Monday, November 25, 2019

Eight Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination

When my wife and I bought our first house, I was so excited to decorate the outside for Christmas. In reality, my lights probably didn't amount to much, but I was proud of my little house and the decorations we had. That first year, I bedazzled the house with about 750 lights. In my mind, I blinded my neighbors and caused the nuclear power station to flip the switch to the backup generator a la Christmas Vacation.

In the years following, I have shopped after-Christmas sales and added to my stockpile of decorations. Now, with 12,000 lights illuminating my house, it has gotten to the point that I need to begin putting lights up at the end of October in order to have the job completed by Thanksgiving Day--the day of the big reveal.

Over the past 20 years, I've not only accumulated a lot of tiny lights, but also learned a few things that I can share with you. So here are the Renaissance Dad Tips and Tricks for Holiday Exterior Illumination.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Thanksgiving Tree: Helping Kids (and Parents) Learn Gratitude

Fall is a wonderful time in Arizona. The temperature finally shifts from surface-of-the-sun to absolutely perfect. We are able to open our windows and go outside. And while most of the country is raking up leaves and preparing for snow, we are getting ready to enjoy our sunshine for the next six months.

But, just like the rest of the country, as we move into November, we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. As parents, we look for ways to teach our children thankfulness. Enter our Thanksgiving Tree.

Every year, we crumble up brown packing paper in the shape of a tree and cut out dozens of paper leaves. Each evening, before dinner, each member of the family takes a leaf and writes down something that we are thankful for. The one rule is that whatever it is cannot be repeated. We get things like, "I am thankful for family" (sweet), to, "Vitamins" (weird), to, "Quesadillas" (who's not?). But as we move through the season, and the tree gets more and more leaves, our kids are learning to be grateful for all of the things that they have.

And I've come to realize that my gratitude increases. On the bad days at work, I am still thankful for my job. When breakfast is a half-warm piece of toast because I didn't have time to let it actually toast, I'm thankful that I have something to eat. When I get cut off by another driver on my way to work, I am thankful that I have a car, and thankful that my horn works (yeah, I'm still learning). The fact of the matter is that the Thanksgiving Tree is just as much for me as it is for all of us. So whether it is leaf shaped papers taped to a crumpled paper trunk, a notebook with a list, or a stack of index cards, I encourage you to practice gratitude for the next couple of weeks.

Oh, and by the way. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 28, 2019

31 Prayers for My Children

Many years ago I came across a list of 31 things to pray for your children. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, so I kind of tucked it in the back of my head for a "someday something to do." About three years ago I decided to do something with this list.

I whittled the list down to a single word or phrase for each of the things to pray for your children. Then I asked my mom, who is one of the most talented artists I know, if she would write each of the words on a heavy piece of paper. She not only wrote the words, but she did a cool handwritten border around the mat. While she was working on this, I made a frame for it out of walnut. This joint effort was a Mother's Day present for my wife.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

How to Seed a Pomegranate in Under Two Minutes

One of the most prolific fruit trees in my yard is our pomegranate tree. We've had our tree for a few years, and this year, finally, we got a bumper crop. Once I got the first ripe fruit, though, I realized how much I hate pomegranates. Not because I dislike the fruit, but because I dislike getting the edible part out.

If you've never seeded a pomegranate, let me explain what it's like. Imagine 1,000 tiny grapes all superglued to tissue paper, tightly packed in a leather ball.

I spent years trying to find the best way to seed them, reading all the infinite wisdom that the internet has to offer on the subject.

"Break them up submersed in water and all of the inedible parts float, while the seeds sink." Nope. The inedible parts sink as well, and—45 minutes of seed-removal later—half of the seeds go down the drain with the water.

"Roll the pomegranate with the ends cut off, pulling out the seeds as they loosen." Insane. This creates a mess and most of the seeds end up bursting on your fingers. And 45 minutes later you're trying to scrub the red stains off your counter.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Sour Cream Lemon Pound Cake

One of the first things I learned to bake was pound cake. Then, when we moved into a house with a massive lemon tree, I started looking for ways to use up our lemons. It was natural that I would combine my love of pound cake with a plethora of lemons. This is another recipe that has become a favorite because we're constantly looking for ways to use our lemons, and this also makes a great treat to share with coworkers.


Prep time - 30 minutes

Bake time - 1 hour

Yield - 1 loaf (one serving. Just kidding. Not really)

Ingredients:

- 1 stick of butter, room temperature* (set out the night before)
- 2 large eggs, room temperature*
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (3 large lemons)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
A grater for zesting lemons
- 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 Tablespoons sour cream, room temperature*
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Homemade Nachos: A Healthier, Tastier Alternative

Our family life is filled with traditions. One of my favorites is Friday Family Movie Night. It starts when I get home from work and yell at the top of my lungs, "IT'S FRIDAY!" That is the signal for family time.

We usually begin with either a family swim (still loving the remodeled pool - thank you Above & Beyond) or a rousing round of Just Dance on the Wii. After we have spent what little energy we have left from the week, the kids get into their pjs, dinner and popcorn are made, and the movie of the week begins.

For Family Movie Nights, there are only two options in our house for dinner - pizza and nachos. Of course, being the pseudo-health nuts that we are, both of these are homemade. While the pizza came fairly quickly and somewhat easily to perfect, the nachos took some finessing to get the perfect recipe. But as we perfected the recipe, we quickly discovered that all other nachos left something to be desired.

Warning!!! If you try these nachos, you will most likely lose all respect for any other nachos,

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Building with Scrap Wood and Helping Your Kids Decide What To Do

One of the difficult things about living in Arizona is that it is like living on the face of the sun. A short trip to the store means getting third degree burns from the seat belt in the car while the air conditioning functions as a blast furnace. You have to park half a mile away from your destination for a sliver of shade from a scraggly desert tree, and your shoes melt to the asphalt as you walk across the parking lot. The idea of a trip to the store is so disheartening that you decide to skip the whole ordeal. By the end of the summer, when everybody is ready for a reprieve from the heat, we typically have a rise in temperature and it gets even hotter.

A few weeks ago when my kids were going nuts and I was trying to find some way to get them to burn up energy, my wife had a great idea. She recommended that I take them into the garage and let them hammer and nail some scrap wood. My three kids were all excited about going out and pounding nails into boards, my wife was excited about a quiet house, and I was excited about spending time with my kids in a place that somehow manages to be hotter than it is outside.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Seven Things Every Teacher Wants Every Parent To Know

I started my full time educational career in 2003. I have been a teacher, a curriculum writer, a coach, an Athletic Director, an Assistant Principal, a Principal, a Director, a Head of School. Basically, if it needed to be done in a school, I have done it. Yes, I have even filled in as a crossing guard and a janitor from time to time. Every year, as the school year starts off, I feel like one of my biggest jobs is to bridge the gap between school and home. When two groups of people as passionate about their jobs as teachers and parents are come together, it can feel like Clash of the Titans. That's why I decided to share my list of Seven Things that Every Teacher Wants Every Parent to Know.

1. We are on the same team. There will be times this year when you will disagree with something that happens in my classroom, but you and I have the same goal and the same desired outcome for the school year: the education of your child. Please remember that I do what I professionally know how to do to educate your child, and I want your child to be successful. I will do what I can to support you, and I ask that you do what you can to support me.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Building Lego Architecture Sets with Your Kids

Raise your hand if you loved Legos growing up...

Yeah, both of my hands are up.

Legos have changed quite a bit since I was a kid. The sets are much more detailed and intricate, and the variety of sets available is amazing.

One of my favorite collections as an adult is the Lego Architecture collection. I have been purchasing these sets for years and am amazed at the artistic details in each set. Some of my favorite sets are The Lincoln Memorial, Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water, and the skyline series (Chicago and Paris are two favorites). When I was in high school I thought about being an architect, reading about architecture whenever I could. Maybe these sets are a way for me to somewhat live that life.

So when my son asked several months back, "Daddy, can we build together one of the building sets that you have in your closet?", I felt like Lord Business from The Lego Movie. My knee-jerk reaction was to respond, "Buddy, those are daddy's sets. Let's play with some of your Legos." And then Will Ferrell's misguided dad persona flashed before my mind, and I didn't want to be that guy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

7 No-Fighting, No-Crying Ways to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables


I am very happy to have a guest writer for Renaissance Dad. This is the Highly Driven, lovely wife of mine, here with some helpful advice on getting kids to eat their veggies. 

Actual phrases spoken at the Renaissance Dad home:

Dad to 7-year-old: “No more kale until you eat some of your pizza.”

4-year-old to Mom: “SALAD?! I LOVE Salad!! You’re the BEST mom!”

Dad to 7-year-old: “Hey, leave some artichokes for everybody else.”

3-year old to no one in particular: “I have strong eyes because I LOVE red pepper.”

Our kids don’t eat veggies. They devour them. So many other parents are mystified, impressed, even jealous, that I finally sat down and really thought about how we got here. So, without further ado, I offer you The List of how we got our kids excited about vegetables.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Storage Coffee Table with Puzzle Tray


Spring is a very busy time for educators. We're preparing for standardized testing, Advanced Placement testing, end of the year ceremonies and celebrations, etc., etc., etc. It is the time of year when my sanity starts to slip, and I need to make a focused effort on taking care of myself.

There are many things that I do to keep my sanity, but one thing that keeps me going is a good project. Having a project that I can focus on, especially one that takes both mental focus and sweat, is my way of recharging. A few years ago I had a stained glass project that kept me going through the end of the school year. This year, I had a woodworking project. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Renaissance Dad Tool Review: Greenworks 60V Brushless 10-Inch Pole Saw

I am a power tool enthusiast. When my wife and I were first married, I used to plan house projects around the new tools that I wanted (sorry, not sorry, sweetie). When I wanted a router, I convinced myself that baseboards and trim would be easier and nicer if I cut them myself with a router and router table. When I wanted to make my own compost, I convinced myself that owning a chipper/shredder would be the best way to go. And on, and on, and on.

But sometimes I see a tool and I wonder if it is really necessary, or I arrogantly think, "Yeah, some people will need to use that, but I can make do with what I have because I've got the mad skills." Some tools seem like superfluous space-wasters. I used to think that way about a jointer, until I got one and realized how much easier it is than trying to use a table saw or planer to do the same job.

That is the question that ran through my head with a pole saw. For those who may be unfamiliar with this tool, it is like a chainsaw at the end of a pole (you may ask yourself why one wouldn't just attach a chainsaw to a pole and call it good. The answer is because that is completely unsafe, but I'm sure there is somebody on YouTube who has done this and posted step-by-step instructions).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

All Natural Deodorant That Works: Strong Enough For Men and Women

Let's talk body odor...

I used to teach junior high English. About twice a year, I would have a conversation with one of my classes that would begin with, "You guys stink!" I would then talk about cleanliness and deodorant. If the students were really lucky, I would then make them diagram a sentence with the subject "I", the verb phrase "will use", the direct object "deodorant", and the adverb "tomorrow". Yeah, I was an awesome teacher.

As my wife and I have moved towards trying to avoid chemicals, deodorant has been a struggle. For years I felt like my two options were either to use chemicals or to use natural deodorants that didn't really work. In fact, I felt like most natural deodorants just kept me in the habit of applying deodorant on a daily basis without actually doing anything for me.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Summer Reading List for Your Kids: 13+ Books to Keep Your Kids, Tweens, and Teens Occupied

Four years ago I wrote an article about some of my favorite books as a recommendation for summer reading (if you missed it or if you need some outstanding books to read, you can check the article out here). Most of the books that I recommend in that article are for teens and older. Great for parents, but maybe not much help for your kiddos.

If your kids are anything like mine, they attack books during the summer like a starving Tasmanian devil devouring carrion. It seems like they read almost every book in the library before the first week of summer is up and are always looking for new recommendations. So leading into this summer, I thought that maybe I could get some help from my kiddos, and--after some coaxing--I got them to tell me about some lesser known favorites. Don't expect in-depth book reviews here (have you ever tried to get a story synopsis and thoughtful critique from an eight-year-old?), but these are kid tested and approved! If you have a reader and a library nearby, here are some recommendations.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Host Foreign Exchange Students and Make Lifelong Friends

When my older brother and I were in high school, he was sold on the idea that we should host a foreign exchange student. I have four brothers, and at that time our family had two in high school, one in junior high, and two in elementary school. I think my parents' response was something along the lines of, "That would be a great experience for all of us. Let's do it." But, being a parent now, I can only imagine the internal monologue went something like, "There are already five of you. I can't imagine life being any more chaotic, so why not?"

Monday, April 29, 2019

Dad-Made Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

A few weeks ago I took a "mental health day" prior to the end of the school year. The end of the year
for principals is crazy. I have multiple night events as everybody is wrapping up the year. Every Saturday is booked. And I was in such bad need of a haircut that I was regularly getting some sort of comment that contained the phrase "mad scientist." So my personal day consisted of a haircut, getting contacts, and having a late breakfast with my wife.

In the midst of my errands, my wife and I went out to eat. We shared something that I had never heard of: lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote. They were delicious - so light and fluffy.

So that following Saturday I decided that I would surprise the whole family with breakfast. Instead of making the daddy standard - Dutch Babies - I decided that I would branch out. We happened to have some ricotta cheese (something about me thinking I would make homemade ravioli while my wife was out of the country), and we still had lemons on our lemon tree. I could use the wonderful Interweb and find a recipe for lemon ricotta pancakes, the whole family would think that I was a culinary genius, and Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would show up at my door asking me for tips.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Life Changing Walk

As a school administrator, my weekly schedule is insane. My mornings are a whirlwind trying to get my oldest daughter and I out the door while my wife is busy with the other two kids. I often have one or two evenings with school events, a Saturday event, and the following Monday comes before I have a chance to blink.

While I get quite a bit of time with my oldest, since we go to the same school and spend time in the car together, my younger two need a little more time with me. But between dance lessons, piano classes, performances, competitions, concerts, and school events, I never know if I'm coming or going, and that special time can be difficult to find. 

Every Tuesday our two girls have piano lessons, lasting thirty minutes each. My middle daughter gets dropped off at her teacher's house, and I bring my oldest after school. I often spend the half hour waiting for

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Renaissance-Dad Tool Review: GreenWorks Pressure Washer

I have owned a GreenWorks electric pressure washer for several years, and it has been a great tool to have. It has also made me quite popular, as family and friends without pressure washers regularly borrow it. So when I recently had the opportunity to get my hands on the newer version to see how it compared, I jumped at the chance.

Right out of the box, I saw the same quality that I've experienced with all of my GreenWorks tools. It took less than ten minutes to put together, the components were solid, and the instructions were easy to follow (not that I actually read the instructions. I'm not Lord Business...). 

The GreenWorks pressure washer is a 2000 PSI, 1.2 GPM beast. If you're unfamiliar with what this means, the PSI (pounds per square inch) refers to the pressure of the water coming out (cleaning power), the GPM (gallons per minute) refers to the amount of water coming out each minute (1.2 gallons), and beast refers to the fact that this will be able to tackle just about any chore on my property. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Homemade Calzones: Give Your Kids Whatever They Want

My family has a wonderful tradition. Every Friday night is family movie night, and for family movie night we eat one of two things: nachos or pizza. For those that either know me or have been following Renaissance Dad for any amount of time, you can safely assume that we have turned these two family movie night staples, which are typically considered junk food, into semi-healthy meals. We make our own nacho cheese, and our pizza has a made-from-scratch crust.

Long ago we gave up trying to come to a consensus as to what toppings we put on the pizza, since everybody has their own variation of what the perfect pizza is. So we generally have one cheese or pepperoni pizza, and one with a mild assortment of vegetables that at least one kid will eat.

But this past week I had an epiphany. Lightning struck my brain (Movie quote? Anybody?). What if I give in and give every kid exactly what they want? And what if I make them put their own pizza together?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Knots and Wormholes: Why I Like Working with Imperfect Wood

My wife's grandfather spent his entire life in Fonda, Iowa, which is a lot smaller than it sounds (and it sounds pretty small). He and his brother had a portable sawmill, and when a storm would pass through the area, they would go around milling up wood. He had an incredible supply of black walnut in his basement, and often, when my wife and I would visit, I would spend time just looking at the lumber. What can I say... I'm a wood junkie.

He passed away several years ago, and none of his sons were into woodworking. So one summer, my father-in-law loaded up his boat with hundreds of board feet of black walnut and drove it out to Arizona (you may be asking why he loaded up his boat. Many of the boards are twelve feet long or longer, and the center of a boat is the best way to transport that much lumber of that length).

As we were unloading the walnut from the boat and stacking it up in my workshop, I noticed that quite a few of the boards had knots, rough edges, and wormholes. The knots and the edges are something that I'm used to working with, but the

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Making Money with a Side Hustle

It seems like everybody these days has a side hustle. Makeup or oils, cookies or cleaning products. Most people have something that they do to make money on the side.

My first side hustle was in 7th grade. I went to school one day with some Little Debbie Nutty Bars in my lunch. Somebody offered me a dollar for one of them (sucker!). I took that dollar, bought another box of Nutty Bars, and sold all six packs for a dollar each. My awesome little 12-year-old self had netted a $6 profit in one day, and the entrepreneur in me was born. Over the next several months, I amassed an empire the likes of which Connolly Junior High had never seen. Soda, candy, Little Debbies, and treats were provided by yours truly. I shopped sales, established a clientele, and eventually had to carry two bags to school: one for my school supplies, and one for my store.

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