"Dad Says..." Lunch Box Notes Template for Download

Last school year I wrote a note every morning to each of my daughters and stealthily placed them in their lunch bags. Sometimes the notes were to encourage them. Other days I wrote congratulatory notes for a job well done. The majority of the days, however, the note was advice on how to be a a good human being by building others up, adding value to the world around them, and helping other people.

I realized how much both girls enjoyed the notes when I forgot to put the notes in their lunch bags one day a few weeks into the school year. I learned that even their friends would look forward to the notes. The girls have saved all those notes (for what purpose, I'm not sure), so I'll call this activity a worthwhile way to spend a few minutes each night or morning.

You can download a copy of the Dad Says note template that you can print at home. I also created a Mom Says version for Mom's who want to add a little something extra to their child's day.

 

Screenshot of downloadable template

2007 Ford Five Hundred - How to replace outer tie rod end

On this 2007 Ford Five Hundred, the outer tie rod end had developed some play in it at around 125,000 miles. Replacing the outer tie rod end took about 20 minutes. I used a Mevotech tie rod end that cost about $25 from Amazon.com.

 

Here are are some of the parts and tools you'll need to complete this job:

 

2001 Dodge Caravan - How to Replace Radiator Fan Motor Relay

If your radiator cooling fans stop working in your 2001 Dodge Caravan, there is a possibility that your cooling fan motor relay may have died. Fortunately, this is an easy repair.

Here is a quick video showing how to replace the radiator cooling fan motor relay on a 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport 3.3L.

Parts and tools:

  • Cooling Fan Motor Relay - (Amazon had this about $11 less than I could find it locally anywhere)
  • 8mm wrench or socket
  • 10mm wrench or socket
  • Large flat blade screwdriver
  • 1/4" x 1" stainless steel hex head screw (or metric equivalent) to replace the rivet fastener
  • 7/32 cobalt drill bit to drill through steel of appropriate size for your stainless steel screw
  • Drill
  • Phillips head screw driver
  • Small slotted screwdriver to free the retention clip on the relay electrical connector
  • Drill bit large enough to drill out the rivet in your existing relay 
  • Ratchet to drive in your new stainless steel screw (as an alternative, get yourself one of these adapters for your drill to make driving your new screw in MUCH faster)
  • Long ratchet extension to reach down from the top of the radiator
  • Socket to fit the head on your stainless steel screw

How to hang a picture without nails, screws or tools

I hung a 38" x 38" framed picture in less than 30 seconds without nails, screws, a hammer or drill.

The Monkey Hook's design simplicity results in a very user friendly picture hanging experience.

This was a large, heavy framed print, weighing roughly 20 lbs. Since I wasn't sure whether I'd find a stud exactly where I wanted to hang this picture, I grabbed my cordless drill, stud sensor, drywall anchors and screws, and was prepared to go through the normal pain-in-the-butt picture hanging process. But when I turned the picture over to make sure the hanging wire was secure, I saw a bizarre little contraption that looked like a new age fish hook taped to the back of the frame. There label attached to the hook said it was a "heavy duty wall hanger" that I could simply push, twist and then hang a picture that weighed up to 150 lbs.

While skeptical, my curiosity got the best of me, so I did as the instructions said and pushed the sharp end through my drywall and then twisted so the tip of the hook was facing up. That took about 10 seconds. I hung the picture on the hook and spent another 20 seconds leveling picture. In less than 60 seconds, I hung a picture exactly where I wanted it without using a nail, hammer or screw. I was impressed!

The Monkey Hook looks like this:

The Monkey Hook picture

The only potential drawback to this product is that I don't think it will work if there was stud behind the wall where you were going to hang your picture. But I don't think I've ever been fortunate enough to find a stud right where I wanted to hang a picture anyway, so it's not a big deal to me.

The Monkey Hook is a sweet little product that definitely makes it easy to hang pictures without nails. I used to purchase them from Amazon.com, but recently I learned that my local Ace Hardware also sells them. Best of all, they're less than $10 for a pack of 10!

How to Replace Blower Motor Resistor on 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport 3.3L

If your blower motor stops working on your Dodge Caravan, the first two things to check are:

  • Ensure fuse is not blown
  • Check your cabin air filter to see if it is extremely dirty. If so, change it before proceeding.

A common issue with Dodge Caravans is for the blower motor to suddenly stop working or only work when set to high speed. If your fuse is not blown there is a good chance that your blower motor resistor has died. If your cabin air filter is extremely dirty then it can force the motor to work harder to circulate air, thus causing the blower motor resistor to overheat and eventually die. Here is a quick video showing how to replace the blower motor resistor on a 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport 3.3L.

Parts and tools:

How to replace sway bar link on 2001 Dodge Caravan

When your sway bar links have too much play in the ball joint, it is time to replace them. On the 2001 Dodge Caravan, this is a fairly easy repair that you can do in about 20 to 30 minutes with the right tools.

One of the most important considerations when performing this repair is choosing a high quality sway bar link that has the zerk fitting on the sides of the joint housing rather than on the front. Many of the aftermarket sway bar links put the zerk fitting on the front of the joint housing and this can make it difficult to grease the top ball joint after installation. I chose the Raybestos sway bar link, but I also believe that Moog makes a high quality replacement with side zerk fittings.

Here are links to the parts I used:

Here are some useful tools to make the job easier:

If you want to use an impact wrench, Amazon has some pretty decent prices on both pneumatic and electric impact wrenches.

Finally, I highly recommend that if you still have the OEM lug nuts on your Dodge Caravan, replace those crummy things with a set of high quality Gorilla lug nuts. These will not rust underneath the flimsy shell like the OEMs do and will last as long as your vehicle does. Anyone who works on your vehicle and has to remove your wheels will appreciate that you upgraded.

These are the Gorilla lug nuts that fit my 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport. Yours may be different, so be sure to check application before ordering.

Finally, here is the video showing how to replace the sway bar link on a 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport.

 

My Lemonade Recipe

Most of the commercial lemonade mixes are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. They also lack the psychological flavor enhancement that only occurs when consuming your own homemade lemonade. So I share with you my recipe for tasty lemonade.

First, you’ll need to get a Meyer lemon tree and nurture it for about seven years (only a few people who read this will understand that statement). Next, once your lemons have ripened for four months, you’ll need to pick about 8 to 12 of them, halve them and then squeeze all the juice out. You’ll need 1 1/2 to 2 cups of lemon juice. Or you can just buy the lemons from the store, or as a last resort buy some real lemon juice.

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 cups cold water
  • Lots of ice
  • (Optional) substitute two cups of water with 16 oz of Raspberry or Lemon seltzer
  • (Optional) 1 cup of crushed strawberries or raspberries
  1. Bring two of your 8 cups of water to boil and then add 2 cups of sugar and continue to boil until all sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.
  2. Combine cold water, lemon juice, sugar syrup in a large pitcher with lots of ice.
  3. Add seltzer for a bit of sparkle
  4. Stir well & enjoy
  5. Add a few slices of real lemon for garnish and visual appeal

If you like raspberry or strawberry in your lemonade, then crush a half cup of either fruit and mix with your syrup when boiling it.

Recipe: Peanut Butter Caramel Pie

This is a semi-bake peanut butter pie.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz softened cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 cup of half & half or condensed milk
  • 30 caramels (to be melted)
  • 16 to 20 Nutter Butter cookies
  • 1/2 cup of graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 8 oz of cool whip or other whipped cream
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and then start by crushing your Nutter Butter cookies. I do this by putting them in a gallon zip bag and then using a rolling pin to crush them until their fine.

2. Once crushed, combine them with the graham cracker crumbs in a mixing bowl.

3. Melt the 1/2 stick of butter and then pour into the mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly until the crust mixture will clump nicely.

4. Pour 3/4 of the mixture into a greased 8" or 9" springform pan. Using a coffee cup, force the mixture up the sides of the pan. Once you have an even amount of crust mixture around the entire inside of the pan, add the rest of the mixture to the bottom of the pan and compress with your hands.

5. Put the crust into the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. It will burn easily, so watch it closely towards the end.

6. While the crust is baking, begin melting the caramels in a small sauce pan over low heat. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan to keep the caramels from scorching while they melt. Add caramels a handful at a time, being careful not to get too many in the pan at once or the ones on the bottom could scorch.

7. Once the caramel is melted and the crust is baked, pour the caramel into the spring form pan. You will want about 1/8" to 1/4" of caramel in the bottom of the pan. Now transfer to the fridge or freezer to cool completely before adding in the filling.

Filling Preparation

1. Start by mixing together the cream cheese, peanut butter and half/half or condensed milk. Use a mixer with the paddle or a hand mixer. Mix for about 3 to 4 minutes or until creamy smooth.

2. Add in the confectioners sugar and mix until smooth. It helps to sift the sugar first so you minimize lumps.

3. Using a spatula, fold in the Cool Whip until the it's fully mixed with the cream cheese and peanut butter mixture.

4. Once the caramel & crust is completely cooled, fill the spring form pan with the mixture to about 1/4" from the top of the pan.

Whipped Topping

1. Using your 2 cups of heavy whipping cream, begin beating using a hand mixer or electric whisk until peaks start to form.

2. Now add in 4 tablespoons of confectioners sugar and continue mixing until peaks form again.

3. Now apply whipped topping to the top of your pie.

4. Garnish with dark chocolate shavings.

5. Chill the pie in the freezer for two hours before serving.

How to Replace Struts on 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport Using Monroe Quick-Strut

Replacing struts can be an expensive maintenance item for most cars. I had called several shops and got prices between $600 and $900 to replace the front struts on my 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport.

Using Monroe's Quick Struts, you can pick up the a pair of struts for under $250 and with the right tools, do the job yourself in about an hour. I created this video to show the average person how to DIY these Monroe Quick Struts on a Dodge Caravan. I'm doing the driver's side (aka, left side) in this video.

I had all of the tools that I needed to do this job and got most of the parts from Amazon.com. Here's a list of what you'll need to make this job easier. Note that these are parts for a 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport 3.3L.

Those are the essential parts that you'll need. While you've got everything apart though, it's a good time to check your tie rod ends, as well as your CV axle. If your CV boots have any tears, holes or are leaking fluids, then replace the whole CV axle. It's an easy job when you have everything apart and adds about 20 minutes to the total job.

If you decide that you need or want to replace your CV half shaft drive axle, now is the time to do it since you have everything apart already. You can pick these up at your local Napa for around $50 for a refurbished one, or for about $60 from Amazon.

How to Replace Radiator on 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport 3.3L

A semi-common problem on Dodge Caravan mini-vans is that the brackets that hold the transmission oil cooler in place break loose from the rivets that hold the bracket to the cooler. When this occurs, the brackets and transmission oil cooler move freely against the radiator and this can cause a leak in the radiator. This happened on my 2001 Dodge Caravan so I had to repair the transmission oil cooler & replace the radiator.

The two videos below will show how to replace the radiator on a 2001 Dodge Caravan Sport and also show a the results of how I repaired the broken rivets on the transmission cooler.

Tools & parts that you will need to perform the repairs:

(1) Radiator for Dodge Caravan (I paid about $112 from Amazon w/ free shipping)

(1) Upper radiator hose for Dodge Caravan

(1) Lower radiator hose for Dodge Caravan

(4) Stainless steel hose clamps approximately 2"

(1) 10mm socket

(1) 10mm wrench (ratcheting wrench makes life easier)

(1) 13mm socket

(1) 8mm socket or wrench to remove headlight bolts

(1) Small pry bar to remove plastic body panels (or this specialty tool is probably even easier)

Optional Stuff

(1) Tube of Dielectric grease

(1) Tube of anti-seize compound

Transmission Cooler Bracket Repair Tools

(1) Riveter (Got one from Amazon or $24)

(4) Aluminum 1/8" x 1/4" rivets; (1) 3/16" x 1/4" rivet; (4) 1/8" washers; (3) 3/16" washers (this assortment from Amazon will give you the rivets you need)

Video Part 1 of 2

Recipe: Bloody Strawberry Sundae & Cheesecake Topping

I've posted my strawberry sundae topping recipe out to the web at http://allrecipes.com/PersonalRecipe/62281952/Bloody-Strawberry-Sundae-or-Cheesecake-Topping/Detail.aspx

But it is also available here:


Ingredients

  • 2 cups sliced strawberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/3 cup bakers sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon of Blood Orange Bitters
  • 2 Tablespoons of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

 

  1. In a small sauce pan, combine the vanilla, bitters and water. Add the strawberries and sugar (I like to mix the strawberries and sugar before adding, but it's not mandatory). Over medium low heat, heat the mixture until the strawberries are soft and a slight boil starts, stirring often.
  2. Reduce the to low heat and simmer for five minutes. If you're using frozen strawberries and the mixture is too thin, you can add your cornstarch to thicken it.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the fridge before topping your ice cream or cheesecake.

Recipe: Jason Sherrill's Pumpkin Raisin Apple Bread

It's rich, soft and fattening, but it's so tasty you won't care that after 300 loaves you'll be as big as a house.

Mix these ingredients together first in a large bowl until well blended:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon applesauce (unsweetened, if possible)
  • 2 1/2 cups of white C&H Bakers sugar (the finely sifted granular sugar)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 4 large eggs
  • 14.5 oz of pumpkin puree (unseasoned)
  • 1 cup of raisins

Now in a separate bowl, mix these ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour (King Arthur's all-purpose unbleached is my favorite)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (regular salt, not sea salt)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh, finely ground cinammon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground cloves

Now bring it all together and make some awesome "bread":

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (based on Michigan altitude) 
  2. Grease & flour three LIGHT COLORED 7 x 4 x 3 bread loaf pans. I prefer Fat Daddio's pans for even baking and super clean-up 
  3. Add your dry ingredients to your wet ingredients and blend together by hand. You only need to blend until you see no more dry flour, and then give it another 10 stirs.
  4. Pour even amounts into your three pans. The pans should be about 2/3 full.
  5. Bake on the middle rack for 60 minutes. It's best to check for doneness at 50 minutes with a toothpick.

Substitution Options

  • Replace pumpkin puree with sweet potato puree
  • Replace the 1/2 cup of applesauce with 1/2 cup of oil for slightly moister bread
  • Replace raisins with cranberries
  • Omit raisins completely, the bread will still be delicious
  • Replace nutmeg, cinammon, cloves and ginger with 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice

If you want to shut your heart down but die happy, then you can make some sweet icing for the top of your warm bread. Just blend together 2 cups of powered sugar, 3 to 4 tablespoons of milk and 1 teaspoon of real vanilla.

Smoked Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

Yesterday I smoked two 5 lb chickens to feed two adults and two toddlers. Needless to say, we had a lot of chicken left over. I whipped together this crock pot chicken noodle soup recipe that turned out quite well.

Chop your onion & slice your celery and carrots. Heat your olive oil in a sautee pan and then sautee your onion until it's translucent. Take your onion out and then sautee your celery and carrots for five minutes, stirring frequently (you can add a touch of oil if your pan is dry). While sauteeing, add 10 turns of your Italian Herb seasoning into the pan, and also add 5 turns of your Peppercorn Medley grinder, along with two turns of your sea salt grinder. At the end of 5 minutes, add your onion back in and stir for another two minutes.

Add your broth, water, measured seasonings and chicken to your crock pot and turn on high. Add your onions, carrots, celery and corn. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 6 to 8 hours.

Prepare whichever kind of noodles you like (I prefer wide egg noodles) and enjoy!

By the way, this will make a LOT of soup, which you can freeze.

Smoked Venison Recipe (a whole hind quarter)

Last weekend, I smoked an 18 lb venison hind quarter for my friend, Larry. I tried a small chunk after smoking it and thought it was quite tasty. I then froze it and gave the remaining 17.5 lbs to Larry. Today Larry told me that he whacked it in half and served it at a card party. Not only did Larry say that it was scrumptious, but one of his guests said, "That is the best venison I've ever had!" So, for anyone else who might want to try it, here's what I did.

DSC_2533

Ingredients

  • Venison hind quarter, 12 to 20 lbs, trimmed, but with some fat left on
  • 16 oz package of uncooked bacon
  • 2 tsp of ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of Chipotle chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp of ground sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Morton Tender Quick (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar

Mix all of the rub ingredients above together in a small bowl or a shaker. Sprinkle all over the top of the venison and then, using your hands, rub it firmly into the surface of the meat.

Now lay strips of bacon across the entire top surface of the venison. Make sure each bacon slice overlaps the previous one slightly. Since venison is so lean, this will help to keep the moisture in the venison, add a little flavor and keep the outer skin of the venison from becoming too tough. Use wooden toothpicks to hold the bacon in place.

Now let the venison sit on the counter for about an hour to reach room temperature.

Load 3 to 4 oz of hickory wood into your smoker's wood box. Smoke it to the following schedule

  1. 150 degrees - 1 hour
  2. 160 degrees - 1 hour
  3. 170 degrees - 1 hour
  4. 180 degrees - 4 hours
  5. 200 - until the internal core reaches 165 degrees

I use a Cookshack Amerique electric smoker with the temp probe set to put the smoker into hold mode when it reaches 165 degrees. I smoked this piece of venison for 30 hours. It was juicy and tender inside, but nicely smoke-sealed on the outside.

Hint: I use the Maverick RediChek Remote Wireless Smoker Thermometer to keep an eye on my smoker and food temperature while sitting inside the house.

DSC_2535

Is it even possible to call measuring spoons cool? If you're talking about these spoons, you bet!

If you're like me, you probably own at least one set of round measuring spoons. You've probably also tried at least once to get that big ol' tablespoon inside a jar of garlic powder, onion salt or any other small spice jar, to no avail. The solution I've always used is to very slowly and carefully try to pour the spice into the tablespoon without overfilling and spilling. Not a big problem and certainly not anything I've ever lost sleep over; however, I now own something so painfully simple that I'm now amazed that not all measuring spoons are like this.

RSVP Spice Measuring Spoon, Set of 6

 

Imagine that...measuring spoons elongated to easily fit into spice jars so that you no longer to do the slow pour routine. Go ahead, buy some, it'll be the best $12 you've spent on your kitchen in a long, long time.

Another beef cooking tip - don't pack your meatballs or burgers tightly

I usually use 1/3 of a pound of beef for a single patty and I used to pack them very tightly, so my pre-grilled burgers were at least the size of a normal coffee saucer and 1/4" thick; the post-grilled patties would fill an average bun. Even though I generally use 75/25 beef for burgers, they still end up a little dry for my taste. After some research and trial & error, I've finally figured out that my burgers were so dry because I was packing them too tightly.

Now I still use between 1/4 and 1/3 of a pound of beef per patty, but I very lightly pack the patties. The pre-grilled patties are now about 3/4 the diameter of their "tightly packed" cousins and are approximately 1/2" thick. I also add a nice dimple in the middle of each to hold my Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce while they grill. Now my burgers turn out much juicier and still fill an average size bun.

I've also applied the lightly packing tactic to my meatballs with equally satisfying results. So if your burgers, meatballs and other compressed ground beef dishes are a little on the dry side, try using less muscle the next time you prepare them.

A beef cooking tip - add salt after browning

Many people, including myself, add salt to beef before browning it, but I recently learned that my burgers, steaks and meatballs turn out juicer if I add the salt after browning the meat. According to those in the know, salt draws out moisture (makes sense) and slows the browning process.