Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Power of Yes

I wrote a couple of months ago about getting back into running (if you missed it, you can read the article here). I am happy to say that my dog Kona and I have completed almost 350 miles in the past year, I am on my second pair of shoes, and, well, there are still some mornings when I just don't want to get out of bed early to run. However, during school breaks, when I don't have to get up so early, I enjoy going on a run (it's amazing how motivating it is when the sun is actually out). Yesterday, my seven year old asked if she could ride her bike with me and Kona. Sure! She's on a bike, I don't really have to slow down for her, so I let her ride and we had a lovely time together (of course I realized how much more difficult it is to run and have a conversation with my daughter). This morning, my five year old asked if she could join us and run with me. My initial answer was, "No, daddy is just going to run by himself today."

And then I stopped to think about why the default answer was no. Of course I had a hundred good reasons not to let her run with me. She will slow me down since she's not on a bike. It's 35 degrees outside. I can't run as far. I can't pay attention to one kid on a bike, one kid running, and an 80 pound dog on a leash while I'm trying to breathe. And the list could go on and on. And then I remembered the times I asked my parents for something ridiculous and they said yes. The times my dad went on a 4 mile walk with me so we could watch Monday Night Football. The dog they got me after years of asking for one. The firecrackers they let me buy when we went to Mexico (actually, I don't think they knew about those. Sorry mom and dad, but I sneaked those across the border and didn't get them from my friend Rami like I told you). This list could also go on and on.

I realized that my five year old was just asking to join me in something that I was already doing. Isn't that what I blog about? Isn't that the whole idea behind Renaissance Dad? Didn't I just write about answering yes when the kids ask if they can help (if you missed that one, you can read it here)? I'm not suggesting a blanket yes answer every time a kid asks a question. In hindsight, I'm glad that my parents never allowed me to jump into the pool from the roof of the house. I am saying that I am trying to search for my reason for a no answer to see if it is necessary before I give it. But there I was at 6:30 in the morning, without having had any coffee, trying to decide if my two daughters could go on a run with me. I was processing the best that I could and I couldn't come up with a legitimate reason not to let both come along. So I told them yes.

We bundled up, and with one on a bike, one running, and a dog on a leash, we went on a run. We managed a chilly 1.84 miles (a lot of that was me circling back to run with the kids), we had some good conversations, and I got great smiles from them throughout the run. And when we got home and walked through the door, my five year old said, "Daddy, I really like talking with you." Melt my heart, she could have asked for a pony and gotten one at that point. But I almost missed out on that because I was more interested in an average pace below nine minutes than time with my daughters. But I think that my 11:41 paced run will probably be one of the most memorable of 2015.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Teaching Kids Generosity: Giving as a Family

I love Christmas. I love decorations, and family, and gifts, and all that Christmas means. But it is so easy for me to get wrapped up in the craziness of the season that I miss out on what Christmas really means. Add on top of that the importance of teaching my kids how to get more excited about giving than receiving. Christmas can seem overwhelming.

Enter the Fritzes. The Fritzes are friends of ours who are great at getting their family focused on a singular cause. They regularly have fundraisers and raise money for causes that parents and kids can all get excited about. It began with two five-year-olds who wanted to raise money to help people in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. It is a remarkable story (read about it here), and I have often wondered how we could be more like the Fritzes (aside from ordering WWFD bracelets as a reminder).

This season we got a message from a friend of ours who lives in Rwanda and works for Azizi Life, an organization that works with Rwandan artisans to help sell products at a fair wage. They are beginning bee keeping endeavors, and our kids got excited about it. Really excited. As we told them about people who were wanting to be bee keepers as a way to provide for their families, we decided that we wanted to help. So we came up with the idea to give a Christmas present to Jesus. Here's what we're doing. We decided to look for ways to make extra money, and that money would go into a bag that hangs up by our stockings. At the end of the Christmas season, whatever is in the bag will be our gift that will go to help Azizi Life bee keepers begin their work.

Here's what I didn't expect. Our kids went nuts. First they went to their piggy banks. I thought that maybe they would pull out some of their money, but they emptied their piggy banks and put everything in the bag. Then they started looking for things to sell. The neighbors were having a garage sale, so all three kids went through their toys, loaded up a wagon, and went to latch on to the neighbor's garage sale. On top of that, Big E, my seven year old, decided that she would make and sell fresh squeezed lemonade at the garage sale (all of this with permission from our neighbors; I don't want to get excommunicated from the neighborhood). Then they started looking for other ways to make money. The entrepreneurial spirit really took over. I've been listing and selling things on Craigslist for them, and every time something sells, they excitedly take the cash and put it in the bag. I have no idea how much money is in the bag, but I am so excited for the joy in giving that I see growing in my kids.

I grew up watching my parents' generosity, specifically my dad's. I don't think that I have ever gone over to my parents' house when my dad has not offered me something to take home. And he is like this with everybody. I'm amazed that my parents have anything left in their house with how generous my dad is, and my kids are seeing this and doing the same. What this means during Christmas is that our kids' excitement comes in the form of wanting to see others open up their presents, instead of getting excited about what they're getting. They do not have lists of things that they want for Christmas; in fact, when a family member asks what one of my kids is hoping for for Christmas, I usually have no idea, since we usually just talk about what we're getting for other people.

So when I expected that my kids would do some extra chores to make a few dollars for a charity, what I saw was them modeling generosity. What they taught me was that we should look at everything that we have and be willing to give some things away to help those who could use it. I don't expect that this is the last Christmas that we will have a cause to give to. But I do expect that I will continually learn about generosity from my family as they remind me of ways that we can help others. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Family Movie Night: How to Make Your Favorite Movies Kid Friendly

Before my wife and I had kids, our movie nights were seamless. We could watch our favorite movies in perfect peace. Once we reached the point with our kids when we had family movie nights, we ran through the standard Disney and Pixar movies, and then my wife and I started to introduce our kids to our favorites. It's amazing the difference between watching Back to the Future as a couple and watching it with a four- and a six-year-old. Brow sweating, hands shaking, I watched with my finger on the mute button, waiting for the inappropriate language that I knew was coming, and dreading the inappropriate content that I forgot about. So we were faced with the option of not having family movie night until the kids are older, being stuck with repeats of G rated movies for the next 8 years, or sweating through every family movie night, waiting to mute, fast forward or pause.

Enter our family movie night magic maker: ClearPlay. In searching for a way to find edited movies, I discovered the ClearPlay Blu-ray player. This player works with DVDs and Blu-ray discs, and it has streamable filters that allow families to choose what is acceptable and what should be filtered out. Basically, ClearPlay is about putting the control into a family's hands without having to worry about content. Users are able to set filter levels for profanity, sex/nudity, substance abuse, vulgarity, violence, sensuality, and many more categories. You can choose levels of no filtering, least filtering, medium filtering, and most filtering for nine different categories. ClearPlay will either mute the movie during filter levels, or will skip the filtered out moment or scene. There are over 4,500 titles that have filters, with movies added every day.

ClearPlay has definitely enhanced our family movie night experience. We got to kick off our fun old fashioned Christmas by enjoying one of my favorite Christmas movies, Christmas Vacation, and the only sweat I experienced was from laughing so much and watching my seven-year-old's face as Clark Griswold flew down the hill on his greased up saucer sled.

By the way, this is not a sponsored post. I have not received any payment or incentive from ClearPlay. These are my unbiased opinions.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hybrid Bunkbed: Bed When You Need It, Space When You Don't

Little E loved helping with the screws

When my wife was pregnant with child #3 three years ago, I knew that space would be a precious commodity in our house. I guess that's why bunk beds were invented, so I decided to build one for my girls. They have loved their bunk beds, and so far they have remained in one piece, so I guess I did something right. As Little E has grown up, and as he was ready for a big boy bed, he wanted a bunk bed like his sisters. The problem is that he doesn't share a room with a sibling. Now we regularly have a need for another bed as people come to stay with us, but I started wondering if a bunk bed was really the solution. Actually, if I'm really honest, I thought, "Been there, done that." I was really looking for a challenge, and that challenge was this: could I build a bed that was a transformer - a bed when we need it, but out of the way when we didn't? Kind of like a hybrid bunk bed/murphy bed. And the answer was yes!

And the measuring.
The bed project took a little more than a month, although it was a really busy time at school, so I only worked on it in bits and pieces. The total cost was about $200, which included everything except for the mattresses.

I started with builder grade lumber, 2x4's and 2x6's. I planed them down to our desired thickness, and we built the frame using pocket screws. I used 2x6's for the long rails and for the legs. I used 2x4's for the inside rail supports (what the mattress sits on) and to run between the legs. The end of the bed has rungs that double as a ladder.
And the screws.

I decided that we wanted the bed to be short enough for goodnight kisses, so I kept the top bunk at 45 inches tall. The width of a twin mattress is 38 inches, so I made the bottom of the top bunk 40 inches to accommodate the folding up bottom bunk. I installed four rails across the top and bottom bunk, and cut plywood to lay across these rails. The long horizontal rails were attached to the legs using steel brackets and carriage bolts, all spray painted black to blend in better with the stain.

For the bottom bunk, I essentially built a box that would fit within the legs of the bed. I then installed hinges to help support the bed as it folds up. Finally, I installed a barrel lock onto the front of the bottom bunk, and I drilled a hole in the leg where the barrel meets up as the bottom bunk is folded up. This prevents the bottom bunk from falling down as little ones are play or reading in the space under the bed. 

The gang's all helping, and keeping safe. Osha approved.
Once all of the pieces were assembled, I sanded, and sanded, and sanded. The planer did a good job on everything, but of course there were areas that got dinged up when I was assembling the bed, and there were joints that were almost but not quite flush.

After everything was sufficiently sanded, I stained the wood using a red mahogany stain. After appropriate drying time, I varnished the wood using spar urethane partially diluted with mineral spirits. I have only done this for my past two woodworking projects, and I will never do anything else. I called in to one of my favorite radio programs, Rosie on the House. This is a father/son team that deals with home improvement, and the show I called in to was when they were talking about finishing furniture. The advice given was that mineral spirits help thin out the spar urethane, which causes a more even coat with no bubbles or brush strokes. In fact, I use a rag to rub in the finish, and this bed finished flawlessly.
Bed folded down when we need it.

After a new paint job in Little E's room, the bed was ready to be installed. I drove two screws through the legs and into studs in the wall to prevent any wobble. Finally, I installed dimmable lights on the underside of the top bunk. This provides reading light when reading underneath, or additional light when Little E is playing. It also provides a way for Little E to control the light, which was a steep learning curve for two weeks at bedtime. I think we finally have that under control, and now we merely have light for reading.

One of the greatest thing about this project was Little E's continual joy and enthusiasm about every step. He was so excited that he finally gets to be a big boy, and his engineering skills really came out as he helped me with each step. Even when he wasn't handing me screws or holding pieces together, he was playing with scraps of wood and making designs in the sawdust.

Who knows, maybe some day we will be like Rosie and Romey Romero.
Bed folded up for a reading/play nook.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Painting Tips: "Daddy, Can We Help?"

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I used to be the remodel king. My wife would go on a trip, I would do a moderate to extensive renovation, and my wife would come back surprised. One time, when she was gone for a three day trip, I walled up the door to our family room, cut a hole in a different wall, and installed french doors. When she came home, she exclaimed, "That wasn't there when I left!" And then we had kids.

So as she left for a two day work trip this week, I decided that I would paint my son's room to surprise her. With three kids home. By myself. Yeah, I didn't really think that one through, did I?

The room was peach and orange and was definitely in need of being updated for a three-year-old. So here are some tips to painting with kids, with a couple of additional tricks thrown in.

1) Fill the holes. I use joint compound, and I use two putty knives - a small one (1-inch) to apply the compound, and a larger one (4-inch) to smooth out the edges. This was a great introductory experience for my kids. They helped me find holes and enjoyed helping with the easy to reach holes. Of course I just really enjoyed the way my 3-year-old says "spackle."
Even princesses can spackle

2) Get a good paint brush for cutting. In college I spent one summer painting dorm rooms. We didn't waste time putting up blue tape for the edges. Instead, we used a good angle brush to cut the edges. Of course it was easy with white walls butting up against white ceilings. I then spent a couple of years using blue tape for edges. Eventually I realized that this was a huge time waster, the edges were pretty crappy even with the tape, and I ended up with more paint in undesired places. I use a Purdy 2-inch angled brush for cutting, and it gets the job done. It's also great to see the paint splotches on the handle from all of the previous paint projects. Thank you Kim, my mother-in-law, since I believe you were the one who bought the 2-inch Purdy angled brush. Or inspired me to buy it. Or were here when I bought it.
Meticulous about her work

3) Let the kids "help" with corners. Where two walls come together that will be the same color, let the kids practice their brush painting skills. They need to practice someplace, and I would rather not have them practice along the bottom against the carpet.

4) Speaking of carpet, I hate painting the baseboards. I inevitably get paint on the carpet, even when I try to use blue tape. However, I found that using a wide putty knife does the trick. I use a 12-inch putty knife and stick it between the carpet and the baseboards. This acts as a barrier between the carpet and baseboard. Get the putty knife under the bottom of the baseboard, paint along the putty knife, being sure to brush up 5-inches or so, and slide the putty knife to the next section. I ended up with no paint on the carpet when painting Little-E's room this way.
Painting the baseboards

5) Let the kids practice rolling skills in the middle of the wall. Be sure that the roller is not dripping with paint, and let the kids roll back and forth. Show them how to go over the spots to make sure that the wall is properly covered, especially if you have plaster or deeply textured walls. Know that you will panic as they get close to newly replaced outlets, the carpet, or the dog, but remember that all of these things can be cleaned. Take some deep breaths and tell the kids that they're doing a great job.

6) If the kids get bored with painting and want to play outside, and if you happen to have a homemade teeter totter outside that you have previously blogged about, you might want to keep the window open. This will help you prevent injuries when you hear one of your kids say, "I'm going to stand on this end, and then the two of you jump on that end so I can catapult into the sky." Yes, windows should stay open not solely for paint fumes.
Look at that precision

7) Have patience. Numerous times while painting Little E's room I thought, "Why did I decide to do this with my wife out of town?" There were some things that were frustrating with the kids, but in the grand scheme of things nothing irrevocable happened, and as parents, that's usually the most important thing. Especially when one spouse is out of town. Enjoy the opportunity that you have to do a project with your kids.

 Like most jobs that I do around the house, while the kids add a certain amount of chaos, they also make me laugh and make the job more bearable. So take a moment and enjoy a chore with your children. You will have more fun, and you will teach them life skills.

Just call me "Tom Sawyer"
Just watch out for those catapults.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

DIY Plinko: Great for Carnivals, Birthdays, Church, or Chore Selection

I am in my 13th year of being an educator, and almost all schools have one thing in common: school carnivals. When I taught, each homeroom teacher was responsible for a booth, and the competition was to see which homeroom would bring in the most tickets. Being the "mildly" competitive person that I am, I always inspired my homeroom to think of a booth that would not only win, but win by a long shot. One of my favorite booths from my years of teaching was the Plinko board.

For those of you who may not know what Plinko is, you obviously never spent time as a kid sick at home watching The Price Is Right from 10:00 to 11:00. It's the game where you drop a round or spherical object down a board, and it bounces its way towards a series of chutes at the bottom which label the prizes.

So as my school prepares for its Fall Carnival this year, of course I volunteered to build a Plinko board. Having done it before once or twice, I learned several things that helped make this the best Plinko board ever. The beauty of this is that it cost nothing. I did not spend a penny on it, since all of the pieces were from scrap, the paint was leftover spray paint that I have been looking for ways to get rid of, it only took about three hours, and the time spent with my kids was fantastic. So here we go.
2) Offset the marks for the nails

Cost: $0 (all materials were scrap materials on hand)
Time: about 3 hours from start to finish
Skill level: moderate

1) Decide how large the Plinko board will be. I found a scrap of plywood in the alley that was 33" x 48". I wanted it a little narrower, so I cut it down to 30" x 48".

2) Determine what type of object you will drop down it. Ping pong balls or plastic practice golf balls are my preferred spheres. Measure the width, and add enough additional space so the ball can fit through easily. This will be the spacing between the nails. For the practice golf pall, the ball is 1 3/4" wide, I added 3/4", so my nails are spaced 2 1/2" apart. Draw parallel lines down the board using this spacing. Then, start with the first line and draw marks through the line across using this same spacing.

5) Drill each cross mark
3) You need to offset the nails for the game to work. So on the second line, take half of the spacing and mark that (1 1/4" for my spacing). Now go across the second line and make the marks every 2 1/2".

4) Laying a long straight edge down the board, copy the marks from the first line on every other line (third, fifth, etc.). Each of these cross marks will have a nail sticking out. Then copy the marks from the second line on every other line (fourth, sixth, etc.). You now have the placement of all of the nails. For a 30" x 48" board, I used more than 150 nails.

5) Using a drill bit smaller than the nails that you will use, drill a hole through the board on one of the cross marks. Drive a nail into that hole to ensure that the nail is snug. If the nail is not tight, use a smaller drill bit and test again. Proceed to drill a hole through each of the cross marks. Make sure to drill through the board.
7) Begin nailing into the holes

6) Once all of the holes have been drilled the back side will be quite splintery. Gently scrape all of the splintered wood off (I used a small steel bar for this). Lightly sand the board on both sides.

7) Either on sawhorses or on concrete, drive a nail into each of the holes, being careful not to drive the nail all the way into the board. They need to stick out a little farther than the diameter of your sphere. This is a great time to use a little helper to either hand you nails or practice their nailing skills. For anybody who is Type A and feels that the spacing all needs to be perfect, remember that this is a game of chance and the only necessity is that the ball fits between all of the nails.

9) Ensure that balls cannot get stuck
*Note: the first time I built this I drove the nails all the way through until the head was flush against the board. This meant that the pointy part of the nail was sticking out. Since it was for a carnival and I didn't want a kid to get impaled on my board, I ended up having to buy a sheet of Plexiglas to cover the front. This was quite an expense. Since I wanted to spend $0 on this board, I decided that head of the nails would be safe sticking out and I can skip the cost of the Plexiglas.

10) Create chutes at the bottom.
8) Cut the legs and the pieces for the frame. I used scrap 2" x 4" for the legs and bottom of the board, and 1" x 2" for the sides. Attach these pieces to the board.

9)  Have a small partner practice on the board and make sure that there are no areas where the ball gets stuck. For any of these areas, add extra nails to divert the balls away from the "danger spots." Additionally, look for areas to add places where the ball can land in the middle of the board for high value prizes by adding additional nails to capture the ball. The balls seldom land here because of the way they bounce through the board, hence the high value.

12) Have fun!
10) For the bottom, cut some small scrap for slots where the balls will land. I cut the pieces with 45 degree angles to direct the balls away from the higher value slots. This creates a little more excitement. Attach these chutes to the bottom board, using wider spaces for lower values and narrower spaces for higher values, ensuring that the balls will actually fit into the narrower spaces (unless you want to be really mean).

11) Paint the board. I had seven cans of leftover spray paint from various projects, so I sprayed a background of black. I then lightly sprayed the other colors on top to create some depth to the colors.

12) Have fun.

11) Layered paint
 This is great for carnivals, church activities, or parties. But I also see the possibility for having kids choose their chores with this board. The possibilities are endless. But as is the case with most projects, the bulk of the joy comes in the building, especially with helpers.

For anybody who builds one of these, I would love to have you post pictures and tell me about your experience building it and what you built it for.

Bottom Detail

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Parenting Game Changer: Letting Your Kids Help

I love doing projects with my kids, whether it's cooking, building, assembling, constructing, or gardening. As I started a project this past week with and for my son, I started to wonder why I enjoy projects with my kids. Why do I enjoy building furniture with my kids when it takes so much longer with their help? Why is gardening fun with them when I could do it so much more quickly without them? Why is making pancakes more enjoyable when they are creating such a mess? And now is confession time - in the moment these things are not always a lot of fun, and I often don't have the most patience with my kids. So why do I do it? Why do I make my projects more difficult by asking and insisting that my kids participate with me?

1) My kids can learn practical skills. They can learn how to hammer, drill a hole, measure flour, or spread manure. I can teach them how to measure twice, cut once, and then trim, trim, trim until a piece of wood is just the right length. I can teach them tool safety, kitchen safety, and any other kind of safety possible.

2) My kids can teach me patience. It is easier
when I can move at my own speed with any project, but having my kids with me helps me slow down and work on patience.

3) My kids learn to participate in my world, just as I participate in their world when I play with them. As a family, we love doing things together, and for my kids, that means doing things that are important to mommy and daddy just as we do things that are important to them.

4) I enjoy spending time with them. Sure, this is an easy answer. I love spending time with my kids, and having them help me with projects is a way to double dip - get something done while spending time with them. There's nothing wrong with leveraging time, is there?

5) I love them. The times when I am working on something with my kids and their eyes sparkle, they giggle, or they get excited about putting a nail into the peg board, these are the times that I live for.

Is it easy to have my kids participate in every project? No, it really isn't. But is it worth it? Absolutely.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets: Tastier and Healthier

The cast

Our family recently made the Gluten Free move. It was not an easy choice. Part of me wanted to go my whole life without feeling well if it meant that I didn't have to give up pound cake, donuts, hamburger buns, and all of the other wonderful, gluteny things. But part of me wanted to listen to my wife's reason that our kids were having health issues that we could isolate to gluten intolerance. Oh, wonderful gluten, it has been a fun ride, but I must find a way to live without you.

Enter my fabulous wife, who decided that we needed to find a way to continue with some of our favorite family recipes while maintaining the strict gluten free diet. And boy do I love her chicken nuggets. So here is a delicious, easy chicken nugget recipe, made gluten free and entirely from Trader Joe's ingredients (all of which are available from any grocery store, but if you have a Trader Joe's close by, why not go there?).


- Three large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 4 1/2 cups corn flakes
- plain yogurt (enough to cover chicken, about 1/2 cup
- 1.5 t. garlic powder
The curtain call
- 1.5 t. paprika
- 3/4 t. thyme
- 1/2 t. salt
- grapeseed oil


1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2) Cut up the chicken into nugget sized pieces and coat in yogurt (buttermilk may be used, but the thicker the creamy base the better the coating sticks).

3) While the chicken sits in the yogurt, run the cornflakes through a food processor or blender to completely crumble them (note: chewing them to pulverize them makes them soggy, so don't try that. Trust me on this one). Add the other dry ingredients and mix well.

4) Add grapeseed oil to a shallow baking dish to coat the bottom.

5) Plop some of the chicken pieces into the dry mixture and coat well.

The audience's appreciation
6) Put the chicken pieces in the pan to get some oil on the bottom of the pieces and then flip the pieces. The oil on the top and bottom helps to make delicious, crispy nuggets.

7) Bake for 30 minutes, until crispy golden.

8) Ration the amount your kids take or you will not get any.

These are a big hit in our house, so much so that we don't even miss the gluten-heavy mixture that we used in the past. Dare I say it's even better now? Yes, I dare.

So here's to healthier, tastier eating.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Kids Up Close and Personal with Heavy Machinery: A Renaissance Dad Field Trip

Note the OSHA approved closed toe shoes.
I know that almost any parent has had the experience of spending a lot of money on a birthday or Christmas gift for a child, only to have the child find more enjoyment in the box, ribbons, or wrapping. That can sometimes be a frustrating experience. It can be the same with outings. I am glad that we have a zoo membership. Most of the time when we go to the zoo the kids spend more time playing on the playground or on the splash pad, things that cost nothing in most areas around our house. Kids have a wonderful, uncanny knack at finding joy in the simple things in life. Sometimes.

When I take my kids out and about in society, I usually don't want to spend a lot of money entertaining them. And after our umpteenth trip to Lowe's (especially when there are no Build and Grow clinics happening),  we need to find something else to do.

Getting a run down on all of the equipment in the cab
 Enter the CAT plant. In a conversation with a friend of mine, I discovered that her husband worked for CAT. And we just happen to have a CAT plant fairly close to our house. And we also happen to have kids who can name every type of heavy machinery. And light up when they see "working" diggers out and about. And correct library books that incorrectly name parts (like the book that calls backhoe stabilizers "legs", to which my three-year-old always says, "Daddy! Those are stabilizers, not legs. Humph!"). So when I heard that I had a connection to the CAT plant, I decided that it might be time to take a Renaissance Dad field trip.

Big E trying her hand at the wheel loader.
We met our friend early in the morning at the CAT plant. We spent an hour or so getting to see the cabs of the machines, touring the plant, and otherwise getting up close and personal with all kinds of awesomeness. Personally, I contemplated leaving my education career and spending more time around tons of steel and hydraulics and chest pounding toys for big kids. I did have to contemplate this trip and decide if it was really for the kids or if it was just something that I always wanted to do. In the end, I decided that it was something that was for the kids, and a lot of my enjoyment came in their wide-eyed stares, their exploration, and their overall squeals of joy and laughter as they got to play on the equipment that they otherwise just get to see working in the distance.

And the best part about the trip to the CAT plant is that I didn't have to worry about the kids enjoying the empty box more than the experience.

Big A working the mini excavator like a boss!
Now if I could just figure out how to get a mini excavator to play with in my yard...

Little E figuring out the articulated dump truck.

Big E is ready for daddy to rent a skid loader.
The sadness when it is time to leave the CAT plant.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Easy, Inexpensive Repair to a Playhouse Roof

About a year ago our neighbors were getting rid of their playhouse. Their daughter was entering middle school, and they knew that our kids would love playing with it. Boy, do they know our kids. They are constantly in this house, making mud pies, sweeping, decorating, and just playing. I don't know why they love their "chores" in their playhouse so much more than their actual chores.

The playhouse sat with its plastic roof baking in the hot Arizona sun. If you have never experienced Arizona, our sun does wonders for "indestructible" plastic. As the plastic aged, it became brittle. Did I mention that the house also sat under the edge of our lemon tree? So this past winter, as we were shaking lemons off of the tree, plastic shrapnel was flying. I could hear Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" playing every time a lemon landed on the roof and plastic sprayed in the air. By the time the lemon harvest was over, the roof was a roof in the loosest of senses. Something had to be done.
The old roof has seen better days.

I had a package of shingles that was left when we bought the house, and I also had a roll of roofing felt from a shed project that I did years ago. Essentially, I had almost all of the supplies needed to re-roof the kids' playhouse. If only I had some inexpensive labor...

The kids and I started by dismantling the plastic roof. I took care of all of the small, sharp pieces. They took care of the fasteners inside of the house. After about fifteen minutes, the roof was off. I was very happy to see a recycling symbol on the underside of the plastic, so we threw the pieces into our recycling bin and moved on to the construction phase.

Big A diligently unscrewing the old roof.
The next steps were to add horizontal braces for the plywood, screw the plywood into the braces and edge of the house, adhere a drip edge, felt and shingles, and sit back and enjoy. Here's the process in a little more detail:

1) We installed a horizontal cross piece at the apex of the roof using 2 x 2 scrap. This gave us a place to fasten the plywood where it came together.

2) We measured the roof line and cut scrap particle board to fit. We then screwed this down, making sure that the screws went into the existing and newly installed cross pieces. Note - please check the length of the screw. The first screws I used were too long and went through the horizontal pieces. Normally I would be fine with something like this, but my kids' heads go into this playhouse, so I really didn't want the sharp ends of screws sticking down.

3) I installed a drip edge around the perimeter of the roof. This was the only supply that I had to purchase. The drip edge prevents water from running into the edge of the wood roof base.
Such hard workers!

4) I installed the felt using construction adhesive. I didn't want to do anythings with nails, since I kind of like my kids' heads, eyes, noses, and every other part that goes into the playhouse. I didn't want to think about them messing around and smashing into the ends of nails sticking down, so I decided that construction adhesive would be my best friend for this project. I used clamps to keep the edges down while the adhesive was drying.

5) Starting at the bottom edge of the roof, I started installing shingles. I used construction adhesive for these as well. As I got to the end of a row, I cut the last piece with a utility knife to line up with the edge. I then started on that side with the next run, alternating directions.

Installation of the horizontal supports
In total, I spent less than $20 on this project. The kids now have a playhouse that will keep them dry when they're playing in the rain, will keep them in shade when they're playing in the sun, and will keep them safe since they no longer have to play around shards of broken plastic. Aside from all that, the new roof greatly increased the resale value of the house, which is great in the sellers market that we are experiencing right now in Arizona.

Now if I could only get the kids to replace the drapes and change out the faucet.
Plywood and drip edge installed

Last run of shingles clamped and drying

Little E is thrilled with the result!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Turning a Closet Into an Office Nook

Prying off carpet strips
When I became a teacher 13 years ago, one of the things that I loved about summers was the time that I could spend working on house projects. I would begin tearing the house apart a couple of days after summer break began. I think that there was a part of me that missed the energy and intensity that kids bring to a school, and keeping myself busy with power tools was a way to compensate.

And then two things happened, almost simultaneously. I moved into full time administration, which meant that I lost my summers. And my wife and I started having kids, which meant that we lost all of our money. And time. And sanity. The number and intensity of house projects significantly decreased.

Checking the bases for level before painting
But this summer I had a couple of weeks off, and I have been feeling the "House Project Itch" for quite some time. Much like The Ring pulling Frodo towards Mordor, I could not resist the call that my power tools had to do something significant. With the urging and vision of my wife, we decided that it was time to gut one of the closets in our bedroom and turn it into a desk/study space. Now the time off solved the problem of not having summers off, but we still have the kids/money issue. So the challenge was not only to complete the transformation of the closet, but also to do it within a $150 budget. Challenge accepted!
Wiring the outlet from a nearby outlet

Enter the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. This place is fantastic! Habitat for Humanity is an organization that builds decent, affordable housing for people in need. And their ReStore is like Goodwill but with home goods and building materials. I perused the ReStore looking for inspiration, and I found it. I decided that I would use an oak filing cabinet that I had at home, along with a cabinet from ReStore, as the base of the desk. I found a beautiful piece of granite that wold fit the space perfectly, and some bamboo flooring that would be great underneath all of it. Even better, as I was looking around in their store, I saw that they were having a 50% off sale the following weekend. I decided that I would wait for the sale while I prepped the area.
Helpers are great for those long floor boards.

After removing the rad 1980s gold-framed mirror-doors and pulling out all of our stuff, I removed all of the shelves and brackets. My plan was to keep this as an open study area, so I wanted storage that looked nicer than wire shelves and brackets. I pulled out the carpet, and patched and painted the space (by the way, I bought the paint from Lowe's, which was also having a 50% paint sale. I'm really beginning to think that 50% off and I have a future together). I also cut into a side wall to add an outlet. My canvas was now blank, and I was inspired.

 I purchased the materials from ReStore for a total of $45. And yes, this was for an almost new piece of granite that was finished with a decorative edge on the front side, along with a used base cabinet and new bamboo flooring. The cabinet and filing cabinet were not at the same height, so I used my circular saw to cut the bottom off of the base cabinet. I used a level to make sure that they were the same height, and then both pieces got several coats of interior semi-gloss paint.
Painted cabinet from plywood

Next up was the storage cabinets. I purchased two sheets of maple plywood from Lowe's (unfortunately they were not 50% off), and, knowing that my upper cabinets would be 16" deep, I had the guy at Lowe's cut one sheet lengthwise in three pieces, giving me three 16" x 8' shelf pieces. This was a lot easier than me trying to cut the plywood at home on my table saw.

In essence, the storage cabinets that I decided on were all boxes, they were all three sides and some screws. I decided what heights I wanted for everything; for example, I wanted the printer the same height as the desk, so the first two spaces were a total of 31". The printer is 18" wide, so the base cabinets were 20" deep, giving me enough space to accommodate the printer. And then it was merely a matter of building boxes to stack on top of each other, and then painting them the same color as the base cabinets.
Clamped spacers ensure even cabinets

I built an upper cabinet that was the width of the space and 18" tall, with the top being a shelf for high storage. Now here is the oops moment. Because the opening had a lip, I couldn't just slide the assembled shelf into place. So it went in at an angle. But because the diagonal of the shelf is longer than the width of the shelf, it doesn't just move into place. So I tried to force it, and ended up with a hole the size of a softball in the painted wall. So now I had some drywall repair to add to the list of things to finish up. I had to disassemble the shelf, get it into place in the opening, and then reassemble it. And here I would like to formally apologize to Mrs. Wade, my high school geometry/trigonometry teacher, for disregarding the basic rules for geometric shapes and causing some extra work for myself.
Oops. Sorry, Mrs. Wade.

Upper cabinet in place, I touched up all of the paint areas that were chipped or scratched in installation. Power strips were plugged in, a back shelf was put in place, holes were cut into various cabinets for hidden running of cables and wires, and the desk is complete. Almost. I'm planning on building some doors for the upper cabinets and the top side cabinet, but that will have to wait for now. I will probably include those in a future post, but for now, summer is over, and I am back to work.

Total time: About 5 days
Measure twice, and then have somebody competent measure for you.
Total cost: $175
Total satisfaction: Significant

Ready and waiting for cabinet doors