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.