Saturday, November 24, 2018

Eight Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination

When my wife and I bought our first house, I was so excited to decorate the outside for Christmas. In reality, my lights probably didn't amount to much, but I was proud of my little house and the decorations we had. That first year, I bedazzled the house with about 750 lights. In my mind, I blinded my neighbors and caused the nuclear power station to flip the switch to the backup generator a la Christmas Vacation.

In the years following, I have shopped after-Christmas sales and added to my stockpile of decorations. Now, with 12,000 lights illuminating my house, it has gotten to the point that I need to begin putting lights up at the end of October in order to have the job completed by Thanksgiving Day--the day of the big reveal.

Over the past 20 years, I've not only accumulated a lot of tiny lights, but also learned a few things that I can share with you. So here are the Renaissance Dad Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Tips for Building Projects with Kids

Recently, while going through old pictures, I came across this video. I was building an arbor for a grapevine, and my two girls, about 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 years old, were helping. After watching this five times and getting over my uncontrollable weeping, I started reminiscing about the days of working on projects with them when they were cute and extremely unhelpful. Oh for the days when a two hour project would merely take four hours...

As I watched the video, I had several great reminders for tackling projects with kids in tow.

1. Let the kids "help" - You will notice that Little A, who was around 2, didn't care that she wasn't actually doing anything. She wanted to be with daddy, "working" just like I was. A plastic drill and letting her smash away on the lumber while I'm working makes her happy and includes her in the project.

1.1. Let the kids actually "help" if they can - Find something that they can do. At 4, Big E was great at fetching screws, and she enjoyed contributing. As the kids get older, give them more and more responsibility. If my 10-year-old is still doing nothing more than fetching screws, then I haven't let her grow in her responsibility and we're both missing out.

2. Let them experience real tools - Obviously I'm not going to let my four-year-old loose with a circular saw. But letting her become comfortable with and around tools will help both of us in the future. She will want to help me with more and more projects, and I will get free labor quality time with my daughter.

3. Give them the extra help when needed - Big E got to drive a screw with my screwdriver, but there is no way she could have done it on her own. As my kids get older, they need less help from me. But in the learning years, the "training wheels" come in the form of daddy's hand on the back of the screwdriver keeping it going straight.

4. People are more important than things - This is the one thing that I need regular reminders of. At the end of the video Big E drives a screw so deep that the wood splits. "Uh oh... That's okay" was probably forced at the time. Actually, I was so sleep deprived a the time from having two little ones that I was probably in a vegetative state. But remembering that kids are more important than that piece of lumber or that tool will help keep the focus on the important things.

5. Know that we all make mistakes - I don't always have the most patient attitude towards my kids, especially when I'm in the middle of a project. But remembering that these are the memories that they are building helps. I want them to have fond memories of doing projects with me. When I mess that up (read about one such instance here), I need to fix it.

Now that I've spent the past several minutes reminiscing, I think it's time for a current project to work on with my kids. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Chip Drop: Free Mulch for Your Garden (And All Your Neighbors)

Most of the time when I see advertisements in social media posts I ignore them. I don't like the fact that algorithms are able to track my internet usage and come up with what they think I need. And I really hate it when they're right.

Many months ago I started seeing an ad for Chip Drop, a service that connects homeowners with arborists. You offer to take a truckload of wood chips, the arborists get to unload their goods without driving them to the dump, and the environment is happy for both of you. As the ad continued to haunt me in my social media feeds, I could feel my force fields weakening. Unlike the canine hot dog Halloween costume, this was something that I could actually picture myself using.

Mulched garden bed
I have 10 fruit trees and four garden beds in my yard. There is a lot of space between the top of the soil line and the top of the raised bed, so surely I could utilize a load of wood chips as compost/mulch. And with all of those fruit trees, I should definitely be concerned with moisture retention, so a thick layer of mulch is always a good thing. So, late one night, unable to sleep and seeing the ad pop up again, I decided to sign up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Interior Doors: A Small Change with a Big Impact

It's funny how small things sometimes tend to bother us for a long time. For the past 19 years, my wife and I have lived in 6 different homes (two of them were very short term), and with the exception

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