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When my wife and I bought this house a few years back, one of the first things I bought for the yard was a Toro Blower Vac from The Home Depot. The corded blower vac saw a ton of action - spring and summer finding it used as a blower-only, for post-mowing cleanup, while Fall saw it transform into vac mode to help with the leaves that one would expect from an Illinois autumn. For 2015, Toro has upped their game the the new UltraPlus Blower Vac - one of which arrived here for review in my own State-of-the-Art Testing facility: Rock Father HQ. With the leaves having begun to fall here at home, it was time to go hands-on to see how the latest model matches up against my trusty old Fall friend.

This October, there's something new and strange that's emerged - eagerly awaiting the chance to lurk in your home... especially, your child's bedroom. Chip the Robot and Zeke the Martian are joining Jax the Dreadful and Scarlett the Frightful as the Horribles - a new line of Crane Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifiers that are available exclusively at Best Buy. For families looking for something more fun (and a little more spooky) than a traditional humidifier, these adorable character-shaped units each have a 1 gallon capacity to handle humidification for up to 250 sq. ft. - providing ultrasonic cool mist to reduce cold symptoms and nasal congestion for easy breathing. Each member of the Horribles also features Clean Control antimicrobial technology to ensure safe, clean operation. The Horribles by Crane USA are today's entry into 31 Days of Halloween, right here on THE ROCK FATHER Magazine!

With Back-to-School Season upon us, it's time for a refresher on some helpful tips to keep kids safe throughout the school year. Miriam Sonenschein of RubberMulch checks-in with a guest post featuring 10 Tips for Back-to-School safety, covering everything from walking to school to handling strangers and safety in school and on the playground.

Tuesday, August 04 2015 19:32

Garden: Beware The Hogweed... for it will harm you

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I'd been meaning to share some words on this one for awhile, but its discovery in Michigan today (and recently being officially outlawed in Illinois) gave me a hearty reminder: Beware The Hogweed.  This gigantic, invasive and highly poisonous oddity first popped-up here in Lake County, Illinois back in 2006, with plants found in Lake Forest. It's a weed with a ton of lookalikes - the 15' Hogweed is almost like a Queen Anne's Lace that's scaled to dinosaur size. It's prickly stalk helps spread sap that can cause blindness, or extremely painful blistering, itching burns that are activated by sunlight. Having already seen it pop-up in other states throughout the Midwest this summer, I'm helping to share the word here on THE ROCK FATHER Magazine in hopes that those who encounter this dangerous plant will know to stay away, and alert the proper authorities to help eradicate it. Embedded below are a couple of videos that you need to watch - but be warned that images of the burns may be disturbing for some. The University of Illinois also has some helpful materials that are worth a read, and while this story is certainly picking up steam, you can take comfort in knowing that while Hogweed is spreading, it is still a very rare plant.

Back in March, I began a series (Part I: Beginning, Part II: In-Home Consultations) about our first truly major project since buying the home that's become known as "Rock Father HQ" back in 2010 - total home window replacement. Rather than wrap it up right away after the install, I wanted to make sure we'd lived with the windows for a bit prior to sharing some final thoughts on the whole thing so that others might have a little more ammo going into their own project. The odd thing is, buying windows is very much a mystery, and with so little information regarding pricing available online (old-school sales tactics that I don't appreciate), I'm letting everyone know how our job played out. Welcome to Part III: The Vast Realm of Pricing.

I am officially a lawn nerd. Perhaps "enthusiast" may be a better term, but when it comes to the landscape here at Rock Father HQ, I'm pretty obsessive about it. Prior to owning this home, I'd either owned or used a multitude of different lawn mowers over the years - mowers of all shapes, sizes, brands and power sources. Prior to the 2015 season, I'd spent a few years doing things the old fashioned way - with a reel mower. I went completely old-school, and while there's a lot that I really liked about doing things that way for a bit, I missed power and precision - that well-manicured cut something that seemed farther and farther off each time. I was planning to power-up this season, so when the folks at Toro got in touch about their 2015 offerings, I zeroed in on the Recycler 22" Personal Pace All-Wheel Drive lawn mower. They sent me one for HQ, and rather than flip some quick opinions, I've taken the past 2½ months to really "get to know" the mower so that I can provide all of you with the most comprehensive feedback.

Craftsman CrewTHE ROCK FATHER has partnered with Sears as a paid member of the Craftsman Crew. Are you #MadeToMake?

As a kid, the first tools that I ever came to know were Craftsman. Most of those were purchased from the classic Sears store in the long-gone Park Forest Plaza - a store that I have many memories of - a place that seemed larger-than-life. Of those tools, one thing that I eventually inherited was a set of screwdrivers from the late 70s/early 80s - the same ones I use here at Rock Father HQ today... the ones still sold by Craftsman all these years later, and still Made in the USA. They've been regularly-used tools for nearly four decades, and now I use them on my girls' toys. But age has instilled in me a growing urge to make things.

Best BuyTHE ROCK FATHER™ has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product at a reduced price or for free.

When it comes to the house, I'm pretty "domestic," but keeping Rock Father HQ running smoothly isn't really that easy. There's a lot of messes, and with two little girls and a constantly on-the-go Mommy and Daddy, dishes can pile up pretty quickly, and getting behind can cause a real jam-up in the kitchen. When we bought our house five years ago, one of the things we inherited was a dishwasher that was unattractive, clunky and just plain bad. Always on the ever-growing "to-do list" for replacement, we'd actually stopped using it by the end of our first year here - washing every dish by hand for about four years... up until a few weeks ago. When the crew from Best Buy arrived to install our new Samsung - WaterWall 24" Tall Tub Built-In Dishwasher, it was a glorious occasion - and a day that I was really looking forward to.

It's a weird thing, but a lot of people seem surprised when I tell them that I'm into gardening. Lately, it's when I explain that this very website has a "Home & Garden" section... and it turns out I'm not the only one that gets the raised eyebrow when it comes to having a green thumb. Today, Don Dokken, voice of Grammy-nominated rockers, DOKKEN, has uploaded an 11-minute video entitled "The Don Dokken Gardencast." It's the first episode of what Don's planning to be a regular podcast, though it's not clear how often he'll be featuring his gardening adventures. For this, he states that he works in the garden "eight hours a day, five days a week, when not on tour."

Five years ago, right after my wife and I bought this house and moved in, I took to the outside with a spray bottle of outdoor cleaner to attack the siding and deck. Not only did it not work very well, but shortly afterward I discovered that I'd completely ruined a brand new t-shirt and shorts. The reason? Overspray from chlorine bleach, which I'd neglected to notice was the primary ingredient. Not cool. With evolving landscape and gardening projects, we're always looking for new and safe ways to do things, and that's why Scotts® Plus OxiClean™ Outdoor Cleaner was immediately intriguing - the ability to get the house, deck and all of the girls' Step2 play equipment nice and clean without harming our plants. Plus, it's from Scotts - a trusted brand whose products I use regularly here at Rock Father HQ.

Desert EscapeThe folks at Costa Farms recently served-up a challenge for me. They'd send me an assortment of cactus and succulents from their new Desert Escape Collection, and I'd see what kind of creative container I could whip up with them. Thing is, we live in Northern Illinois, so these will be indoor plants for much of the year - and since we don't have a desert landscape, I'm not very familiar with working with these varieties, aside from handling them on occasion in the years that I ran some Garden Centers (a few lives ago). I thought it would be a fun project for the girls and I, but had no idea just how big a production it could become. What I thought would be a one-container project actually became five, and we had a whole lot of fun with this - creating some interesting miniature landscapes where adventure was hiding just below the surface. For a couple of them, you could even say that they looked like something from "a galaxy far, far away..."

As the Garden Section of THE ROCK FATHER is ramping-up again for 2015, we're planning our gardening activities for the new season, and in-turn are thinking about how to be as "green" as possible. In all honesty, "going green" when it comes to lawn and garden chemicals is not easy - and while I've made a mighty effort for the past five years, I've been unable to go 100%. With that in mind, the folks over at Birds & Blooms have offered-up three tips for growing a chemical-free garden that I'm sharing with you today.

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