Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spend Some Time Outside With the Kids

I'm not sure what game this is.

 It is that time in Arizona! That time of year when I love being outside, when yard work feels more like a treat than a chore, and when I feel like a kid who needs to be told to come inside. I love Arizona in the wintertime.

Camouflage practice
This past weekend I decided to do some major bush trimming. I have a hedge of oleanders that was getting out of control and it was time to show it who is in charge. So I began hacking away and almost instantly all three kids wanted to be outside. My initial thought was to tell them to stay inside, to keep out of the way, to avoid the dangers of a falling branch or a splinter. And then I realized that I had absolutely no basis for them not to be outside.

We went over the safety rules, which were mainly to ask permission before touching any of the tools that were out. And then something magical happened. Part of me wishes that I could say that the magic was that the kids took over and trimmed the bushes while I watched from the hammock with a cold beverage. Some day...

All hail the queen!
No, the magical part was the playing, the laughter, and the imagination. Listening to the giggles as the kids hid behind branches, or pretended that one was royalty and the other two would fan with branches, or building a mountain of branches to see who could climb up the highest. Listening to these giggles and this excitement and this joy made my chore that much more bearable. At one point my six-year-old asked me if they could go watch t.v.. I told her that I was enjoying listening to them play and I wanted the company, and they stayed out with me for another hour. What a joy it was to have the kids imagining and playing and interacting. Yes, there were branches everywhere that I had to help them pick up. Yes, there were some owies from branches being swung around or stepped on. But the kids were having a great time, and I am so thankful that I got to be part of it.

Chipping up the branches
This made me think about what would have happened if I let them go watch t.v. instead of play outside. I would have missed out on the teaching moments ("Daddy, what's the difference between that trimmer and a chain saw?"). They would have missed out on the fresh air and the sunshine. We all would have missed out on the time together.

Day 2-3 involved chipping up all of the branches using my Patriot Electric Chipper. I started by sharpening the blade, and man did that make a difference. I chipped for three hours on day 2 and two hours on day 3, creating enough chippings for the next year of compost. The great part of this was that the kids again wanted to be outside with me and wanted to be part of what I was doing because the stage was set from the day before. We talked about compost, princesses, garbage trucks, and power tools. It doesn't get better than that.

Spreading chippings around the trees
My six-year-old was again heavily involved, bringing me branches to chip up. She even got to run a couple of branches through the chipper (with daddy's very close supervision), and the smile on her face was priceless.

He thinks he's smiling.
This whole project made me wonder how many times my immediate response to my kids is to avoid the work area. There are times when I want them to help me with a project, but other times when it feels like a hassle to have them around. It would have been so much easier if I had cut the oleanders and left everything in a nice neat pile, rather than having the branches and debris spread all around the yard. I may have even saved a day of chipping if I could have moved at my own pace. But I would have missed out on time spent with the kids. Sure it is more work, and yes there were plenty of fights that I had to mediate (please do not assume that my kids are all smiles when they're playing), but the time spent with the kids, the lessons that they are learning, and the love of doing things as a family make that extra work worth it.

Have a wonderful Christmas, Renaissance Dads and Moms.
This little beauty.

Still working on the pile

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bathroom Lighting Upgrade for Under $125

Original light fixture. Pathetic, am I right?
 When my wife and I moved to Arizona in 2003, we bought a 50-year-old house. I thoroughly
enjoyed the years of updating, remodeling, changing, and improving that house. Of course that was before kids, which puts a strain on both time and money. Fast forward to 2014, and with three kids ages six, four, and two, I have not been as able to remodel our house. But I found a way to alleviate the money constraints that come with remodeling.

In the past, I would get a project in mind and I would go out looking for the materials. Of course I would shop around and look for the best deal, but I always had that certain project in mind. I realized that with a tighter budget (I had no idea what an impact kids would have on a grocery budget. My four-year-old apparently is on the Michael Phelps diet), I needed a different approach to home remodeling. My wife and I sat down and looked at the projects that we wanted to complete, and then I kept my eyes opened for great deals. The benefit of remodeling this way is that I am able to catch great deals when they happen. The disadvantage is that I do not get to necessarily choose the order in which I complete home projects. But, since I love working on our house, this is not that big of a problem for me.
Have a helper work on the door knob

Our shower/toilet room only had a single light fixture that poorly illuminated the room, and there was no exhaust fan to eliminate the moisture from the shower. So throughout several trips to my local Lowe's, I found some bathroom light fixtures on clearance. I didn't have a rigid vision for what I wanted to do with the lighting, so these fixtures fit within the parameters. I purchased two recessed lighting fixtures (for use in wet locations), one bathroom exhaust fan (extra quiet), and an exhaust vent for my roof. I had electrical wire and switches on hand, so in total I spent $115, with the regular price of the light fixtures being $195.

Cutting into the drywall
I initially planned on doing this project from the attic. If you have never worked in an attic before, let me bust a myth. In advertisements for insulation installation, there is always a tall guy standing upright in clean air and bright light, with a smile on his face. This is not my experience. Attics are dark, hot, dusty, cramped, and you are required to crawl on your belly through a maze of wires, ducts, insulation, and roof nails. In short, I hate working in the attic. After realizing that I didn't want to spend the morning in the attic, I decided that all of the work could be completed from the bathroom.

One additional benefit of working from the bathroom was that I could have my helper available. He did a great job of tightening the ladder, measuring the piles of debris, and telling me when I dropped a tool on the floor.

Let it snow!
Before beginning, I turned off the electrical. This is very important when working on electrical, especially in the bathroom. I removed the old fixture and cut the appropriate sized holes for each of the new fixtures. Cutting into ceiling drywall is fantastic because it allows you to experience snowing insulation. Please make sure that little helpers are not in the area during this time.

I then started with the fixture furthest from the power supply, running my wires from one hole to the next. Because the fixtures were all relatively close to each other, I was able to pass the wires from one fixture to the next, with the recessed lights joining the source at the exhaust fan. Before wiring everything together and installing the exhaust fan, I took a long drill bit and drilled a 1/2-inch hole into the roof as a marker for the exhaust vent. Please note - when I did my first exhaust fan installation
Nothing like a partner cheering you on
years ago somebody told me that I could dissipate the humidity into the attic. This is a terrible idea and will result in mold and possibly some furry critters enjoying the sauna-like environment of your attic.

With the exhaust fan and lights in place, I turned on the power to ensure that everything was working properly. I then moved to the roof for the vent installation. With the hole as my marker, I cut a hole through the shingles and plywood for the exhaust vent. I reached down and pulled up the duct and connected it to the vent. After securing the vent to the roof, I liberally applied roof caulk to seal up any holes or seams around the vent.

Total cost: $115
Exhaust fan and one recessed light
Total time: 4 hours
Having light and low humidity in the bathroom: priceless

If you decide to take on a project like this, my biggest piece of advice would be to be very careful with your drywall cuts. Making careful cuts with this project meant that I had no drywall repair (I think this may be the first project that I have ever done that did not need drywall repair). The adage is measure twice and cut once, but I end up measuring twice, cutting once, and then shave, shave, shave until I have it perfect.

Recessed lights by window
And speaking of shaving, with these new lights, I'll finally be able see what I'm doing well enough to get a good shave!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Easy Homemade Teeter Totter

Look at that joy!
Remember when you were a kid and parks had all of the coolest things to play on? I remember my uncle taking me to the park by my grandparents house. It had metal monkey bars that erased your fingerprints in the summer, a metal slide that seared through your way-too-short shorts, and long wooden teeter totters that always managed to pepper your bottom with splinters. It also had a merry-go-round type thing with metal bars. My brothers and I would hold on, and my uncle would spin it as fast as he could. Eventually we would go flying off and/or jam some joint (elbow, knee, crotch) on the metal bars. Yes, those were the good old days.

Trust - Will my sister drop me like a bad habit?
One of my favorites was the teeter totter (or seesaw for my readers across the pond). All kinds of fun games came from those, but unfortunately since most of those games ended in a cracked head or a broken arm they are seldom found in parks now. So what is a Renaissance Dad to do...? Make one, of course.

Before I go on, I need to give the standard warnings. Like anything that kids get their hands on, they can get hurt on a teeter totter. They can also get hurt having a pillow fight, putting rocks down each others' pants (yeah, that really happened), or jumping from the couch to the coffee table while playing "The Floor Is Lava." So please use discretion and supervise your kids.

While this is not an instructional, step-by-step as to how to make a teeter totter, you can see by the pictures that the design is quite simple. It is made from two eight-foot 2X6 boards and one eight foot 4X4 redwood post. I used the redwood post because redwood is naturally moisture resistant and insect resistant, and I figured that if it can handle those two things, it should be able to handle my three kids. This also means that it does not need to be painted. The 2X6 boards were painted using some left over exterior paint.

Note the decorative chalk designs
Two boards make up the legs and two boards make up the uprights. There are two spacer blocks between the uprights to give space to the post, which is attached using a threaded rod with locking nuts holding it in place. Two board cutoffs make up the seats, and the handles are made from 2X2 scraps with round dowels running through the tops. You will also notice in the picture from the side that there is a hole above the pivot point. When I originally built this that upper hole was the pivot point. Then I realized that my then three-year-old was about five feet in the air. I modified and moved the pivot down, which lowered the maximum height. I can still move it up to daredevil level in their older years.

The whole project took me about two hours to cut and put together, not including the time to paint it. One thing I realized is that the handles do not work really well. The kids put so much torque on the handles that they regularly break off. A little more engineering with longer lag screws, anchor sleeves, and some wood glue solves this problem. However, if I had it all to do over again, I might choose simple rope handles. All of which leads me to this realization: some projects, especially ones that are tested out by kids, need to be fixed and modified on a regular basis. This is part of the wonderful world of engineering for kids who operate outside the realm of normal physical constraints. This is part of being a Renaissance Dad. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why I Chose Cloth Diapers: A Dad's Perspective

My two-year old son is in underpants, and our family is officially done with diapers!! While  no amount of exclamation points can indicate how joyful I am to be done with that phase of parenting, I felt I should take this occasion to reflect on diapers. We used cloth diapers for our three children, and I have to admit that the initial desire was 100% from my wife. Let's face it, who wants a bin of dirty, poopy, smelly squares of fabric sitting in a bin and then going through the washing machine? Not this guy. When my wife suggested using cloth diapers, I was not interested. She was concerned about the environment. I was still not interested. She said it would be healthier for our baby. I was still not interested. She said we could save money. Hold up. I'm listening...

I am a money guy. I shop sales, I look for deals, and I try not to spend money when I don't have to. So when I looked at the initial investment that cloth diapers required, I just about threw up. Was my wife seriously expecting me to drop $500 up front on diapers? That is insane. And then the logical side of me took over. The average American family spends between $1000 and $1500 per year or more on disposable diapers, depending on the brand, with organic or green brands being even more expensive. That means that in three years of disposable diapers, a child can easily burn $3000 or more. So $3000 spread out over three years for disposable diapers, or $500 up front cloth diapers? This was my turning point, and the moment I realized that I could handle cloth diapers (I wasn't even calculating the savings for kids two and three. Cha-ching). My wife and I decided that, if we were going to use cloth diapers, we would want to purchase a new washer and dryer and remodel our laundry room. And you know what, that initial investment was still less than what we would have spent to keep Big E in disposable diapers for her first three years.

So I still wasn't completely on-board with disposable diapers, but the logical, financial side of me realized that this was the way to go. I was worried about the smell. But I quickly realized that the diapers were not smelly when kept in a Simplehuman Slim Plastic Step Can with a washable pail liner. I realize that is overly specific, but if you are considering cloth diapers, trust me, the can is a game-changer. If we ever felt they were smelly between washings we could just sprinkle a cup of baking soda over the diapers to absorb the smell. Easy.

Then I had to overcome the thought of dealing with poop on diapers. Again, not something that I miss at this point, but something that I realized was not too bad. My father-in-law and I fabricated a diaper sprayer by connecting a good old-fashioned kitchen sprayer to the toilet supply line. After changing a poop diaper, we held on to the cleanest corner we could find and sprayed the poop into the toilet. No big deal.

Now the most magical benefit of all. When Big E was 18 months old, we were visiting family. She looked at us and said, "Pee pee." I questioned her, she repeated herself, and I took her to the potty. She went! No prompting, no trying to persuade her, no bribery (although that came later). She took the initiative. And all three of our kids have potty-trained by two-years old. Why? Try strapping a soggy towel to your mid section and see if you don't want to get out of it as quickly as possible.

While there are other benefits to cloth diapers, for this Renaissance Dad the biggest benefit was the financial. I eventually came to realize the other benefits, but the financial advantages were what initially convinced me. I would encourage any other parents out there to look at the benefits, weigh them out, and e-mail me if you still need to be convinced. 

By the way, part of our good experience with cloth diapers was due to Meredith at Go Go Natural. She has a huge selection of everything imaginable related to diapers, and she was really helpful in guiding and advising us when we were first learning the ropes. If you are even considering thinking about considering cloth diapers, I encourage you to chat with Meredith (by the way, she doesn't sponsor my blog. Just giving a shout out where it's due)! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Front Load Washer Smells Bad: How To Save a Service Call

Use a long bit to get to the screws
My wife and I got a front load washer six-and-a-half years ago, just before Big E was born. We replaced our old washer and dryer, knowing that with the money we would save with cloth diapers we could buy a more efficient washer/dryer combination. We decided to go with a front load washer, knowing that we would save money due to the low water usage, and anticipating having our kids entertain themselves by watching the washing when they say, "I'm bored."

However, as anybody who has ever owned a front load washer can tell you, there are times when the washer starts to smell...a little bad. There are things that you need to do - keep the door propped open, occasionally wipe down the gasket - just to keep the washer from smelling funky. However, even when following the washing machine protocol, there are times when the washer still smells bad.

In more than six years of owning the washer, there have been three times when the smell has affected our clothes. Each of these times I have considered calling somebody to come service the machine, but have decided to troubleshoot the problem myself. And each of these times I have discovered the cause and have been able to easily remedy it myself. The first thing to try is running a load of hot bleach water. If the machine needs more help, run a cloth over every nook and cranny you can find, especially on the inside and outside of the rubber gasket at the front. My wife found lots of hidden stinky slime with this technique. If the smell still remains, it's time to get out the power tools.
Look for the clean out

So here is what to do if your front load washer smells bad and cleaning it following manufacturer's recommendations doesn't seem to work. By the way, this is for a Maytag Epic front load washer, but my research has shown me that many front load washers are similar in design.

1). Locate the screws holding the lower front panel on. Remove these screws using a long bit on a driver, or using a long manual socket driver. For my washer, there are two screws on either side of the bottom of the lower panel. Set the panel and screws aside.

2). Look for the clean-out. For the Maytag, it is a simple quarter-turn cap.

Wow. That slime smells as bad as it looks
3). Place a towel under the washing machine to catch the water that drains out. Turn the cap, remove the clean out, and find that sock that has been missing for months. Yes, occasionally a sock, a coin, or other treasures make their way through the screens and end up in this catch. This is typically where the bad smell comes from.

Please note, depending on how long this sock has been in the clean out, you may not want to do this right after eating. The smell can be overwhelmingly wretched.

4). Return the cap, making sure it is secure. Replace the front panel, return the screws, and enjoy the smell of fresh, clean clothes.

5). Brag to your significant other about how you de-funked the washing machine and made the whole house a better place to live.

Total time for this simple repair: 10 minutes or less

Cost savings: $60-$150 service call
A missing sock with a bonus coin

Feeling of satisfaction at finding the culprit for the stench: Priceless.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Planting a Winter Lawn: The Joys of Living in a Warm Climate

Assemble your team.
Here in sunny, warm Arizona, I face the same question every year: do I over seed my lawn with grass seed in order to have a winter lawn? Before I proceed, I feel that I must explain what this means for anybody who does not live in a desert. Here in the desert, we have two seasons - n

ice, warm weather, and insanely hot why-did-I-choose-to-live-on-the-sun weather. With our two seasons come two types of grass that will grow. The nice warm winter season utilizes rye grass, while the please-let-me-die summer is surrounded with nuclear bomb-proof Bermuda grass. If it is not clear by these descriptions which grass is nicer, then I have failed in my use of creative adjectives.
Ask for volunteers.

So the advantages of over seeding with rye grass in the winter are that it keeps the lawn a nice dark green, I get to continue to mow throughout the pleasant weather (yes, for me that is an advantage), and my kids have a soft outdoor carpet of grass to play on at the time when it is actually possible for them to play outside. Based on these advantages, I seldom think of the disadvantages, so here is how to over seed a winter lawn in Arizona.

1). Choose the time of planting. Rye should generally be planted when nighttime temperatures are in the 60s. About a week or so before the big day, start to cut the water back on the Bermuda lawn, helping the Bermuda grass to go dormant.

Gather your equipment.
2). Mow it. Cut the grass as low to the ground as you can, bagging the clippings. Depending on the thickness of the lawn, you may need to make multiple passes. This year, I had to mow my lawn three times, decreasing the height slightly each time.

3). Break up the thatch. The thatch is the layer on top of the soil made up of organic material, roots, dead grass, etc. There are blades that you can put on your lawn mower that will help break this up, or you can go at it with a hard rake. After breaking up the thatch, make one more pass with the lawn mower, bagging the clippings.
Never turn your back on the poop.

4). This is where it gets fun. Spread the seed on the lawn, using either a broadcast spreader, a drop spreader, or your hands. This is when my kids begin to have fun and work on the lawn with me, but it gets even better.

5). After the seed is spread on the lawn, bring on the manure! Yes, most Renaissance Dad readers know how much I love manure. This is yet another opportunity to share the smell of cow manure with your neighbors. This is a time when the kids not only get to say "poop" as much as they want to, they actually get to throw poop. The lawn only needs a thin layer, but it helps to get the seeds going. Actually, let's back up. Before you start with the manure, make sure your kids are not wearing their best shoes. Yes, I am speaking from experience.
Reload when empty.

6). Until the grass starts growing, you'll need to water two or three times per day for about five minutes per watering. After the grass starts growing, cut back to every three or four days until the weather cools off, then cut back to once per week or so.

7). Apologize to your spouse for the way you and the kids smell. Take a very, very long shower with lots of soap. Make sure you clean out your nostrils, or everything will still smell like manure. 

Poop mountains are important.
So why write this post? Am I bragging about my lawn? Not really. Am I rubbing it in most of the world's face that we have beautiful weather for the next six months while most of you don't? Maybe a little. Actually, I had so much fun with my kids throwing poop around the yard, that I just wanted to write about that. But I can't very well write about how my kids and I throw poop around every October without you all thinking that I'm nuts...unless I throw in some grass seed, and then it's totally normal.

Although maybe anybody who would take three kids to the backyard with many bags of manure is a little crazy...

Man he's got a big head...

Enjoy the fruits of your labor...

...with your team.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fun, Free Event for Kids: Lowe's Build and Grow Clinics

The end of a satisfying project
When Big E, my oldest daughter, was 2, I discovered a magical event at our local Lowe's Home Improvement store - Build and Grow clinics. These Build and Grow clinics occur about every two weeks or so and give kids the opportunities to build a wide variety of wood projects. The pieces are pre-cut and pre-drilled for nails, the picture instructions are easy for older kids to follow, and the wide variety of projects help keep the kids' interest. And did I mention that these clinics are FREE?!? That's right, the Lowe's clinics are FREE.

Each child gets a free apron, free safety goggles, the project, and an iron-on patch for their apron (I have used a variety of methods to attach the patches to the apron over the years, and I still find that, while the iron-on patches are great, nothing beats the speed of a hot glue gun). For each additional week, kids get the project and the patch.

Little E hammering away
As I was getting the kids ready to go to this week's clinic, I looked at Big E's apron (actually two aprons since we ran out
of space for the patches on the first one) and counted up the
projects that we have done together - 45. She and I have done
45 projects together. We regularly look at the apron and remember projects that she made as gifts: the pet leash holder for great-grandma, the planter trellis for mom for Mother's Day, the race for her little brother. And then as the number of kids have increased, we have added to the fun by taking brother and sister to the clinics.

So why the Build and Grow clinics? What is the point? Here are the things that I have learned and experienced through taking the kids to Lowe's:

Big A working her assembly skills
1). It is more important for the kids to have fun than for the project to be perfect. I have witnessed many parents at these clinics take over the project and hammer away while the kids sat on the floor. I admit that in the early years I was one of the parents who insisted on "helping" the kids put stickers on the projects so they "looked better." Eventually, however, I realized that the joy in the project is not in the finished
product, but in my kids finding satisfaction in completing a project. Be a help, but let your kids do the work.

2). This is a great opportunity for kids to learn to swing a hammer. Lowe's supplies little hammers for use during these clinics. As my kids have grown through the years, they have learned how to properly hold and swing a hammer. Having the pre-drilled holes helps alleviate any
frustration from bent nails.
Big E showing her independence

3). The projects make great gifts for parents and grandparents. Usually, around Mother's Day and Father's Day, Lowe's offers projects that would be appropriate gifts - picture frames, planters, keep sake boxes, etc. My kids have loved giving some of their projects to loved ones, and they can proudly tell them that they made it.

4). I love free interactive entertainment for kids. I love it even more when it is something that helps mold my kids into Renaissance Moms and Dads. The younger kids are getting great practice follow my verbal direction. My older daughter is gaining spacial reasoning skills that will help her assemble Ikea furniture all by herself someday. (I wish someone had taken my wife to Build and Grow clinics as a kid.)

Smiles and satisfaction for completed projects
If you haven't visited a Lowe's Build and Grow clinic with your kids, I highly recommend it. This is age appropriate for kids from 2 to 12 or so (I've seen parents with infants at these clinics, and that might be a bit young to learn to swing a hammer). If you don't have a Lowe's in your area, check with your local home improvement store and see if they have a similar program. I know that Lowe's also offers the kits to purchase through their website, so ordering some online is an additional possibility.
Four years of projects, 45 patches, and endless quality time

I can't tell you the number of times my hands have been hit with tiny hammers as I held pieces together for my kids to nail. Nor can I tell you the number of burns I have sustained hot gluing patches onto their aprons. And then there are the countless times I have tripped over small wooden toys laying around the house. And yet I smile as I'm writing this because I have even sweeter memories of time spent with my kids. The joy of my 2-year-old asking me, "Daddy, wanna go to Lowe's with ME?" The giggles as they hammer and put stickers on their projects. The smile on my wife's face when she receives the gift of two hours of solitude. These are the building blocks, figurative and literal, of what I love about Lowe's Build and Grow. This is why Lowe's is the place for a Renaissance Dad (Lowe's, if you're reading this and want to sponsor my blog, please let me know).

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Grilled Dark Chocolate Raspberry Burritos

Okay, I know that in my last post I promised a two part post about new tools, but this one is too good to pass up. I also know that a lot of my posts make "life changing" claims, from Limoncello to fall beverages, from Italian Feast to Lemon Pound Cake. But this, my friends, just may top them all. It is simple, takes merely four ingredients and a few minutes to make, and will cause your wife to want to get lovey-dovey no matter what kind of day she's had. Here is one of the simplest, most amazing desserts you will ever, and I mean EVER, make.

-Flour tortillas
-Fresh or frozen raspberries
-Chocolate chips


Spread butter on each side, making sure to get under the flap
1). Lay the tortilla out and place some chocolate chips and raspberries inside. When I first made these, I had a tendency to overload the burritos, causing them to spill out. You want a good number of berries and chocolate chips, but not too many.

2). Roll the tortilla into a burrito shape. If you don't know how to do this, start by folding opposite edges slightly in. These will be the top and bottom of the burrito. Next, roll one remaining side on top of your ingredients. Finally, fold the last remaining side on top of this last side, closing the burrito. If you still don't know how to fold a burrito, take a trip to Chipotle, order a burrito, and watch them roll it up.

3). Spread softened butter on the outside of the burrito. Be sure to spread butter under the last flap, sealing the burrito.
Flip it when it is crispy and slightly golden

4). Place the buttered burrito, flap side down, on a  skillet or grill preheated to medium. Yeah, I said grill. These are amazing grilled, but are also--well, amazing--in a skillet.

5). Now comes the difficult part of balancing patience with vigilance. If you wait too long to flip the burrito, you may burn it. If you flip it too early, you may end up spilling out the berries and chocolate chips. Depending on the temperature, two to three minutes per side tends to be just right. Flip the burrito and brown the other side.

6). Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or both!

These can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. I have found that refrigerating them helps harden the butter, which keeps the burrito from opening up when being placed on the grill or skillet. However, if you use frozen berries, they may juice up and soften the tortilla. And speaking of softening the tortilla, warming up the tortilla briefly before filling it will aid in the rolling of the tortilla and help prevent tears.
Serve with ice cream!

While I have never actually made them this way, someday I would like to use a burrito size tortilla for a jumbo dessert! I'm pretty sure that would be life changing.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Best Cordless String Trimmer: A Renaissance Dad Review

G-Max 40V String Trimmer

There are some life events that just give me chills and cause me such extreme joy--my wedding, the birth of my children, the purchase of a new house, and every time a power tool breaks. Yes, I know that the last one on the list may seem like a stretch, but I really do enjoy the passing of an old tool and the research that I get to put into a new tool. And I not only research every tool that I purchase, I shop around for the best deal on that tool.

That being said, it makes sense that if joy comes from one power tool that ceases to function, I will have even more joy when two power tools cease to function. And so I present the first of a two part blog on new power tools for the lawn.
Adjustable head angle
Next to a mower, a string trimmer is the most used tool in my yard. I have had several different types over the years--gas, corded, cordless--but have most recently stuck with cordless. I have had two Black and Decker cordless string trimmers, and both have been okay. They get the job done, but that's about it. The battery life has often been just barely enough. Usually, by the end of the yard, the string is no longer cutting the grass but merely massaging the grass into submission. So as that massage became less effective, I faced either replacing the battery or looking for a new tool. Since I wasn't thrilled with the trimmer in the first place, I decided to look around.

Adjustable, telescoping handle
Enter the Greenworks G-Max 40V string trimmer. This puppy has more bells and whistles than I know what to do with. The handle is adjustable, so I can get a comfortable angle for holding the tool. While this is not unique to the Greenworks string trimmer, one feature that aids in this is the adjustable tool head. The angle of the head can be changed, so the comfortable hold for me can still yield a parallel cut. MAGIC! This feature is amazing, and yet another example of how Greenworks engineers really think their products through.

Another wonderful feature is the on trigger. Most of my string trimmers have had a trigger-like button that you have to hold with one finger until your finger cramps and feels like it is going to fall off just to get violently massaged by the line powered by the slowly dying battery. Not on this bad boy. The trigger runs along the underside of the entire grip. This means that you can drum your fingers with the music while trimming, and you get constant power.

Full handle trigger

Speaking of power, the Greenworks G-Max 40V String trimmer is powered by the same batteries used in the Greenworks G-Max mower. The first time I used this trimmer I popped the secondary battery out of my mower, loaded it into the trimmer, and was able to complete the yard without skipping a beat. The Lithium-Ion battery means a steady, constant power supply with no power fade, and 40 volts means that you will have plenty of power to complete your yard. Lithium-Ion also means lighter weight, and this champ weighs in at a mere 9.2 pounds.

Shopping around for this trimmer can save you a little bit. It's about $150 for the tool with battery, or for a smaller yard, you can get by with the bare tool for about $70 if you have the Greenworks G-Max mower (using one battery for mowing, and the other for trimming).

Easy change from trimming to edging
If you haven't been able to tell, I am quite happy with this trimmer. However, there is one thing that I must warn you about. I have contacted Greenworks for various reasons over the past several months, and their customer service is terrible. I had a question for them, and after e-mailing with no response five times, I called. I was told that my question would be passed on and I would receive a response from a supervisor. That call never came, and subsequent calls and e-mails went unanswered. So while the products are fantastic, in my experience, the customer service is really bad. This is definitely something that should be taken into consideration when making a purchase like this. That said, the products are so good that I still chose to buy them.

So there you have it, Renaissance Dad readers. Another tool review, another happy Renaissance Dad, and another yard that has edges as crisp as a freshly ironed shirt.

Have fun with the yard work, because winter is upon us and we don't have much mowing time left. And by "we" I mean "you," because I live in Phoenix and mow all year long.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Naturally Make Your Pans Look New Again

We all have those pans in our houses. Those pans that are covered in baked on, nasty, sticky grease. Those pans that the dishwasher just can't get clean. And what do we do with those pans? We just keep on using them, building on the layers and layers of baked on, heated on grease.

The other day I was washing dishes, and I realized that I just couldn't take it anymore. We have a wonderful pan that had the bottom coated in grease. I didn't want to use steel wool or an SOS pad, since I don't like scratching up the pans. I have used baking soda in the past as a non-abrasive cleaner, and I don't know why I never did it with this pan.

So after cleaning the inside of the pan, I flipped it over and sprinkled some baking soda onto the caked on grease. I left it for about a minute, and then used a wash cloth and a little elbow grease to scrub the baking soda into the grease. The result was amazing.

I know this is not a huge secret. In fact, we use baking soda for so many things around the house - diaper pail deodorizer, non-chlorine whitener in the washing machine, toilet bowl cleaner, counter top stain remover, and glass-top range cleaner. Baking soda is a wonderful product to have around kids in place of harmful chemicals.

And speaking of avoiding harmful chemicals, let me tell you about this pan. I got this for my wife several years ago. This Ozeri pan is made in Germany with a stone-derived non-stick coating (Ozeri, if you're reading this, would you like to sponsor my blog? I could use another pan). We were
looking for a safe alternative to Teflon after a pan of ours started flaking pieces of the coating into our food. I did some research, tried a couple of plans, and finally settled on the Ozeri smooth stone-derived pan. It is amazing, and if you are not happy with your non-stick pan, you should check this one out.


So get your bulk supply of baking soda, find a chemical-free pan, and happy cooking, Renaissance Dads and Moms!