felt about the stairs. I would walk by them, shake my head, and move on to some other part of the flooring project. I worked in the kitchen, looked at the stairs, and moved on to caulking. Then I looked at the stairs, and moved on to the living room. Then the laundry room, bathroom, dog, and ceiling fan. I floored things that should never be floored. And then I had to face the stairs.

Carpeted stairs - they look happy in spite of the old carpet.
The first thing I had to do was pull off the carpeting, the tack strips, and the 3.7 million staples that were used to attach the carpeting to the stairs. Next, I had to cut the bullnose off of each stair (this is the overhang that would have interfered with the flooring on the deck [the horizontal surface]). Finally, in preparation for covering the stairs, I had to cover the risers (vertical surface) with pieces of plywood, just to give some evenness to the stairs for our covering.

Here is where I had a wonderful conversation with my five-year-old. My son was working with me and helping in the fantastic way that five-year-olds can help. He would take staples and put them in a bucket. He would use the pliers and try to pull staples out. And then, when we pulled off some carpeting, he discovered a knothole.

I wonder what's going on in there.
That boy sat there staring at the knothole for minutes. He looked at it from so many different angles. He poked his finger into it. And then he said, "Daddy, please don't cover that hole. I think it's a knothole like Ralph (from The Mouse and the Motorcycle) lived in." We then had an entire conversation about what the mice that lived in that knothole might do. Did they ride around on his motorcycles? Play with his Legos? What did they eat? How many were there? He was so fascinated, and I loved watching him and listening to his imagination spinning and thinking and creating. It was great! I almost forgot that I had stairs to work on.

Back to work... After the risers were covered with plywood, I laid the new floor on the deck. Because they are stairs, the pad had to be removed and the flooring had to be glued down with a construction adhesive. Finally, a few nails with the nail gun to keep everything in place, and we had new stairs.

The finished product!
For the risers, we didn't want to install more of the flooring. I thought this would be too dark, and between the flooring and our furniture, we have plenty of wood around. After spending irretrievable hours on Pinterest, we decided that it would be really cool to wallpaper the risers. We found a wallpaper store (yes, they still exist), and after getting several samples, settled on two different colors of the same wallpaper, alternating them in a 1-2 pattern. Installing the wallpaper was a breeze.

The result is a wonderfully light and classy stairway, which really highlights the banister that need to be replaced and the walls that need to be painted. But at least the snakes are safe! And the mice have their hole underneath the wallpaper.

Now on to the next project.