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!