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.