Sunday, December 26, 2021

Easy Upcycled Fire Starters

 Nothing is more enjoyable on a chilly evening than sitting in front of a warm, roaring fire, sipping a warm beverage, and reading a book or watching a movie. And nothing can ruin that Hallmark moment more quickly than by having the fire sputter out. 

Have you been there before? Pulling back the screen, blowing on what little little embers you can find to try to relight the fire? Or shoving another wad of newspaper under the logs, only to have them briefly fill your space with a bright light before going out, leaving you once again with no fire? 

I've been there. 

But no more. NO MORE! Years ago I found a way to create a fire starter that costs nothing and effectively gets a fire going with a single match. In fact, they are so great that I am now asking family members and friends for their trash so I can make more of them. 

Melting the wax...
Here's what you do. 

1. Collect a whole bunch of toilet paper tubes. 

2. Pack them full of dryer lint. 

3. Lining up the tubes on a paper plate, sheets of newspaper, or several paper towels, pour melted candle wax into each tube, covering the dryer lint (I most often use a candle warmer for my candles. Once the scent is gone, I use the candles for fire starters. The candle warmer is also great at efficiently melting the candle before pouring into the fire starter). 

4. Flip the tube over, and pour into the other side. 

Making the fire starters...
That's it. Let them dry, and store them for the next time you need to start a fire in the fireplace or fire pit. These are also fantastic for camping and will make you the envy of your camp neighbors. 

Go baby, go! 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Cutting Your Christmas Tree in the Arizona Mountains

It's not going in our yard...
**As you read this post, there is a hidden game. How many quotes from Christmas Vacation can you

I love Christmas! There isn't an area of our house that isn't covered in lights, decorations, candles, or peppermint. There is no such thing as too much when it comes to Christmas. But this year, we decided to try something different. We still did the lights and the trains and the decorations. But in 2021 we teamed up with our neighbors and kicked off our fun, old-fashioned family Christmas by heading out into the mountains in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols. 

So this year we decided to drive to the Arizona mountains and cut down our own Christmas tree. Here's what I discovered:

- Arizona has five National Forests (Apache-Sitegraves, Coconino, Kaibab, Prescott, and Tonto) that sell permits for Christmas Trees. 

- Permits cost $15-$20 each, depending on the National Forest, and allow you to cut a tree up to 10 feet tall (Apache-Sitegraves allows trees up to 15 feet tall)

The kids approve. 
- Each National Forest has a number of cutting areas and species available to cut. 

- Cutting dates vary by National Forest, but some allow you to cut your tree as early as October (that's ambitious, even for me). 

So armed with two permits, two dads and their kids (five total) loaded up in two trucks to go to the mountains to get our family Christmas trees (it helped that we already have a stupid tie with little Santa Clauses all over it). And since our wives were not with us, there was nothing to stop us from overestimating the height of our living room ceilings. 

We drove for about two hours and turned off onto the gravel road that ran through the middle of the cutting zone that we chose. While we ended up on a small dirt road that definitely needed four-wheel-drive to navigate, the main road would have definitely worked for a car or smaller SUV, and even a wood panel station wagon would have been able to handle it (just don't forget the saw). 

Fully decorated

After about an hour of walking through the forest, we found our tree. Was it the perfect Christmas tree? Yes and no. It was not a perfect triangular shaped tree, with perfect, full branches. But it was the tree that my kids and I liked, and the one that drew our eye. And much like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, this one needed a home for the holidays. 

Note: as you are wandering through the forest looking for your tree, be sure to mark where your potential choices are so you can make your way back to them. Our kids marked the path with sticks and rocks so we could find them after looking at several options. 

Yes, we did remember the saws, and no, we did not have to dig the trees up (although part of me really wanted to dig the tree out of the ground and drive home with a giant rootball hanging off the back of the truck, just for comedic effect). And while my 11-year-old took some time to warm up to the tree (she initially didn't think the tree looked good enough, although, in all honesty, it looked quite wonky before it had lights and ornaments), we had fun memories of cutting down our first Christmas tree. 

The little dog approves. 

If you are interested in cutting down a tree, I encourage you to look into the rules and regulations of your area and follow them. And even though you may think they're dirty and messy and corny and cliched, please do not cut down your neighbor's tree, no matter how desperate you are. 

From Chandler, Arizona, to wherever you are in the world, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays! 

Merry Christmas! For more decorating tips, click here

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Keeping Fruit Trees Alive in the Vicious Desert

Happy, thriving trees! 
When my wife and I moved to Arizona from Chicago, we had quite a gardening wake up call. In Illinois, the dirt is so fertile that I could sneeze outside and a month later I would have a harvest of whatever I had eaten for breakfast the day of the sneeze. Arizona, with its incredible heat, terrible soil, and overall mocking attitude towards gardeners was quite a different story. 

Originally I had given up on the idea of gardening. But after seeing a garden that some junior high students at my school grew in their science class, I though, "If goofy teenagers can grow a garden, surely I can figure this out." 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Joy of Gardening with Your Kids

Anybody who has followed Renaissance Dad for any amount of time knows that I love gardening. I have regular articles about best practices that I've followed, mishaps in my garden, things that I love to grow, and lots and lots of mentions of manure (it's like gold for the garden!). And for the past 13 years, as long as I've had kids, I have enjoyed my kids joining me in the garden. Sometimes it feels like a chore, and sometimes it is a chore, but I love spending time in the garden with my entire family. But I'm not always sure that they share my enthusiasm. 

This past year, things seemed to have turned a corner. My oldest joins me every week with yard work, where she routinely mows the lawn. Not many teenagers will mow, much less want to mow, and yet she is out there with me in the 100 degree weather, working away. 

My ten-year-old middle daughter was very excited to help build a raised garden bed for melons this past winter. She helped measure, cut, carry, place,

Monday, June 7, 2021

Three Healthy, Easy, Frozen Treats for Kids

As a dad, I sometimes feel like the Batman character Two Face. He's the guy who got burned with acid on one side of his face only, conveniently forming a straight line down the middle. The natural side of Two Face is logical. The acid-burned side of Two Face is impulsive. That's the way I feel as a father, with the smooth-skinned side of my fatherly soul wanting to give my kids only good things, and the purple, acid-burned side wanting to spoil my kids with all kinds of treats.

That's why I love treats that can appease both sides of my battling soul by being both nutritious while also seeming like a treat. Parenthetically, I recently convinced myself that ice cream does not count as a nutritious, calcium-filled serving of dairy.

So here are three of my kids' favorite nutritious treats.