Thursday, February 25, 2016

Housekeeping 101

Where in the world did Home Economics go?? It was such a great way to learn how to do the everyday household kinda stuff- balancing a checkbook, ironing a shirt, making meals from scratch. The teacher was like your own personal "Hints from Heloise" - giving you the inside scoop on just about everything you needed to know to make it on your own.  Now I'm not gonna pretend I'm in the same league as those women, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to running a house. None of these tips are what I'd call rocket science, but my hope is one of these might have you thinking, "Now that was a pretty good idea."
1. Cleaning a wooden cutting board- We all know wood should never go in a dishwasher and you should never use any type of soap to clean it. So what's the best way to get rid of all those germs? To do the trick, just dump some kosher salt on your board and scrub away with half a lemon. When you're all done, rinse it off under some running water and let it completely dry. It'll be bacteria free and ready to go.
2. Cleaning up broken glass- If you have tile floors like me, you know what a nightmare it is when a kiddo accidentally drops a glass. Little fragments go flying everywhere- almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Here's an easy way to clean up all that carnage. Just use a piece of white bread and gently swipe it across your floors. The bread's soft texture will grab all those hidden tiny shards you might otherwise miss. Shards a broom usually leaves behind and are found later when you're walking barefoot through the kitchen. Yet another reason why Wonder Bread is a gift from the gods.
3. Dusting your ceiling fan blades-  I've always hated doing this job, because, invariably, dust clumps would fly all over the room. Finally, (thank you, Pinterest!) here's a way to do it without all the mess. Simply slide a pillow case over each fan blade. Using both hands, squeeze the case closed and draw it towards you. This way, all the dust ends up in the pillow case. When you're all done, take it outside and shake it all out in the garbage. Ingenious! Wish I'd thought of it.
 4. Folding a fitted sheet- I'm pretty sure most of y'all already know how to do this, but just in case you missed it, here's how it's done. Lay the sheet flat on your bed with the pockets facing you. Tuck the bottom pockets inside the top ones.
 Fold it top to bottom into thirds.
 Then fold it side to side into thirds.
 And there you have it. As simple as ABC.
 5. Adding keys to your key ring (without destroying your nails)- Grab the staple remover out of your desk and use its teeth to separate the ring for you. You'll be able to slide on even the chunkiest of keys with no problem. It's crazy how well this gets the job done, your manicure surviving unscathed.
 6. Cleaning Legos- This may be a boy thing, but I'm pretty sure we've all had that moment when we've looked into the kids' Lego box and went, "Blech! What in the world did they spill in there?!?" No worries, ladies. Simply gather up those germ ridden blocks and toss them into a sturdy laundry bag. Tie it up tight and wash the bag in cold water on the gentlest cycle. When the washer's done, pour the Legos out onto a beach towel and let them air dry. This is hands down the best and easiest way to clean those babies without losing your sanity. 
7. Protecting your boots- If you have a pair of soft leather boots, you'll need to protect their shape so they don't end up with that weird crease near the ankle. An easy solution? Cut up one of the gazillion swim noodles in your garage from last summer and make your own boot trees. This is what you call upcycling at its best. Not quite the same as hugging a tree, but pretty darn close.
8. Tackling squeaky floors- Now that I have wooden floors, I also have the squeaks that come with them. A minor issue to be sure, but bothersome just the same. When we have a house full of kiddos, that can be a lot of squeaking. You only need one product to tackle this problem- baby powder. Just sprinkle some on the floor, brush it into the cracks and voila! The sweet sound of silence.

And there you have it- 8 little tips for making things easier to get done around the house. Like I said before, it's not rocket science or anything. It's not gonna solve any of the world's major problems. But what it will do is protect you and your toes from any broken glass, which is almost the same thing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Chopsticks And The Red Headed Kid

When I was in the 3rd grade, my father worked for Skelly Oil in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His job, at that time, was in international project development. Early that year, a division level CFO position had opened up with Tong Suh Petro Chemical and they offered that job to him. A chance to move up the corporate ladder, he eagerly accepted it. And not long thereafter, he packed up his little family and we all moved to Seoul, South Korea. It was 1975 and he was 33 years old. 
Here we are at a company picnic that year, just outside of Seoul. I'm the dark headed kid on the right with the evil grin. I'm not sure what I was cooking up at the time, but odds are it wasn't good. I have some memories of living in Korea, but most are of the things a child would find important. I distinctly recall how huge the grasshoppers were, how stinky the kimchi was, and how yummy the Gogi Gui tasted. Gogi Gui is another name for Korean BBQ. It's a hibachi style of cooking food and it is flat out delicious. 
I was talking to The Red Headed Kid about this very fact the other day, when he said, "Sounds good! Can we go try some? I've never been to a hibachi place." What?? How could that be? How had I missed this important part of his development? It was time to make things right.
Despite the fact that it was sleeting and raining, I dragged everybody out to dinner that night. There are just some things that can't be put off another day.
Since Reagan had been to a hibachi restaurant before, I put him in charge of showing G 2.0 the ropes.
First on the menu? The ever popular soup and salad.
The Red Headed Kid liked the soup, but took a pass on the salad. He told me something about "saving room for the rest of his meal". Yeah, right, kid. Nice try.
Little did he know, there were more vegetables in his future whether he liked it or not.

Our chef had mad knife skills and was able to keep Graham's undivided attention with ease. 

Despite having a fork, Graham really wanted to use his chopsticks. Because the ones they gave us were made of plastic, I wasn't sure how successful he'd be. If you've ever tried to use chopsticks, you know the plastic ones are harder to work with because they're smooth. Whereas the wooden ones, with their rough texture, have a way of  "grabbing" your food, making them easier to use. I could tell right away, though, The Red Headed Kid was not to be deterred.
He kept trying and trying and ultimately was successful- plowing through his hibachi chicken like a pro. When the desert menu came around, I thought for sure he was too full to eat another bite. Silly me. I should know by now there's always room for dessert in a boy tummy.

Especially if it's fried ice cream. But when you have to share that ice cream with your big brother? You have to make some tough choicesTime is of the essence and any finesse you had been using needs to go straight out the window.  You gotta ditch those chopsticks and grab the nearest spoon, increasing your odds of getting most of the dessert. And if you're really lucky, he'll be so busy posing for your mom, he won't even notice you've cleaned the bowl.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Family Has Got To Eat!

It's been my job to feed the McFarland Crew for over a quarter of a century now. And I can honestly say that finding meals they'll eat during Lent has been one of my biggest challenges. Maybe I should rephrase that- finding meals they'll eat without grumbling has been one of my biggest challenges. More than once, I've tried to serve the old standbys of my youth, only to be met with failure. It's just frustrating and mind boggling. I mean really, how can someone not like creamed tuna on toast? I loved that stuff. 
Lent; @Melanie Draper totally made me think of @Annika Pitcher:
About a year ago, while cruising through Pinterest, I stumbled across a recipe for corn salsa and had a moment of divine intervention. I knew it would go great with fish tacos, but I was looking for a meal that would go together faster. That's how I came up with this brain child- Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa.

Here's our cast of characters. Yes, that is cilantro on the right and all I can say to that is BLECH. That's how much I love you people, I bought cilantro. I didn't come anywhere near eating it, but I did actually use my own money to buy it for you. Full disclosure- the minute I was done taking these pictures, I threw that whole bunch of green in the trash. As for which shrimp to use, I like using the popcorn shrimp because it bakes up crunchy, but you could use whatever shrimp you like best. Just cook it up as you normally would and it'll work great in these tacos. Let's make some salsa.
This stuff is so easy to make it's kinda embarrassing, but trust me, it tastes better than anything you can buy. Start off with some frozen corn. You can run it under some water to thaw it or you can do what I did- toss the bag on the counter first thing in the morning and let it defrost all day.
Next, you'll need to chop up some fresh jalapenos. Don't be scared, this is one of the reasons this stuff is so good. Everything in it is fresh and that makes all the difference. Take your time and remove all the seeds and membranes. 
Once that's done, you'll want to cut it into small dice. I used about one and a half jalapenos because my kiddos like things mild to medium, but you can use more or less to get it to the heat level you like. Just be careful to wash your hands when your done.
Scrape everything into your bowl.
Dice up your red onion into small dice and toss that in as well.
Squeeze in the juice of 2 limes and add some salt and pepper to taste. Mix that baby up.
While your shrimp is cooking away in the oven, heat up 2 soft white corn tortillas on the stove top. You're only trying to warm them up here, not to cook them or add any color. It should take about 25 seconds per side.
You're gonna use 2 corn tortillas for each taco- just stack them up. Then top your tortillas with some of that chrunchy shrimp goodness. Put a couple of heaping spoonfuls of corn salsa on each taco and you're all done.
And there you have it. I even put some torn cilantro on there just for you, but it almost killed me. At this point, you can keep on going from here- adding things you love. Guacamole, queso fresco, some slivered cabbage would all be good choices. I like to eat mine just like this, with a little squeeze of lime. Not only do these tacos taste great, my whole family loves them. Not a single grumble to be heard at the table. And that, my friends, is what you call a Lenten miracle.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's All In The Accessories

I've always loved bracelets for a number of reasons. First off, I sincerely appreciate the way they always fit me- despite my occasional queso bender. Second, I like how they can make an outfit look put together without my having to sell a kidney- unlike other accessories I know. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Ms. Leather Handbag. We all know you're drop dead gorgeous, but at $595, the only person I know of who can afford you is Oprah Winfrey. But Ms. Bracelet? She has a way of being super cute and affordable at the same time. Much more thoughtful. Case in point- these babies.
These are what you call Morse Code Bracelets. Each bracelet has a word or phrase spelled out in morse code- using different colored beads as the dashes and the dots. I originally saw how to make these on a website called (apologizing in advance here) I instantly fell in love with the idea of being able to personalize these bracelets for my friends in our own secret code.  It's like I'm Nancy Drew, but with age spots. These cuties are a breeze to make- let me show you how.
You're gonna need:
~seed beads
~embroidery floss 
~flexible wire beading needles
~crimp beads
~crimping pliers
~tiny gold or silver beads
Use the Morse Code Translator link (from above) to find out the dashes and dots for the word or phrase you want to use on your bracelet. Then, take a 24" length of embroidery floss and thread your needle so it's doubled and at a final length of about 12". Now comes the fun part- pick four different colors for your beads. One for the base color, one for the dashes, one for the dots, and one for the spacers. Here's the colors I chose:

Base- green
Spacer- blue
Dash- orange
Dot- red

When Colleen was little, her nickname was "Colleenie Bikini". Since I was making this bracelet for her, I decided to keep it simple and just spell out "Bikini" with the beads.  First, I threaded about an inch or so of my base color onto the floss.
Next came the letters. Here's a shot of how the letter "B" looks in Morse Code- dash, dot, dot. Make sure you use your spacer color between each letter.
Here is the entire word in Morse Code - B-I-K-I-N-I.
Once I finished the word, I slid the beads close together and strung on more green beads.
I put a crimp bead at each end of the strand to keep things nice and snug.
Here's a shot of another bracelet, this time with 2 words. This particular one says "Gimme Brie". Can you guess who I made this one for?? I'm pretty sure you already know the answer, but I felt compelled to at least ask. Anyhoo, just remember that whenever you have more than one word, use a few of your base color beads between those words to keep everything nice and legible. 
Next, put both ends of your bracelet into the eye of your needle and thread on your small bead- it should be pretty snug. If it's not, use a smaller bead. By sliding this bead up and down, it will either tighten or loosen your bracelet.
Last, but not least, to keep the sliding bead in place, thread a small crimp bead on the end of each double strand and crimp it closed. About one inch from the end should be about right. This leaves you with a cute little tassel on the end. Love it. And that's it- finito.
When all was said and done, I had 5 new bracelets in my possession- each with their own secret coded message. My favorite of the batch? The second one closest to me. It says, "I need a nap". Which is 100% true. I'm exhausted, people. I have to start cutting back. I think I need to give Nancy a call. She's just gonna have to find the Secret of the Old Clock without me.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Getting Rid Of Some Dead Wood

When we bought this house back in June, one of the things we loved most about it were all the trees in the yard. These weren't your mangy scrub oaks you find in Texas. These were honest to goodness, reach to the sky kind of trees with leaves the size of a grown man's hand. We also knew we had a rebel in the bunch who might end up giving us some trouble.  It was this guy.
He's the tree smack dab in the middle of this shot. Rumor had it he'd been dead for over 3 years- the victim of a gypsy moth invasion. And after keeping a close eye on him for months, we began to notice the trunk on the right was beginning to bow and was covered with tree fungus. Not something to ignore when you're dealing with an iron oak.  It was finally time to cough up the cash and bring in the professionals.
Iron oak apparently gets its name from the fact that it Weighs. A. Ton. and having it so close to the house meant we needed to bring in the big guns. We needed serious equipment to keep everything seriously safe. That's Scott guiding the crane down my driveway via remote control. He made it look as easy as driving a toy car he got for Christmas. Totally impressive.
I did my best to stay out of their way, but being on the sidelines isn't exactly my strong suit. The young guy in the dark coat is Gage. He just kept looking up and going, "Hmmm....yep, well....hmmmm". I couldn't tell if that was a good thing or a not so good thing.
 But either way, it was obvious he was ready to get down to business.
As I watched Gage work his way up to the top of the tree, I couldn't help but have an "aha" moment. This tree was not a problem of my own making.  It was a problem I had inherited.  I had chosen to ignore it for a few months, hoping things wouldn't get any worse. And yet, that is exactly what did happen- things got worse.
I knew taking care of this dead tree would be expensive, nerve wracking and inconvenient. But I also realized it was time to quit hoping it would just take care of itself. It was time to get rid of the dead wood in my yard. 
We all have our own particular version of dead wood in our lives- past hurts, insecurities, unmet dreams. Mine is totally different than yours- no two are alike.  Yet, we all carry these, like knots in our hearts, heavy like iron oak.
But we don't have to. There comes a time when we should get rid of it- even if it's just a little piece at a time.
With each piece of dead wood we remove, the landscape becomes clearer. We begin to see spots of light where there used to be none.
And a new kind of order where there used to be a mess. Things begin to fit. I know it sounds cliche, but it's true. Today is a new day. We can let go of those things we've been carrying for far too long. Just take a deep breath and chuck that piece of dead wood right out of your life. Even if it's just a small branch. You're absolutely worth it.