Thursday, January 23, 2020

Renaissance Dad's Ten Favorite Products of 2019

The year 2019 has come and gone, and as we enter 2020, I can't help but think that the Jetsons steered me wrong. While I don't think there was ever a specific year mentioned, I'm disappointed that 2020 hasn't given us flying cars, food conveyor belts, or sassy robot maids. While there will be many amazing things in the coming year, I certainly won't be holding my breath on that list.

But this has caused me to pause and think of 2019 and some of my favorite things that I discovered or rediscovered during that year. I made some fantastic discoveries in 2019, and I would like to share my ten favorite products of 2019, in no particular order. Please note that none of the companies gave me products or money, but I am simply so happy with my experiences that I wished to share them.

1. Home Master Artesian Reverse Osmosis System - I didn't want to change out my reverse osmosis system, but the filters for my previous system became unattainable. After much research, this is the system that I landed on, and boy have I been happy with it. It not only filters out impurities, but it also adds the good minerals back into the water, and it has a pressure compensating system, which means that I can fill water bottles for all my thirsty kids without having the water just dribble out. It has contactless cartridge changes, which means that I don't need to mess around with chlorine or chemicals as I change the filters. It sounds pretty lame to get excited about an R/O system, but this thing was fun to install, and I still enjoy the water out of it! *

2. Automatic Timer Switch - There are many makes and varieties. The digital timer that I got was amazingly easy to install for my front porch light switch. No longer do I have to fumble with my keys when I come home after dark and the porch light is not on. This allows me to set the time for my lights to go on and off, with several options (all week, certain days, weekends, etc.). It cost about $22 and took about 15 minutes to install. Well worth it, especially for outdoor lights. These can be purchased from any hardware store in the electrical section (please read all instructions and make sure that the power is turned off before performing any electrical work).

3. Little Giant ladder - Okay, so I'm sneaking this one in because it wasn't a discovery in 2019. When I was a teacher and I would get home late at night from either parent meetings, play rehearsals, or sports practices, I would often eat a late dinner and watch something on TV. That something was usually a paid infomercial for the Little Giant ladder. I used to talk to everybody about how amazing that ladder was. And then, one year, my wife got me one for my birthday. Now most "As Seen on TV" stuff is garbage, but not the Little Giant. I use that ladder constantly—it's like a transformer for the DIYer. I drag it all over the house, inside and outside. It's an A-frame ladder. It's an extension ladder. It's a ladder that will sit on different steps so I can change the light bulbs in the ceiling fan over our stairs. I've had my Little Giant for more than 15 years, and it's still one of the coolest presents I have ever received. You can find this wherever awesome ladders are sold!

4. WORX Pegasus Multi-Function Work Table - This was a replacement for an old portable work table that I had. The WORX Pegasus is light weight, folds very quickly, is extremely portable, and is insanely versatile. It has two clamps that work in grooves in the table, so holding down work pieces is a cinch. Did I mention that it's lightweight and very portable? You can even link multiple work tables together to have a larger work space. Something that I might consider in the future... Definitely worth the price for any DIYer. *

5. DuluthFlex Fire Hose Pants - Probably weird to have clothing on this list, but these pants are not only comfortable, they are also utilitarian. It is not uncommon for me to stop to help somebody having car trouble on my way home from work, and when I'm wearing normal dress pants I always feel like those pants might be trashed beyond saving if I have to change a tire. When I'm wearing my Duluth Fire Hose Pants, it's like I'm wearing dress pants made of mithral (for those familiar with Tolkien, that's the dwarf-made body armor in Lord of the Rings). So they're not exactly dress pants, but they are at least dressier than jeans and don't look out of place with a shirt and tie (at least not that anybody has said to me). You can find them at www.duluthtrading.com.


6. Trader Joe's candles - My wife thinks putting candles on this list is even stranger than pants, but I really can't live without these. I have a candle warmer in my school office, and I almost always have a Trader Joe's candle on it. These change with the seasons, but some of my favorites are grapefruit, honeycrisp apple, and cedar balsam. Teachers and students regularly comment on how great my office smells. These cost $3 or so and last about a month on the candle warmer. After they no longer smell, I use the wax for fire starters (see tip #1 here). You can find these at your local Trader Joe's.

7. Chamberlain Ultra Quiet Garage Door Opener with Battery Backup - Luckily this was something that I researched before I needed to replace it. When our opener stopped working, I knew I wanted to replace it with something quiet (the kids' rooms are right above the garage). I also knew that I didn't want to get up in the middle of the night to make sure that the garage door was closed. This garage door opener includes an app so you can see if the door is open or closed, control the door from your phone, and get alerts if the door opens outside of your set time or remains open for longer than your set window. In essence, I can check to make sure that the door is closed from the comfort of my bed. It also has a battery backup, so if the power goes out, the door will still work. This took about three hours to completely install and set up (programming the keypad and setting up the app took some time), but it could be accomplished a little faster with two people. I may even help you install it (if you live in the Phoenix area). *


8. Chicago Electric Rock Tumbler  - My son is obsessed with rocks, and shiny things, and shiny things that are also rocks. I was the same way as a kid, and I still remember my grampa having a rock tumbler in his basement. I loved seeing the beautifully polished rocks. We got this for my son for Christmas, and we immediately started polishing a batch of rocks. The instructions are clear and helpful, the machine is fairly quiet (we keep it in the garage; you probably won't want to tumble rocks in your bedroom), and it is a lot of fun to watch the process. My son just got his first batch of polished rocks, and he was thrilled. You can find this at https://www.harborfreight.com/3-lb-rotary-rock-tumbler-67631.html (note: they often have coupons in your junk mail or online).

9. LED Keeper - This is a must have for anybody half as committed to Christmas lights as I am (if you need a reminder, read about it here). This helps you hunt down the burned out LEDs that are keeping full strands from functioning (there is another version for incandescent bulbs). I used this for five strands this past Christmas, and once I actually read the instructions, it took about two minutes to find the problem LED, replace it, and have the strand working again. I got mine at my local Ace Hardware, but you can also find them online.

10. Sunday Lawn Care - I discovered this start-up at the beginning of 2019. You send them some dirt from your lawn, they analyze it, and then they ship you liquid lawn fertilizer three times per year, based on the needs of your climate and your soil. My lawn was definitely thicker and greener this year. And the best part is that it's all natural, so I can feel good about my kids rolling around on the lawn and the dogs eating the grass (or the kids eating the grass and the dogs rolling around on the lawn. It just depends what type of day it is...). Check them out at www.getsunday.com

So there you have it. My ten favorite products of last year. Who knows what I'll discover this coming year. What about some of your favorite products? Leave your comment below with something that you absolutely love and see if it makes the Renaissance Dad list for 2020. Have you had an experience with one of the products mentioned above? I would love to hear about that as well. Send me a message or leave a comment and let me know what you liked or didn't like.

*Clicking on the item will take you to an affiliate links, which means that if you use the link to purchase these products, I get a commission at no cost to you. Pretty neat, huh?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Homemade Limoncello: Put Your Lemons to Good Use

Years ago I had a parent of one of my students bring me a gift. It was in a tall, skinny bag. She told me that I probably wouldn't want to open it at school, which meant that it was a great gift. It was a bottle of homemade limoncello. For those of you who don't know what limoncello is, it's like adult lemonade. It's like liquid sunshine in a glass. It is fabulous. So if you happen to read this article, Tammy, this one's for you.

Ingredients

-16ish organic lemons (you use the rinds, so it is very important that the lemons are organic. The trees in your yard or the neighbor's yard are probably perfect)

-a bottle of vodka (if you can find 100 proof vodka, that is preferred. If not, choose your favorite. I like Skyy vodka because the blue bottles are great for storing the limoncello)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Five Tips for the Best Fire in the Fireplace (Including How to Make Homemade Fire Starters)

We have had a chilly, rainy winter in Phoenix. Last year I had, at most, a dozen fires in my fireplace. This year, we have had fires on a regular basis. We have also yet to turn our heat on, which I take as a win considering that it is the tail end of December. So aside from the nice ambiance of a fire in the fireplace, fires also have given us warmth to get through the chilly parts of the day.

I never seem to have a problem starting a campfire. In fact, about 18 years ago I built an epic campfire that still lives in family lore, through which I am certain I conjured the Bolrog. And yet I often seemed to struggle with getting a fire going inside a fireplace. This became evident when my wife and I bought our first house with a fireplace. Fires would smolder and fizzle, but seldom would blaze.

At some point, when time travel becomes possible and I can send myself information, my past self will be grateful to learn some tricks and tips to build a perfect fire. But for now my present self will be content to sit and read, blog, or watch a movie in front of a blazing fire in the fireplace.

So here are my tips on getting that perfect fire in the fireplace (or fire pit), based on hundreds of failed fire attempts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Christmas Movie Jeopardy

Nothing prepares me more for the holidays than curling up on the couch with a fire in the fireplace, cuddling with the family, and watching a wonderful Christmas movie. Our family has a pretty significant Christmas Movie Canon, and it is now to the point that we have to schedule out our movies to make sure we have time to watch them all. Needless to say, we love our Christmas movies.

For a teacher party, I recently made a Christmas Movie Jeopardy game. It was a huge hit, filled with some more difficult movies and some that may or may not be on your particular Christmas movie list.

So gather your friends, fill up your moose-head glasses with eggnog, pour some syrup onto your spaghetti, light up the Christmas tree and challenge your friends. And you may just end up with a new Christmas movie to watch this season.

Monday, November 25, 2019

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.

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