Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ready. Set. Snow!

The last time my kids saw a blizzard, the year was 2006 and we were living in Parker, Colorado. That was the year Colleen started middle school and Reagan was the undisputed Guitar Hero champion.  Ian had just turned 10 and the Red Headed Kid's claim to fame was his uncanny ability to destroy every baby gate in our house.
Fast forward almost a decade to last weekend. This time around, it was G 2.0 who was 10 instead of Ian and the blizzard was in Jersey, not Colorado. But other than that? It was like deja vu. Those two McFarland boys could have passed for twins- braces and all.
The snow was just as white and the setting was just as serene.  It was absolutely gorgeous out there - a winter wonderland.
A wonderland that happened to include 15 inches of snow. But not that light, fluffy kinda stuff you get in Colorado. This snow was beautiful to look at, but a monster to shovel. It was a lot like shoveling wet sand. It was slow, heavy work- until......
this darling of a man came to our rescue. See him, working hard, behind the trees over there? That's our neighbor John and if I have another son, I'm gonna name that kid after this man. Why, you ask? Because of this.
John happened to have an extra snow blower in his garage and came over to ask if we'd like to use it. It took everything I had to keep from hugging his neck right there and then. Fortunately for him, I was able to control myself. I thanked him instead with a batch of fudge.
With the snow shoveling crisis averted, it was time to get back to business. There were forts to be made and snowballs to be stockpiled for when your big brother finally decided to venture outside.
 The final measure of snow in our yard was a whopping 15 inches. We had drifts much higher than that, but I resisted the temptation to use those mounds of snow as my final measure. I'm nothing if not a purist when it comes to reporting the weather. Besides, over a foot of snow is more than enough to make any kid happy.
 I mean, look at that face.
Look at that form.
And look at that landing. A perfect 10- even from the grumpy Russian judge. That kind of agility and athleticism doesn't happen by chance. It takes years of practice and the benefit of good genes.
Genes he obviously got from his big brother.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dinner With Jonas

 As I'm writing this, it's early Saturday morning and this is the view I have out of my study window. Winter Storm Jonas showed up some time around 7:00 pm last night and so far he seems to be on his best behavior. Don't get me wrong- it is seriously cold out there, but since my power is still on, life is good. The Boys seem to be getting a bit of cabin fever, though -despite having pelted each other with snowballs for over an hour this morning. They keep circling me, asking, "Hey, what's for dinner?"  I've got the perfect thing in mind for a cold day like this- Italian Pot Roast Ragu. It's the kind of dinner that seriously warms your bones and falls squarely into the comfort food category. Bonus for the mama? It involves a crock pot.
Here's all you'll need to get the job done. The odd duck in this recipe is the frozen pot roast. Why does it have to be frozen, you ask? Because the first time I made this recipe, I was running late getting out of the door when I realized I'd forgotten to defrost the pot roast. Fingers crossed, I tossed it in frozen solid. And to my great delight, despite my worries, it turned out fabulous. This is a super recipe to have on hand if you need to be out of the house all day. It allows you to increase your cooking time by a couple of hours without drying out the pot roast. But enough talk, let's get this party started. As always, no need to grab a pencil. I've included the recipe at the end of this post. 
First step? Toss that frozen brick of meat into a crock pot.
Next, pour the entire jar of marinara sauce on top. Add the sliced onions.
Add the mushrooms and carrots. I usually use whole mushrooms in this recipe. That way the Red Headed Kid can easily pick them out and I get avoid any fungi drama. 
Add the bay leaves and sprinkle the dry basil evenly over all the vegetables. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 8 and a half hours. Once it's done, remove the pot roast from the crock pot and coarsely shred it- removing any bits of sinew or fat. Return the roast to the pot and stir gently until everything is combined and looks yummy.
Since this ragu is pretty hearty, you'll want to use a pasta that can hold up its end of the bargain. I used fettuccine, but pappardelle or tagliatelle would also make a great choice.
To say this pasta dish is yummy is a lot like calling Texas summers "warm" - a total understatement. Is it fancy-schmancy? Not really. Will your family love it and think you're a rock star? Definitely!
My Nanny used to say, "You know you've made a good meal when the table is quiet." Quiet is not exactly a word I'd use to describe dinnertime at my house. But on this night (with the exception of boy slurping sounds) you could've heard a pin drop. It was a lovely, peaceful meal.  And I owe it all to Jonas- him and my permafrosted pot roast.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Feeling A Little Crabby

When Ian was in the 9th grade, his long range plan was to study graphic design in college. Not only did he enjoy creating that type of art - he had a genuine aptitude for it. So much so, that during that time, Graham routinely used Ian (instead of a professional designer) for his company's graphic design needs. Ian created Graham's business cards, web designs, mobile app designs, business signs- you name it, the kid probably designed it. Although ultimately deciding to study Finance in college, Ian still has the chops of a graphic designer. Let me show you what I mean. 
This is a reproduction print from an artist named Ryan Fowler, appropriately named Black Dog Canoe Company. I've pined over this print for a couple of years now. The sticking point has always been that I want my version on wrapped canvas, measuring 36" x 36". That kind of customization puts it at a price point of somewhere around $289.00, minus S&H. I was bemoaning this fact to Ian while he was home over Christmas Break when he said, "If you want, I could make something like that for you."  When I finally stopped kissing his face, he said, "Just let me know what you want on it." I told him, "Anything to do with the Oregon Beach would be perfect" and turned him loose.
Here's where Ian got to work. After doing some basic research online and downloading some Oregon pictures for inspiration, he broke out his paper and pencils.
His first step was to design his own font, because he couldn't find one that he thought looked right. He wanted something old school and classic but with what he called a high level of "personability".
Once had the font sketched out and liked how it looked, he took a picture of it.  He then transferred that image into Photoshop.  There he tweaked and polished the font until it was exactly what he had envisioned.
Next, he designed an image of a dungeness crab by creating his own stencil. He then filled in that stencil with a base color shade. After experimenting with a number of different colors and hues, he ultimately settled on this rendition.
Once all the separate images and fonts were complete, he started layering all the components together. 
Eventually coming up with this first mock-up. Although I thought it looked great, he felt like it wasn't quite finished and it needed something more. He tried out a few things and ultimately added what he called a "grunge" filter over the image to give it a bit of patina and depth. Once that was done, he saved everything to a high resolution PNG file.
We then uploaded that file to a web based company called Their website was very user friendly and their prices were considerably cheaper than anything else I'd seen on the web.
They were able to do a custom size canvas print (36" x 36")  without an upcharge and had it delivered to my house in less than 2 weeks.
It turned out perfectly- much more impressive than the Black Dog print (no offence, Ryan, but you know it's true) and for a heck of a better price. Total out of pocket cost? Less than $105- including S&H.
Of course, one of the first things I did was to have the artist sign and date it. I've seen enough Antiques Roadshow to know that it's the kind of important step you just don't skip. Any art expert will tell ya, provenance is everything. 
And here she is in all her glory- hanging up in my front hallway. My very own piece of original graphic art, designed specifically for me. I love, love it. As in, "can't help but smile every time I walk by it" love it. I know Ian has his heart set on a career in Finance, but with crazy skill like this? He could definitely give Mr. Fowler a run for his money.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Eyes Have It

One of my favorite bloggers is named Fran. She runs a site called Franish, and I've been following her for a couple of years now.  Although we are *cough* a few years apart in age, her style sense is very similar to mine, so I read her blog all the time. One of the things I love most about her is her candid honesty when it comes to product reviews -whether it be clothing, make up or skin care. If she says a brand is worth the money, you can take it to the bank. Case in point, in a recent post, she was talking about how she gets her eyes to "pop" by using her new favorite mascara combination. Urban Decay had sent her a package of products to try and one of them was her "hands down favorite"- the Subversion Lash Primer.  It's designed to be worn under your mascara to make lashes look thicker and longer. Definitely something I need, so I knew I had to go and check it out. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to go alone. I had an ace up my sleeve.
I had this girl living in my house at the time. This girl is what you call a make up ninja. It is seriously her super power. Sure, she looks all calm and serene, but don't let that sweet face fool you. Her mind is going a million miles an hour, crunching all kinds of data. She knows anything and everything there is to know about makeup, so all I had to do was just sit back and watch her do her thing.
It's fascinating, really. She's the kind of girl who knows exactly what she's doing when she's standing in front of all those massive displays of make up. She's looking at pigment levels, powder textures, color ranges and undertones. 
She's assessing product value versus packaging. First impressions versus media hype.  All the while, humming to the muzak overhead and fielding important questions from her mother. Questions like, "Do you think we should have meatloaf for dinner?" or "Does this bronzer make me look fat?" 
Her final assessment was that Urban Decay's lash primer looked like the real deal, so we picked it up. I also threw in some new shadow and eyeliner for good measure.  Come to find out, according to Colleen, the shadow I was still using from college was what they call "expired". That little tidbit of information explained a lot.

Here's what the primer looks like out right of the tube. You put it on your bare lashes- giving it a few seconds to dry. Then simply apply your mascara like always. It was a cake walk to use. Amazing, really.

See how much longer my lashes look and how my eyes just seem to "pop" with this stuff?  Okay, I know I'm not fooling anyone here. It's pretty obvious this is a Glamour Shot of me from the 80's. But the truth is, once I started taking pictures close enough for you to see what a difference this lash primer makes, I kinda had a "is that what my skin really looks like?!?!" moment. HD photography is not my friend, people. But, because I'm not a quitter, I'm still gonna show you those pictures. That way, you can see what I'm talking about. Full disclosure, though- I may or may not have used the maximum amount of photo filter allowed on the Internet.
Here's the proof, folks. The only difference in make up between my left and right eye is the addition of lash primer on the left. The difference was easy to see and it felt like the improvement warranted the $20 price tag. Another bonus? The primer came of easily with my oil free make up remover, leaving what little lashes I can grow safe and sound.
 Here's another view- this one from the top. Each eye has only two coats of mascara, but my left eye obviously has more bang for it's buck. I'm a convert to lash primer now and it has a permanent spot in my make up bag. But despite my enthusiasm, I'm also smart enough to know that even good lashes can't turn back the hands of time. I am hoping, however, that it might slow them down a little bit. And if that doesn't work? I'm still not too worried. I can always go get another spiral perm.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Latest Addition To Our Family

Over the years, Graham and I have often thought we should have had one more kiddo. Four children has definitely been a blast, but five? Five would have been awesome. Think about it- that's enough McFarland kids to make our very own basketball team.  Who wouldn't want that?? For Graham and I, the joyous pandemonium children bring to the table is our favorite flavor. But alas, despite my obvious youthful appearance, I think that ship has sailed. So what's a man like Graham to do when faced with this kind of dilemma? He's gotta think outside of the box. He's gotta get creative. Which is how I think we ended up with the latest addition to our family. Here he is and his name is Chip.
Not quite what you thought I was talking about, is it? Despite his straight forward good looks, this chain saw is so much more than he appears.  Which is why he deserves a strong name worthy of his character- a name like Chip. How do I know he's not just any old tool in the shed? 
Because of this picture. Look at that smile on Graham's face. See the happy glow in his eyes and the spring in his step? That's what you call a proud papa- a man who feels like he's won the lottery with the latest expansion of his family.  Except instead of grazing on pizza rolls and Gatorade, this kid's favorite meal is gasoline. But I'm getting ahead of myself.  This is how I first came to meet the newest member of our family.
I was in my bathroom, putting on my makeup, when Colleen walked in and calmly said,"Did you know that Dad is outside and he just cut down one of the trees?" After being married to Graham for 25 years, information like that doesn't ruffle my feathers anymore. I know he has serious skill in all things "manly" and can handle an ax with ease. My main thought at the time was, "He's gonna be so sore tomorrow. I wonder where I put that Motrin?" That's when I heard a chain saw start up. In my own back yard. Wait a minute. That was a sound I hadn't heard before. I decided my winged eyeliner could wait and went to go check things out. 
The first person I bumped into was Reagan. He was shuttling small pieces of wood to and from our wood pile. Nothing nefarious going on there, despite his uncanny resemblance to Obi Wan Kenobi.  I went around the corner to see what else I could find.
 And saw this. Graham was focused on the job at hand, so I waited until he took a break to ask him a few questions. The first being, "Hey, when did you get the chainsaw?" Don't get me wrong- I knew he was gonna get one soon, but it was 8:30 in the morning, on a Saturday. How did it get here? It was like the stork had just dropped it off on our doorstep or something. No doubt, though, even I could tell this chainsaw was a game changer. They were flying through that green wood like it was nobody's business.
Ten inch tree trunk? No problem. Chip cut through that log like a hot knife through butter. Graham was able to clear so much wood, in fact, they ended up with a small mountain of stumps. They were too big in diameter for firewood and needed to be split. That way, they would be easier to handle and easier to stack on my wood pile. You'd think Graham would ask Chip to help out. After all, he's got what it takes. But no. Where's the fun in that?  
 This is what they did instead. We had our version of the Duluth Trading Company Lumberjack Games. First up was Ian. The object of the game was to split the wood in the least amount of strokes. Notice his perfect form- eye on the prize. Just like hitting a golf ball. Ian took 7 strokes to get the job done.
 Next up- Reagan. He used a more non-conventional swing in hopes his long arms would do most of the work. Despite the constant razzing of Graham and Ian, he was able to split this beast in 8 strokes.
Last, but not least, Big Graham stepped up to the plate. He did a bit of stretching and some neck popping before he turned to the boys and said, "Now I'll show you how it's done." Nothing like a like a little King of the Mountain among the McFarland guys to start off the weekend. And in just 1..2..3 strokes, he split that whopper right in half. The Boys had to give it to him. He'd won it fair and square. But poor Chip. Not only had he been left out of the competition, but there was really nothing he could say.