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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Plastic Grass?? Yeah, No.

Easter decorations are some of my favorite decorations. There's something about the soft colors and all the little bunnies and chicks that just speaks to me. But there is one type of Easter decor I don't like. The green plastic grass. That stuff I could totally do without. It's just kinda chintzy and always seems to end up scattered around my house, stuck on random jelly beans.  Decorating with real grass is so much prettier and super easy to do. I say this from personal experience. From start to finish, it'll only take you about 7 days to make something totally adorable. Here's how you do it.
All you'll need is some type of container, some potting soil, and rye grass seed. I used these cute little bunny bowls I found at HomeGoods, but you could use any type of container.  Coffee mugs, flower pots, tin buckets - they'll all work. Just use your imagination.
Fill your container with the potting soil. You'll want the soil to be about 3/4 of an inch below the rim. 
Sprinkle on your rye seed, with a heavy hand, all over the top. Don't be shy- you want to pile it on here. That way your grass will come in nice and thick. Gently scratch the seed into your dirt.
 Once you've done that, you'll want to use a spray bottle to soak the seeds into the soil. I got this tip from Karen at theartofdoingstuff.com. By using a spray bottle instead of your tap, the seeds will stay put and won't wash to the edges. This helps you from accidentally ending up with patchy grass.  Ain't nobody got time for patchy grass. After that, cover your container loosely with plastic wrap and place it in a sunny spot. Water it a little every day, making sure the soil is only slightly damp. 
You'll be amazed at how fast this stuff grows. After only a day and a half in the sun, this is how much progress I'd made. 
Here's a picture of the same bowl after 4 days. Things are getting a lot more interesting, but it's still not quite done. 
 At day 7, now we're all done. Tell me this is not the sweetest thing you've ever seen.
All it needs now is a little haircut and we're good to go. To make sure this stays looking nice, you'll want to water your grass (lightly- just damp to the touch), occasionally trim it, and make sure it gets some sun. That's really all there is to it. Now it's just a matter of figuring out where you want to use it in your house.
I decided to use my bowls of grass to help decorate my dining room. I had a lot of white going on in there and I liked how the green of the grass added that little sumthin' sumthin' to the table.
C'mon- that's got to be the cutest thing you've ever seen. So much bang for your buck. It did take a little bit of planning- waiting for everything to grow. But other than that, it was so easy your kiddos could do it. As a matter of a fact, I think you should let your kids help with this. They'll have an absolute blast doing it and will end up feeling like little Master Gardeners. And lucky you. You won't have to worry about finding this stuff two months from now, under your couch, stuck to a Peep.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Card Catalog Cabinet- The Big Reveal

 So here's where I left you last week. I had just cracked open the gel stain and was brushing it on my dresser.  I had hunted down this particular brand of stain because the manufacturer's guidelines said it could be used directly on wood veneer without any need for sanding. Every customer review and blog post I had read about this stuff supported that claim, so I was eager to get started.
I used a sponge brush for application, just like everyone recommended. And sure enough- the gel stain went on like a dream! So incredibly easy to use. I didn't have a single drip mark anywhere and the coverage and color was exactly what I'd been hoping for.
Here's the top of the chest of drawers with only one coat of gel stain. It's definitely patchy, but that's because it's not done yet.  This is what one of my favorite bloggers, Miss Mustard Seed, calls the "ugly stage".
The ugly stage is 100% predictable, but it always makes me a little bit nervous. I mean, look at this drawer. This is the stage where I begin to wonder and worry if things will ever turn out. But you just need to take a deep breath and keep on plugging.
In order to stain the groove in between the two "drawers", I had to use a small brush and dab the gel in there. This slowed me way down, but it was also the best way to get this job done.
Here's a view of the side panel with only one coat of gel stain. You can definitely see the uneven stroke marks here (particularly near the top lip of the cabinet). However, I wasn't too worried about that because I'd always planned on doing two coats of stain.
What ended up working best, though, was a much easier solution than staining the whole thing a second time. I just dry brushed a little bit of the stain in the areas I felt were too uneven. By doing it this way, I was able to save time, keep more patina in the piece and it ended up looking more legit.
After I let everything dry for 24 hours, it was time to seal this baby. The same technique was in play here- sponge brush, thin application in 2 coats and we'd be all done.
But that's not what happened. This happened. After barely brushing the sealer on the upper "drawer", it immediately started pulling off the dried gel stain. Insert colorful word choice here.
So I tried again using SUPER gentle brush strokes. I'm talking petting baby bunny gentle. No luck. More disaster and more colorful language from Cindy.
In the end, I decided to skip the top coat all together. I restained the areas that had been exposed by using the sealer and (hallelujah!) you couldn't tell where I'd had any trouble. I'm not sure how this piece will hold up with only the gel stain and no sealer. Everything I've read about how to use this stain on a veneer surface emphasizes the need for a top coat, but I can't imagine how others avoided the problems I encountered. I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed the stain is good enough on its own and hope for the best. I'll keep you updated on that as the months go by.
 Once everything had completely dried, it was time to put on the drawer pulls. We carefully measured and marked where they would go. I did a ton of research and ended up buying my hardware from a store in China that I found on Etsy. Full disclosure here- these pulls were a little flimsy and we had some issues with the screws they sent (as in snapping in half when we twisted them into the wood). But in the end, the pulls were such a cost saver, we buckled down and made it work. 
We drilled pilot holes for each screw.
And used a screw driver to put in the hardware. Using hand tools was a little more work, but resulted in less snapage of those wimpy screws. 20 drawer pulls later, we were all done.
And this beauty is what we ended up with. I have to admit, this project turned out even better than I had hoped! It really gives off that "Museum of Natural History" vibe I was going for, but at a serious fraction of the cost. Just to refresh your memory- this is what the chest of drawers looked like when I found it at the ReStore:
Definitely a diamond in the rough. Overall, it probably took me about a week to complete this project and my all-in budget broke down like this:

Chest of Drawers- $30

Grand Total= $68.00!!

Now that this job is done, it's time to move on to the next task at hand. A task that will require more painting and a good measure of ninja balance and strength. You guessed it- it's time to paint my ceilings. I just can't put it off any longer. It's going to be a bear of a job, but I think I may have a new trick up my sleeve. Something that will save both my sanity and my 48 year old neck muscles. Wish me luck- I'm pretty sure I'm gonna need it.