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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Inexpensive DIY Appliance Repair: Cheaper Than the Alternative


In the past three months we have had four major appliances break. Our refrigerator ice maker, then dishwasher, followed by our microwave, followed by our dryer. I have never considered myself any kind of appliance repair guy. I also tend to have little faith that appliances last very long these days. So with each breakage, my inclination was that it was time to replace each one. However, with a little internet searching, some connecting with great how-to videos, and some inexpensive parts, I was able to save quite a bit of time.

By no means is this meant to be an instructional tutorial. I have already found those for my particular models of appliances. Instead, this is meant to be encouragement that if you have an appliance that breaks down, instead of jumping to the conclusion that I initially made, you might want to troubleshoot a little bit.

Frigidaire Refrigerator Ice Maker

Problem - when our ice maker is turned on, the ice bin fills with water and we get a solid lump of ice.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Renaissance Dad Tool Review: Greenworks 18" 60V Brushless Chainsaw

Before I was 25, the only chainsaw experience I had was playing Doom. My first chainsaw was an electric chainsaw for some light yard work around the house, mainly trimming thick branches that I didn't want to use a pruning saw for. The first time I used a gas powered chainsaw when helping a friend, I realized that my electric chainsaw could only be called a chainsaw because it had a chain. But so does my bike...

Then I started doing a little more major tree trimming, and my electric chainsaw could no longer hack it (hehehe). It finally saw its end when I helped my parents with a fallen mesquite tree, the last thing that it ever cut down. The electric saw was gone. I loved the power of a gas saw, but never wanted the mess, smell, or hassle of it around the house. What's a guy to do?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Taking the Family to The Grand Canyon

I am an Arizona fanatic. I absolutely love the state I live in. I love it so much that I put up with 115 degree summer days without letting them bother me. Okay, maybe the really hot days do make me a little grumpy, but it is a short 90 minute drive into the mountains to escape the heat and enjoy the

Friday, June 15, 2018

Homemade Dreamsicles: A Healthy Version of a Childhood Favorite

Many of us have memories of summer as a kid. For me, it was the fight over the Dreamsicle. If you are unfamiliar with a Dreamsicle, it is a heavenly combination of orange popsicle and vanilla ice cream. I could pound down Dreamsicles like there was no tomorrow. But, as an adult, I can only imagine what kind of ingredients were in those artificially flavored summer treats.

Enter my wonderful wife. I came home from work last week, and the kids started asking for Dreamsicles. She pulled out an ice cube tray and gave them an ice cube on a toothpick. They asked for another, and she gave it to them. She told them that they could have as many Dreamsicles as they wanted. STOP THE BUS! I have a wonderful mom, but I don't remember her ever saying that we could have as many anythings as we wanted. My brothers and I would have decimated the house if she had said that. So I had to try one of these so called Dreamsicles and see what kind of voodoo magic she was performing on our children.

I pulled one out of the ice cube tray, took a bite, and was immediately transported to my sandbox, G.I. Joes, Legos, and my jealousy over my neighbor's Slip'N Slide. These Dreamsicles are amazing, and thanks to my incredible wife, I am here to share her motherly, trick-your-children-into-thinking-they-get-dessert-when-they're-actually-eating-a-healthy-snack voodoo awesomeness.

Ingredients:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Daddy-Daughter Dance: Year Eight

When my oldest daughter, Big E, was 2, I took her to her first prom. I was a chaperone, and she was an adorable date. We danced and danced, and we decided on "our song," A Wink and a Smile. A couple of weeks after we had our first dance, our neighbor was going to her prom. We watched her parents take pictures in their front yard, and then she got into a car with her date and drove off. Big E looked at me and said, "Why isn't her daddy going with her?" I explained that her daddy was staying home and his daughter was going to prom with a different boy. With tears welling up in her big, brown eyes, she said, "I don't ever want to go to prom with anybody except my daddy."

DADDY WIN!!


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hidden Hairdryer Storage

I have been slowly but surely working on our bathroom remodel for so long that I no longer know when I exactly began. The last post I wrote about our bathroom remodel outlined the first several steps, which were completed exactly one year ago. Since then I have chipped away little by little at the bathroom. Lately, I have added two cabinets that I bought at the Rosie on the House auction site, removed our mirrored closet door, and added a pocket door. While those projects have all had their challenges and moved us slightly closer to being done with the bathroom, I am most proud of this project--hidden hairdryer storage--because it brings me daily joy.

The previous owner of our house hardwired a power strip into an electrical box and attached it to the side of our bathroom cabinet (essentially he cut off the plug, stripped the wires, and gave the strip permanent power - not exactly up to building code). This power strip was used by my wife for her hairdryer, but because of the placement of the power strip the hairdryer either lived on the counter or between the vanity and the closet door. The removal of the closet doors and installation of the pocket door forced me to remove the power strip and add an actual electrical outlet in the wall. But the "storage space" for the hairdryer was gone.
Pocket door and wall cabinet

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Spring Gardening: Build the Foundation by Preparing the Soil

When I lived in Illinois, gardening was so easy. My wife and I lived in an old farmhouse. In the back corner of the yard were the remnants of an ancient tree, long since cut down. The roots were decaying, and the soil was so rich and fertile. We popped in a tomato plant and a jalapeno plant, and that summer we had no shortage of vegetables. We did nothing, and our crop was abundant. We congratulated ourselves on being gardening prodigies.

And then we moved to Arizona. Alkaline soil composed of clay, sand, and the tears of those who once dreamed of gardening. Irrigation that must be applied in the proper amounts at just the right time or we would be the reason the state would move toward complete drought. Tomatoes that would split their skins if the sun hit the fruit for five seconds too long, and would drop from the plant if I didn't sing to them each night. We were not in Kansas (or anywhere in the Midwest) anymore.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

DIY Flooring Project

When we first moved into our house, my wife and I knew that our floors were not long for this world. Last summer, after going through the process of deciding what flooring to use, we settled on a floating laminate floor from Costco. While it was one of the lesser expensive floors that we tested, it was surprisingly also one of the more durable. And when I went to purchase it, it was on sale: score! It took two truckloads to load 90 cases of flooring in my garage (in 116 degree weather), but I was ready to go.

And with that first hammer swing to remove the first tile, my project was on. I told my wife, "I don't see why I couldn't be done with this by Fall Break." She lovingly accepted my confidence, but after 19 years of marriage, she knew to mentally add six months to my optimistic estimate. I chipped tile, pulled out carpet, hauled the wreckage to the dumpster, begged my friend Stan to help, cut my leg with broken tile, filled the house with tile dust, and sweated like there was no tomorrow. The first hour of the project was complete!

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Road Less Traveled: Find a New Route for a Road Trip

Last week my family and I drove out to El Paso to visit my brother and his family. The normal drive from Phoenix to El Paso is 99% I-10 going through Arizona, New Mexico, and finally, Texas.

Arizona is the most beautiful state in the country. I will have words with anyone who says otherwise. However,I will admit that the drive along the I-10 can get slightly tedious.

On our return drive, we needed to drive to Hereford, which is just on the Mexico/Arizona border. The shortest route was to take the I-10 to just north of Hereford, giving us the same view on the way

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Can I Learn from a Sock Hop?

One of my favorite memories/traditions with my daughters is our regular daddy daughter dances. As an educator, I help chaperone Prom every year, and for the past seven years I have always taken one of my daughters as my date. They love it, my students love it, and I get to dress up with one of my girls and have a fancy date.

So last week, when we got an invitation for a Sock Hop at my kids' school, I was pretty excited to take them. And I was shocked when Little E said that he wanted to go. He typically likes to lay on the floor and play Legos with nobody touching any of his precious pieces. But hey, he wanted to go to a social event at his school, so we decided to make it a family affair - my wife and I and our three kids.

For those of you who don't know what a Sock Hop is, it is a dance that originated in the mid 20th century where all of the students took off their shoes for the dance. The purpose of taking off shoes was so as to not scratch the gym floor with heels and hard soled shoes, which, as a school administrator, I can really appreciate. Typical

Monday, January 29, 2018

If This Hammer Could Talk

I have been working on a flooring project since last July. Almost every weekend, with the exception of a "sabbatical" during the holidays, some part of the house is a construction zone. All of the furniture is moved. The flooring is pulled up. The sub floor is cleared. New flooring goes in. The edges are caulked. The furniture is moved back. And it all happens with just enough time for me to have a Nerf gun battle with the kids before I go back to work on Monday.

The good news is that I just have three small spaces left. The bad news is that I STILL have three small spaces left.

But earlier this month I was hammering the flooring into place, and I got really contemplative. I was using a hammer that had been passed down through what I believe is three generations--an

Monday, January 22, 2018

Renaissance Dad Tool Review: GreenWorks 60V 16-Inch Brushless String Trimmer

Three-and-a-half years ago I wrote an article about my new GreenWorks string trimmer. I was so happy with the performance that I labeled it "The Best", being extremely content with the 40V power, the compatibility with my other 40V tools, and its ease of use. That string trimmer has been fantastic, and I have not been on the lookout for a new one.

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