Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Well, here we are. It's hard to believe it's been almost a year since my crazy crew and I moved from Texas to New Jersey. Looking back, parts of this move have been surprisingly easy and other parts, not so much. But one thing has been for certain- this move has made me step outside of my comfort zone and that is always a good thing for me. I have a tendency to get stuck in the ruts of my day to day life, gravitating towards doing the same old, same old. I'm not saying this is always a bad thing, but every now and then I need to shake things up. I need to gather up my courage and try something new. Something unexpected. Writing this blog was one of those things. I knew absolutely nothing about blogging and wasn't even sure where to start. It was all uncharted territory. And that was one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much.
But lately, I've been feeling that old itch again. Like I'm ready for a new challenge, something besides blogging. I'm not even sure what this new challenge is supposed to be, but I know it's out there and I need to find it. Maybe I'll volunteer at the local library or I'll write a book or maybe try and get a job at Russo's Farmers Market. I just don't know exactly, but I do know this. I'll recognize it when I see it.
But I didn't want to just take off without saying goodbye. I wanted to make sure and thank y'all for joining me on this grand adventure called blogging. Your kind words, friendship, and support have meant the world to me. I just can't thank you enough. I know I say it all the time, but it's true. You are genuinely amazing.
So, I guess that's about it. But don't worry- we'll be seeing each other all the time on Facebook and Instagram.  I promise to keep you updated on all things McFarland and the shenanigans that go on around here. Lord knows, the way this family is wired, I'll never run out of stories to share.

You're the best and thanks again,

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Pantry That Hated Me

So, I have this pantry. It's in the back hallway of my kitchen where there's almost no light and space is at a premium. I've been told I'm an easygoing person. And I think it's true- I can get along with just about anybody. But this pantry?? We've been frenemies since day one. Some days the doors would slide, some days they would just jam. It had that Elfa shelving that everyone pretends to love, but secretly hates because it looks like something out of a government run pharmacy. Every time I walked by it, I found myself grumbling something snarky under my breath. I knew its days were numbered, but with so many projects on our To Do list, I was thinking it was something I'd just have to tolerate until summer came around. But a couple of Saturdays ago, I came down for breakfast and found this on my dining room floor.
Apparently, summer had arrived early at the McFarland house.
And it was time to get started on fixing that pantry. Here's a picture of it without those stubborn sliding doors. See what I mean about that Elfa stuff? Yuck.
Food was forever spilling and falling through those gaps in the metal shelving and it was a certifiable mess. First step of this project? We ripped out all the shelves and tossed them in the trash. After that, we patched up all the old screw holes with spackling paste to get a nice, smooth surface on the walls. For our new pantry, we decided to go with wooden shelves, using ledgers for support. Ledgers are just 1" x 2" strips of wood, secured directly into the wall. The shelves are then placed squarely on top of the ledgers, which provide structure and stability. 
We measured everything (twice) to make sure our ledgers were the right length and perfectly level. You can see what a ledger looks like, up there on the right hand side of the pantry. Graham cut the ends at a 45 degree angle so they would be less noticeable under each shelf. Then we screwed the ledgers into the studs with 1 and a half inch screws. Quick sidenote-you can see all our drywall repairs here because I hadn't painted the inside walls yet. We wanted to dry fit all 5 shelves before painting just in case we needed to tweak something. Luckily for us, everything fit like a glove.
Next, I painted the underside of all the shelves before they were installed. I had to do two coats to get good coverage and waited 12 hours between each coat to make sure everything was completely dry. This took a bit of time, but it's really the only way to go. Be prepared, you're probably gonna scuff the paint on your shelves when you're installing them, but it's not that big of a deal. It's easy to do a few touch ups here and there. But painting the underside of each shelf after installation? Not so much.
While the shelves were drying, I tackled painting the inside walls and ledgers of the pantry. I used an eggshell white with primer in hopes of getting maximum coverage with fewer coats. But the sad fact is, it still took me 4 coats of paint to get everything covered. Those walls just kept soaking in the paint like a sponge, so I kept rolling. Which was a good idea, because I ended up with walls that looked brand spanking new.
That night, Graham came home from work with a new toy- a brad nailer. He'd done some research online and felt using this tool would be the best way to secure our shelves to the ledgers in the pantry. Hmmm, wait a minute....I just noticed something as I was typing this. Apparently, we McFarlands need to work on improving our safety awareness. Just look at that chef's knife and 2 glasses of wine right there on the counter next to the nail gun. Whoops. Do not- I repeat do not- follow this example. Safety first, people. Sorry about that.
The next morning, Graham got to work on the shelves bright and early. That brad nailer was the perfect tool for the job. It let him get in those tight spaces with ease and, within a matter of minutes, everything was securely fastened in place. 
After that, it was time to break out the paint again and finish up the tops of the shelves. 2 coats of paint later, they looked perfect. 
To completely paint the inside of the pantry, I ended up using almost an entire gallon of paint, but it was finally done. Now it was on to the second part of this project- deciding what kind of door to hang. The door opening isn't a standard size (of course not), so this makes things a little complicated. Should we cough up the cash and buy a custom sliding barn door? I really don't want to have to do that. Should we cave and install some of those tacky folding doors? Uhm..yeah, no.  We're definitely not doing that. Or should we go with The Boys' suggestion of a hippie style curtain made of beads??  Again- yeah, no.  So I'm kinda in a holding pattern for now until I figure everything out. In the meantime, the good news is that the pantry and I are back on speaking terms. And if it's true that successful relationships are built on time and effort, we're gonna be just fine. All those long hours of painting are definite proof of that. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

As the mother of four children, I've spent a lot of time in the stands, watching my kiddos do their thing. I've been to fencing tournaments, ballet recitals, baseball games, hockey games- you name it, I've probably seen it. Until a few weekends ago. On that weekend I saw something totally new and different. I had a front row seat to the FIRST Mid-Atlantic Regional Robotics Tournament.
It was hosted by Reagan's high school robotics team and was held in their gym. His team's name is the Seneca Iron Devils - #1647. The Iron Devils have been competing in tournaments like this one for over a decade. It is serious business with seriously competitive students. Each year, a select committee chooses a new "game" for the national competition. Then each high school team has 6 weeks to design and build a robot with that game's particular rules in mind. This year's game was called stronghold.

Here's the design the Iron Devils chose for their robot this year.  They had 3 subteams of students, each group working on a specific aspect of the robot. They had a software team, a mechanical team, and an electrical team. Reagan was on the software team. I bet you never would have guessed that.
Here's the team's Tshirt, covered with buttons from some of their previous competitions. Totally cool.
They even had online streaming of the tournament. This way, family and friends in other parts of the country could watch the entire competition- in real time. 
Here's my one and only picture of Reagan looking at me during the tournament. With teenage boys, sometimes you just gotta take what you can get. Check out those cool goggles. Safety first, people.
The goal of stronghold is to have your robot pick up a dodge ball and drive it over, under, or through various obstacles. Once you've managed that task, you then have to shoot the ball into the tower. There are two openings in each tower- the upper goal being worth more points than the lower one. You're also awarded points for defense, teamwork with other robots, and agility. All this is done by two students using a remote control at the opposite end of the playing field.
Here we are waiting for the Iron Devils' robot to take the field. To say it got loud right after I took this picture is like saying Texas can get a little warm. This place went absolutely bananas. Apparently, The Red Headed Kid had a hunch something was up, because his ears were already plugged.
Then it was game on, people. Robots were flying all over the place. Plowing through castle gates and shooting balls 8 feet into the air.
But when all was said and done, the red team from Nemesis ran away with the tournament. They outscored every opponent with impressive skill and agility.
And the Seneca Iron Devils? They held their own and came away winning the Chairman's Award. This means they'll be moving on to the Regional Championships held at LeHigh University in Pennsylvania. I've already got it written down on my calendar and I can't wait to see what happens at that competition. But this time around, just to be on the safe side, I'll be bringing some serious ear protection.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It's Spring Break People!

At long last, it's here! It's finally time to go on vacation with my crew. My hands are gonna be full this week, so I won't be blogging for the next couple of days. Don't worry, though. I'll be back in your inbox next Tuesday like clockwork. In the meantime, I want you to get out there and go have some fun yourself. That way, we can compare stories when I get back.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

College Care Packages For Easter

One of the toughest parts of being a mommy is that your kiddos grow up. They graduate from high school and are off to college in the blink of an eye. I know this is what's supposed to happen, and I'm usually pretty  good with it, but the holidays are different.  When my kids aren't with us for the holidays, well...it just leaves a lump in my throat. With Colleen and Ian staying in Texas for Easter this year, I definitely wanted to make sure they knew we were still thinking of them. A simple way to do this was by sending their Easter baskets to them. So if you're a mama in the same boat as me, don't worry. We're gonna get through this together. Here's all you'll need for a college care package- Easter version. 

1. Packing Supplies-
 You'll need some of that Easter grass I hate so much, some plastic eggs and a sturdy cardboard box that's on the small size. You're going to use the box as the actual "basket". It makes things easier for shipping and that way your Big Kids can just toss the box when they're all done. I found all these items at Wal-Mart for a whopping $4.

2. Something Symbolic of the Holy Day-
In previous years, I've added various things to my kids' baskets. Jewelry (for Colleen), picture books (when they were young), Mass books (when they were older)- just something to remind them that this holiday isn't about a bunny. One of my "go-to" items, though, has always been these chocolate crosses. Wal-Mart carries them every year for $1 each. Gotta love that.

3. Something Silly Or Cute-
This is the fun part. You just want to add things that will make your kids smile and remember what fun it is to be little on Easter. The One Spot at Target is a perfect place to find this kinda stuff.

4. Candy For The Easter Eggs-
I'm shipping these boxes to Texas, where the high temperature in March can basically be anybody's guess. So to be on the safe side, I'm only going to send candy that won't melt. My favorite find this year? Those cute little bunny mallows up there. They were almost too darling to eat. Almost.

5. Every College Kid's Favorite Treat-
You got it- cash money, people. Because, to a college kiddo, nothing quite says "I adore and miss you" like the green stuff. I simply folded each bill into a tiny square and tucked it into each egg as a surprise.

 After that, it was just a matter of fitting everything into the cardboard box . Really pack that Easter grass into the box here. You don't want anything rattling around and the grass will do a great job of holding everything in place. I put a "This Way Up" on the side of each box, so my kids would know which way to open it up.  And that's all there is to it. Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy.

That being said, I will still miss having us all together on Easter morning. There's no way around that. But at least they'll know I love them and I'm thinking of them.

And remembering the days when Easter morning looked just like this.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What's Going On

I might be tempting fate, but it looks like winter is wrapping up for good here in New Jersey. Thank goodness, because I'm down to the last of my firewood. Although it feels like spring, I'm thinking I have some time before I need to start on any projects in the yard. There's no real rush. Until then, here's a short list of what's going on with Clan McFarland.

What I'm Binge Watching on my DVR:
POLDARK FANS! See what the cast look like in real life - now:
"Poldark" from PBS Masterpiece Theater. It stars Aiden Turner and is set in 18th century Cornwall, England. Yeah, that's all I needed to know.

What The Red Headed Kid Is Currently Obsessed With:
Legos. He's gone from playing pool and doing trick shots on the floor to all Legos, all the time. The best part of this new obsession?  I can finally throw away all those empty Pringles cans.

What Magazine I Can't Seem To Put Down:
Magazine | This Old House:
This Old House. We have a bunch of household projects on our list for the upcoming months and this magazine is going to be key to getting those things done correctly. They always seem to know what information I need before I even know I need it.

What Carbohydrate I'm Gonna Try to Make Next:
 German Soft Pretzels. Because they're chewy. They're salty. And I need them.

What's Making Me Feel Nostalgic:
This kid driving my car around town. I can not believe he's old enough to drive my car. I swear it was only yesterday I was signing him up for kindergarten. Fun fact- apparently his playing hour after hour of all those racing video games has paid off. Reagan's a natural behind the wheel.

What I'm Designing and Ordering Online:
Graduation announcements for this girl. Colleen graduates from Texas A&M this May. Although she's going to stick around and complete her master's degree, I need to get this project done ASAP so we can mail them out. Couldn't be more proud of her.

What Project I'm Dragging My Feet About:
Painting my ceilings. I don't know if you can see it in this picture, but I had to patch a 6 inch hole in the middle of the kitchen ceiling. The patch turned out great, but the color difference sticks out like a sore thumb and needs to be painted. Which, in turn, means the whole kitchen ceiling needs to be painted. Blech. Try not to be too jealous.

What Most Recent Purchase Makes Me Super Happy:
This shirt from twostringjane. I knew from the first moment I saw it on Etsy, I was gonna grab it to wear this summer. It is super soft, runs true to size and is stinking cute.

What Sports Practice I'm Watching:
Baseball. The Red Headed Kid just started up his spring season and is loving it. I love getting to sit back and watch him do his thing. P.S. I know this picture is way old (like from his T Ball days) but I swear this is exactly how he still looks to me.

What Trip I Can't Wait To Go On:
Our anniversary trip to Montreal. Come June, The Man and I will have been married for 25 years. I've never been to Canada and I'm super excited to check it out. I hear it's where all the French people live. And that can only mean one thing. Fromage for Cindy. Just to be on the safe side, I'm going to build my travel wardrobe around yoga pants.

So that's about it. That's what's on my plate for the next couple of weeks. If I'm being honest here, some of it's gonna be fun to do and some of it's not. But here's the thing about being a McFarland. Life might get a little crazy at times, but at least it's never boring.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cinnamon Roll Friday

We have a tradition in my house that started when my kiddos were all little. Every Friday before school, I would make them Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast. It was a quick and painless way to get my entire crew out of bed and I've been doing it the same way for years now. But the week after we moved to New Jersey, a huge storm blew through and knocked out our power. My freezer took most of that hit- everything in it defrosting almost entirely and then refreezing. I had four bags of Rhodes dinner rolls in there and each bag had refrozen into a solid block of dough. I felt bad throwing them all out, so instead, I decided to try and make cinnamon rolls with them. The results were perfection- way better than anything Pillsbury had ever given us. So I've been doing Cinnamon Roll Friday this way ever since. It does take more time from start to finish, but it's crazy simple to do. It goes like this.
I think Rhodes makes the best frozen bread dough, but if you can't find that brand in your store, it's okay. Just make sure the bag is for 3 pounds of dough and everything should work out fine. I also usually use dark brown sugar when I make these, but feel free to use whatever type of brown sugar you have in your pantry.  
This is what the dough will look like after it's thawed on the counter for a couple of hours. Just make sure you pull out that little coupon packet they put in the bag along with the dough. I know this fun fact from experience.
Knead the dough for a few minutes to get it nice and smooth.
Using your rolling pin, roll it out into a large rectangle- about 1/3" thick.
Smear a stick of softened butter all over the surface of the dough. Please, please don't use margarine here. That stuff is just Crisco with yellow food coloring and you deserve way better than that. 
Mix your brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Sprinkle that mixture all over the butter covered dough, making sure you get all the way to the edges.
Starting at the top of the rectangle, roll the dough towards you. You want to try and roll this as tight as possible, so don't be shy here. You're not gonna hurt anything. I promise.
Keep rolling that baby.
Once you get to the bottom of the rectangle, pinch the dough closed so it doesn't unroll on you.
Using a serrated bread knife, cut the dough into 1" rounds. The best way to do this is by using a slow back and forth sawing motion. Let the knife do the work for you and you'll end up with perfect little pinwheels of cinnamon goodness.
Place the rounds on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cover them with a clean towel and let them rest on the counter for about 20 minutes. After that, just bake them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 28 minutes.
When they're done, take them out of the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes. Do your best to keep the Red Headed Kid at bay.
Once the rolls have cooled, mix the powdered sugar and milk together  until it's nice and smooth. Drizzle that yummy stuff all over the tops of the rolls. I use a pretty light hand when it comes to icing because I'm all about the carbs, but you can put on as much as you like.
And there you have it. These cinnamon rolls are downright gorgeous and soooo much better tasting than their Pillsbury cousins.
But you don't have to take my word for it. You can just ask The Boys.