The official calendar start of Spring is just days away, and like many of you, I'm ready to get outside and get the winter mess cleaned-up to get a jump on making the yard nice for the year. As the lawn mowers and trimmers start to emerge from storage, it's important to make sure that those, and any power equipment, are ready to rock safely for the season. The folks over at The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), an international trade association representing more than 100 power equipment, engine and utility vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, has put together a list of 10 Tips for Getting Your Power Equipment Tuned-up for Spring. There's simple basic stuff here, but everyone could use a refresher once in awhile, and starting with the basics like inspecting equipment, reviewing manuals, and double-checking safety procedures is a great thing to do.
What a weird winter this has been. The first snowstorm in mid-November was a bad one - around a foot of snow here in the far northern suburbs of Chicago, but a mess that quickly melted and was periodically replaced by on-and-off dustings. By January, we had ice on top of more ice... then some snow, then more ice. And then, cold. I was ill-prepared for this season, coming off of sharing a snowbird neighbor's gas-powered snow blower and teetering about making the switch to electric. When we last spoke about the winter weather, I stated that, despite it being late in the season, I'm now more prepared than ever to deal with a snowstorm - the new owner of a Snow Joe iON PRO Series 21-Inch Cordless Single Stage Brushless Snow Blower (iON21SB-PRO) that I bought from Amazon, and the new 18" iON Hybrid (available at The Home Depot) - the first snow blower that allows AC/DC operation, with users able to switch between corded and cordless use, that machine sent to me by Snow Joe as part of a Brand Ambassador deal. As I sit here today, there is no snow outside - and spring temperatures have already popped-up for a few days, but there was a storm I was able to tackle to put these to the test. But, in the new reality that is Chicago-area weather in 2016, it's already melted, and tomorrow is set to bring perhaps one of the messiest winter storms of the season. That's before we hit the 50's again this weekend. So how do these to blowers stack-up?
When it comes to power equipment, I'm always torn - I love the sheer power and performance of gas, but like the environmental benefits of going electric. My wife knows that I struggle with this battle often, and over the years I've flip-flopped how I do things on more than a few occasions. There is, however, one particular area where I've long-hoped to make a switch - and that's the snowblower. Sure, I dug the power, but I hated the post-snowblowing shower - a necessity to wash away the nastiness of the exhaust fumes that were created by a noxious gas/oil mix. Having admired the cordless options of Snow Joe for a few years, I bought the Snow Joe iON PRO Series 21-Inch Cordless Single Stage Brushless Snow Blower (iON21SB-PRO) from Amazon. Then, in some strange synergetic coincidence, the folks at Snow Joe got in touch about working together - "The Rock Father" becoming a late-season Brand Ambassador. Already a customer, I accepted - and as of today, I've never been more prepared for a snowstorm... and I'm crossing my fingers that one comes very soon.
THE ROCK FATHER has partnered with Sears as a paid member of the Craftsman Crew.
No matter how well the preparation has gone, the Holiday Season has not just "crept-up" on us, but has emerged swiftly and with unusual force this year. It's somewhat hard to get a grip on all the moving parts that go with a successful and stress-free season these days (14 variations on Thanksgiving, 79 versions of Xmas - you know how it is), but when it comes to gifting, I'm pretty good at picking what works, hence my annual Holiday Wish Guide. For me, this is a time for fixing up the place - but even more so, being ready for toys... specifically, always being ready to open the battery compartments on toys. Since just about everything takes batteries at this point (even things you wouldn't expect), I've encountered some tricky spots - spots where some good grip comes in handy. With the new Craftsman Extreme GRIP Lineup of tools, I'm well taken care of - and that's why I'm including them in my 2015 Holiday Wish Guide. There's an Extreme GRIP tool for just about any application, and they're on-sale right now! A great gift idea, and a great asset to any toolbox - the perfect ally in the battle against rounded, stripped or just hard-to-grip fasteners. Check out some Rock Father picks below, then enter to win a Craftsman Extreme GRIP 6-Piece Diamond Tip Screwdriver Set!
As I write these words to you right now, the cold November rain (GN'R reference) is coming down outside our home, the gutters overflowing and solid sheets of water running down the windows of my office. The harsh reality is that my favorite season will soon come to a close, with Fall making way to Winter. If the preliminary predictions are to be believed, winter 2015/16 in the U.S. is gonna be harsh - and that's saying something since we've lived through a bevy of Hoth-like conditions here in Northern Illinois during the past few winters. If previous years have brought forth those news-worthy catch phrases like "Snowmageddon," what's looming in the not-so-distant future might well be the Snowpocalypse, and we must be prepared. Thing is, we need to finish our Fall Clean-up to be ready for winter - and being prepared for both will help everyone get back to normal come Spring, and getting our lawn and garden ready for a new year of fresh growth is something I'm always looking forward to. My friends at Craftsman have all the tools to get you through every season, and to help bridge Fall and Winter, I'm throwing down five helpful tips!
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.
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.
Home Improvement: The Complete Window Replacement of Rock Father HQ - Part III: The Vast Realm of Pricing...Written by James Zahn
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.
THE 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.