Sunday, December 26, 2021

Easy Upcycled Fire Starters

 Nothing is more enjoyable on a chilly evening than sitting in front of a warm, roaring fire, sipping a warm beverage, and reading a book or watching a movie. And nothing can ruin that Hallmark moment more quickly than by having the fire sputter out. 

Have you been there before? Pulling back the screen, blowing on what little little embers you can find to try to relight the fire? Or shoving another wad of newspaper under the logs, only to have them briefly fill your space with a bright light before going out, leaving you once again with no fire? 

I've been there. 

But no more. NO MORE! Years ago I found a way to create a fire starter that costs nothing and effectively gets a fire going with a single match. In fact, they are so great that I am now asking family members and friends for their trash so I can make more of them. 

Melting the wax...
Here's what you do. 

1. Collect a whole bunch of toilet paper tubes. 

2. Pack them full of dryer lint. 

3. Lining up the tubes on a paper plate, sheets of newspaper, or several paper towels, pour melted candle wax into each tube, covering the dryer lint (I most often use a candle warmer for my candles. Once the scent is gone, I use the candles for fire starters. The candle warmer is also great at efficiently melting the candle before pouring into the fire starter). 

4. Flip the tube over, and pour into the other side. 

Making the fire starters...
That's it. Let them dry, and store them for the next time you need to start a fire in the fireplace or fire pit. These are also fantastic for camping and will make you the envy of your camp neighbors. 

Go baby, go! 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Cutting Your Christmas Tree in the Arizona Mountains

It's not going in our yard...
**As you read this post, there is a hidden game. How many quotes from Christmas Vacation can you

I love Christmas! There isn't an area of our house that isn't covered in lights, decorations, candles, or peppermint. There is no such thing as too much when it comes to Christmas. But this year, we decided to try something different. We still did the lights and the trains and the decorations. But in 2021 we teamed up with our neighbors and kicked off our fun, old-fashioned family Christmas by heading out into the mountains in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols. 

So this year we decided to drive to the Arizona mountains and cut down our own Christmas tree. Here's what I discovered:

- Arizona has five National Forests (Apache-Sitegraves, Coconino, Kaibab, Prescott, and Tonto) that sell permits for Christmas Trees. 

- Permits cost $15-$20 each, depending on the National Forest, and allow you to cut a tree up to 10 feet tall (Apache-Sitegraves allows trees up to 15 feet tall)

The kids approve. 
- Each National Forest has a number of cutting areas and species available to cut. 

- Cutting dates vary by National Forest, but some allow you to cut your tree as early as October (that's ambitious, even for me). 

So armed with two permits, two dads and their kids (five total) loaded up in two trucks to go to the mountains to get our family Christmas trees (it helped that we already have a stupid tie with little Santa Clauses all over it). And since our wives were not with us, there was nothing to stop us from overestimating the height of our living room ceilings. 

We drove for about two hours and turned off onto the gravel road that ran through the middle of the cutting zone that we chose. While we ended up on a small dirt road that definitely needed four-wheel-drive to navigate, the main road would have definitely worked for a car or smaller SUV, and even a wood panel station wagon would have been able to handle it (just don't forget the saw). 

Fully decorated

After about an hour of walking through the forest, we found our tree. Was it the perfect Christmas tree? Yes and no. It was not a perfect triangular shaped tree, with perfect, full branches. But it was the tree that my kids and I liked, and the one that drew our eye. And much like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, this one needed a home for the holidays. 

Note: as you are wandering through the forest looking for your tree, be sure to mark where your potential choices are so you can make your way back to them. Our kids marked the path with sticks and rocks so we could find them after looking at several options. 

Yes, we did remember the saws, and no, we did not have to dig the trees up (although part of me really wanted to dig the tree out of the ground and drive home with a giant rootball hanging off the back of the truck, just for comedic effect). And while my 11-year-old took some time to warm up to the tree (she initially didn't think the tree looked good enough, although, in all honesty, it looked quite wonky before it had lights and ornaments), we had fun memories of cutting down our first Christmas tree. 

The little dog approves. 

If you are interested in cutting down a tree, I encourage you to look into the rules and regulations of your area and follow them. And even though you may think they're dirty and messy and corny and cliched, please do not cut down your neighbor's tree, no matter how desperate you are. 

From Chandler, Arizona, to wherever you are in the world, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays! 

Merry Christmas! For more decorating tips, click here

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Keeping Fruit Trees Alive in the Vicious Desert

Happy, thriving trees! 
When my wife and I moved to Arizona from Chicago, we had quite a gardening wake up call. In Illinois, the dirt is so fertile that I could sneeze outside and a month later I would have a harvest of whatever I had eaten for breakfast the day of the sneeze. Arizona, with its incredible heat, terrible soil, and overall mocking attitude towards gardeners was quite a different story. 

Originally I had given up on the idea of gardening. But after seeing a garden that some junior high students at my school grew in their science class, I though, "If goofy teenagers can grow a garden, surely I can figure this out." 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Joy of Gardening with Your Kids

Anybody who has followed Renaissance Dad for any amount of time knows that I love gardening. I have regular articles about best practices that I've followed, mishaps in my garden, things that I love to grow, and lots and lots of mentions of manure (it's like gold for the garden!). And for the past 13 years, as long as I've had kids, I have enjoyed my kids joining me in the garden. Sometimes it feels like a chore, and sometimes it is a chore, but I love spending time in the garden with my entire family. But I'm not always sure that they share my enthusiasm. 

This past year, things seemed to have turned a corner. My oldest joins me every week with yard work, where she routinely mows the lawn. Not many teenagers will mow, much less want to mow, and yet she is out there with me in the 100 degree weather, working away. 

My ten-year-old middle daughter was very excited to help build a raised garden bed for melons this past winter. She helped measure, cut, carry, place,

Monday, June 7, 2021

Three Healthy, Easy, Frozen Treats for Kids

As a dad, I sometimes feel like the Batman character Two Face. He's the guy who got burned with acid on one side of his face only, conveniently forming a straight line down the middle. The natural side of Two Face is logical. The acid-burned side of Two Face is impulsive. That's the way I feel as a father, with the smooth-skinned side of my fatherly soul wanting to give my kids only good things, and the purple, acid-burned side wanting to spoil my kids with all kinds of treats.

That's why I love treats that can appease both sides of my battling soul by being both nutritious while also seeming like a treat. Parenthetically, I recently convinced myself that ice cream does not count as a nutritious, calcium-filled serving of dairy.

So here are three of my kids' favorite nutritious treats.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

One Man's Trash Is a Great Project for Another Man and His Daughter

Everybody knows the saying One man's trash is another man's treasure. That is why garage sales, Goodwill, and the tv series Storage Wars exist. People love finding hidden gems in the things that they pull out of the garbage. And some people have garages full of these finds, just waiting for time to fix it, repaint it, salvage it, and make it a great treasure. I know because I have several of these projects in my garage. 

I have a whole side of my house full of logs from cut down trees, just waiting to be chopped into firewood. I have tools just waiting to be rebuilt or refinished. Tables needing to be resurfaced. So many projects (and after I finish this post and my wife reads it I will probably spend some time listing some of these things on Freecycle to get rid of them). 

A few months ago somebody posted on Freecycle that they were getting rid of a tandem bike that was a project bike that they lost interest in. My ten-year-old loves projects, she loves spending time with daddy, and she loves bike riding. So this sounded like a perfect pickup. I arrived home that evening with a beat up, ready for the recycle bin tandem bike with two flat tires, shredded seats, and no hand grips. And my daughter was thrilled. 

We spent the next several weeks, and countless trips to the bike shop, fixing the bike. Replacing seats, tires, tubes, handle grips, chains. If there was something that could be replaced, we replaced it. And let me tell you, that first ride with her was terrifying. 

Seriously, if you have never been on a tandem bike before with somebody who is EXTREMELY excited and bouncy and you're the one trying to keep the balance and steer the thing, then you don't know what fear is. 

But seriously, this was a really fun project to work on with my daughter. And while I probably could have purchased a used tandem bike for what I spent in parts, the time that we spent working together will always be a great memory. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Arizona Staycation: Ten Great Things in Tombstone and Bisbee

I have a terrible confession to make. I spent half of my childhood in Arizona, and I moved back to Arizona 18 years ago. And in almost 30 years of living in this state, I had never been to Tombstone, Arizona. One of the most famous Arizona towns, made popular by one of the most famous lawmen in U.S. history, in my own backyard, and I had never taken the time to go there. 

To make matters worse, Tombstone is my favorite western movie of all time. 

So when my wife and I decided that we needed to get around to see more of this state with our kids, it was time for me to brush off the cowboy hat, saddle up the old truck, and take the family down to one of the most famous western towns in the Southwest. 

Let me start by saying that we felt the need to prep the kids by showing them a western, and while they're not quite old enough (ages 8, 10, 12) to handle Tombstone, we felt that they could handle Silverado. And for two weeks after that, leading up to the trip, my son (8) wore jeans, boots, a vest, a hat, and his cap gun everywhere. The ten year old donned her hat (cur fight over who had the best cowboy hat), and the tween was just ready to get a break. So we knew it was time to go. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Most Amazing Artisan Bread You Will Ever Make

Spoiler alert - the finished product
I'm all about superlatives. But seriously, this is the best bread recipe ever, and it only requires four ingredients. It takes all of five minutes of actual prep time, about three hours of rise time, and 30 minutes of bake time. It tastes like you spent a long time in the kitchen. Guys, this is a great way to impress your lady. Ladies, this is a great way to impress your guy. Kids, this is a great way to impress your parents. We originally found this recipe on I have made some modifications. Regardless, I would like to kiss that woman on the lips.

Let's get started.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Tool Review: Greenworks 60V Self Propelled Wheelbarrow

Anybody who knows me knows that I love gardening and working in my yard. I am notorious for working myself to complete exhaustion, at which point my wife will ask me if I can moderate. The short answer is no. I cannot. I am like a toddler. I either go 120% or 0%. I have an on/off switch, and that's it. 

Case in point. Two weekends ago I wanted to plant a fruit tree. The problem was that I had two oleander bushes in my way. Over the past four years I have averaged one oleander bush removal per year, while needing an entire year to forget how terrible that process is. But this fruit tree had to be planted, two oleander bushes

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ten Things I Learned from Building a Dollhouse with My Daughter

In 2019 my wife and I got our daughter a dollhouse for her ninth birthday. Initially I wanted to completely build a dollhouse from scratch with her, but my wife helped talk me down from that ledge. (She typically only has to ask, "When will you find time to do that?" So much wisdom!) So we opted for a Victorian wooden dollhouse kit (available at Hobby Lobby) -- still pretty DIY in the true Renaissance Dad style, but with pieces already cut out. 

When Big A opened the dollhouse, her face lit up. She asked when we could start building it, which we did right away. Started. And it took us one year to build, from start to finish. 

One. Year.

I thought I was prepared for this. My friend Stan built a dollhouse with his daughter, and they worked on it for something like 18 years. He and I often talked about the process, so I had mentally prepared for a building project that would be something akin to building an actual house. I wasn't sure if my nine-year-old would feel the same way.

I was pleasantly surprised. My daughter not only loves building things (check out her inspiring project here), but she also loves just spending time with me (Daddy Daughter Date here). The dollhouse is the perfect combination of these two things.

And here are some things that I have learned in the year that it took us to build the doll house.

1. This project was my daughter's, and it went the speed that she wanted. If I had done the dollhouse on my own, I would have laser-beamed on each task, working on it evening and weekend until it was done. But it wasn't my own, and the goal was not a completed house. The goal was to spend time with my daughter on a common task.

2. I was a consultant. The house was my daughter's. She picked the colors, the wallpaper, the style. I got to make recommendations, but she could completely ignore me whenever she chose. And she did. But that's okay, since I wanted the house to be hers. Again, I was along for the enjoyable ride, so "fancy" ruled the day no matter how much I preferred "practical" or "classy". 

3. This project needed a space. Initially we were working in our guest bedroom. But then guests happened, and the dollhouse moved to the garage. Then summer happened, and it moved inside during some stages. I finally cleared off some table space in the garage, and that is where our "workspace" was. When it was moving around every couple of days, it was a pain. So the dollhouse space was a very necessary component of the project.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Renaissance Dad's Top Ten Products the Year

Let's start 2021 by getting a little philosophical. Think about the number of products that you come into contact with every day. From the time you wake up, to the time you go to bed, you encounter thousands of products. This morning, as I was making coffee, I thought about this. Just to make coffee, I made decisions about the type and brand of the coffee maker, the coffee, the filters, the r/o system that provides the water, the faucet, the container for compost for the old grounds, and the mug that I use. When I look around my house, my yard, and my office, the number of products is staggering. 

So imagine the glorious honor of making it onto Renaissance Dad's Top Ten Products of the Year list! Yes, here for the second year in a row, is my Top Ten list, with ten of my favorite products from last year. Note: These are glowing endorsements from me with no compensation or free product (unless noted). These are just products that I used and loved in 2020. In no particular order, here they are: