Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Do-Rag

Today is Skinny’s sixteenth birthday. Yes, really. He’s sixteen. That kind of makes me feel old. He used to be a little boy - I can't remember when he got permission to get older.

I’ve known Skinny for all of his life, and there are several things I could say about him that are birthday post material (i.e. - embarrassing/funny). But I think I'll skip over those this year, because there's something else about him that I feel like sharing. Although Skinny is a fun guy to spend time with, likes to get along and have a good time, and is usually pretty helpful, there's one thing about him that I always remember. That would be his hat.

As a family, we don’t wear hats much. Most Clan boys prefer to go around with the standard Clan haircut - shaved down to their scalp - and Clan girls have enough hair that wearing a hat can be awfully hot. But there are a few exceptions to this generalization. And when the Clan makes exceptions, we don’t go for your average baseball cap or stocking hat.

For instance, take David’s hat. Two years ago, before he started college, he bought himself a fedora. 100% wool, black, the works. He wears in when he feels the need to dress a little stylishly. I’ll leave it up to you to judge how well he pulls that off.

His other hat, which he bought that winter, seemed a bit over the top to me at first. This kind of hat, called an ushunka, originated in Russia, and so it does make a good hat for Minnesota winters, though it makes David look like a bit of a nerd. There’s something to be said for being a nerd, though, if you have warm ears when it’s 15(degrees) below.

Eli also went through a phase when he had to buy himself a hat. He went for style points, just like David, and got a flatcap. I thought those were just for golfers and British people, but apparently Minnesotans wear them too. Beyond Eli and David, though, no one else has a 'trademark' hat except Skinny. And he doesn't even have a proper hat. He just has his do-rag, his Buff.

For those of you who don’t know this already, a Buff is a tube of synthetic material with no seams or stitching. It’s quick-drying, small, and very handy. Dad bought one for each of us three or four years ago. We wear them on camping trips so that the boys don't sunburn their heads and the girls can keep their hair under control. As soon as we got them, Skinny started wearing his constantly, like some kind of bandanna. Even when we were at home. He only took it off to get it washed, and when he went to bed.

At least, I think he takes it off to go to bed. I really don’t know for sure. But I do know that it got so that his original Buff got so disgusting and worn out that Mom and Dad had to get him a second one, and now he rotates between the two. True, he doesn't wear it quite as frequently as he used to, but to me, he looks a little odd without his Buff on. 

Why did he wear his Buff all the time? I'm not sure, and he doesn't say. Either he's scared his hair will all fall out if he let's it get exposed to oxygen, or he has some really impressive, high-maintenance 'do going on under that do-rag. Take your pick.

Whatever the reason, Skinny’s Buff is always one of the first things I think of when I think of him. He’s got to have his Buff. And who knows, maybe he’ll get another Buff for his birthday so he can start wearing one that isn’t worn out again.
Happy Birthday, Skinny!


Monday, December 29, 2014

Moms have Birthdays too

Yes, the old Mom — ahem, the Mom has birthdays too. She probably couldn’t tell you what she’s turning this year, and since it doesn’t seem to be very important to her, I’m not going to try and do the math myself and figure out the number.

For these birthday posts, I like to come up with something about that member of my family that sticks out to me, something that’s uniquely them. Just a little bit of a ‘get to know them better’ type of thing. But coming up with something to say about Mom has been unbelievably hard. For one thing, my Mom is, and I think always has been, an unusual person. There are so many things I could say about her. She has opinions - yes, she does have opinions. And she’s doesn't have a problem with letting people know what those opinions are. And she’s a little wacky and even crazy sometimes. She can be just plain weird, and most of all, her children can testify that she is totally and completely unreasonable.

Yes.

My Mom is completely unreasonable. We cannot talk her into doing anything. Trust me, we’ve tried. She will not be talked into anything by anybody - except maybe Dad. This can be frustrating at times. I mean, we think a week of no schoolwork sounds like a really good idea. And so does having pizza and ice cream for supper. And staying up super late on weekends.

What’s really bad about it, though, is that Mom knows she’s unreasonable and she doesn’t mind it. In fact, she’s proud of it. None of us can really forget how unreasonable she is, because she's always reminding us. We suffer immensely. And Mom's been telling us for years that we should write a book about how much we suffer so she can get a signed copy of it.

If that’s not unreasonable, I don’t know what is.

But sometimes, just to keep us guessing, Mom will do something unexpected. She'll makes us chocolate chip cookies. Or put crushed peppermint candy on our cake. Or let us have a sick day from school. Something totally unexpected like that so that we never know if we’re coming or going. My Mom is like that.
Happy Birthday, Mom.


          You  wouldn't believe how hard it was to find good pictures of Mom to put up here. It turns out that she's always the one behind the camera, and so she's almost never in anything but family pictures. I'll have to make a habit of taking more pictures of her when we're doing things so I have some good ones for next year. But I'd say the pictures I do have here say more clearly than I can just what my Mom is like.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

This year I don't think I'll get around to many Christmas posts - I just haven't had the time to put any together yet, and by the time I do put them together it will be January. So I guess I'll be doing Christmas-y posts next year. This year, you get to hear about what a family of thirteen kids does in the wintertime when they're cooped up in the house.

Among a variety of other things, we put on a play.

Actually, the play was pretty much a one-time thing. In the fall of 2012, my grandma gave us a CD audiobook of a children's book called The Sorcerer's Apprentice. In addition to the reading of the book, the CD contained the musical score that was written by Paul Ducat for the story and performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. I don't know where we came up with the idea of putting together a performance of The Sorcerer's Apprentice story, set to the music. I never thought of us as particularly musically gifted, but to a bunch of kids between 17 and 2, it sounded like a good idea.

I don't know. I mean, who thinks of these things?

So we went right ahead with the idea. At first, we were ambitious enough to try and do it in complete secrecy so that Mom and Dad had no idea what we were doing, but that fell through because Mom was never away from the house long enough for us to practice much. We had to let her in on the secret for that reason - and also so we didn't have to try and hide the number of bathrobes that we were using for costumes.

A word of experience: Bathrobes make the very best costumes. They can represent literally any kind of clothes - wizard robe, ghost, pirate clothes, whatever.

I think we practiced for roughly two weeks, before we performed for our first audience: Mom, Dad, Grandma, and also Eli. Interestingly enough, Eli was the only one of us kids who didn't take part in the play. He would keep his mouth shut about it, but he didn't want to play a part. Probably smart of him - he's never been very interested in making a fool of himself.

A few days after our first performance, our bible study met at our house, and we did the play for them. We also wanted our other grandma, who lives in South Dakota, to be able to see us, so we had Mom videotape it, and she put it on a disk and mailed it. And then that was basically it for The Sorcerer's Apprentice, although we still have the CD and rewatch it every now and then.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the experience of putting on that play. I've never imagined myself as much of an actor, but the experience of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a good one. Everyone who was part of it had fun, and I have to say that we all learned a lot about music and timing from that play. I now have the music pretty much memorized. And that's got to be a good thing.

Since my last two videos of the Clan went over pretty well, I decided to take the video of The Sorcerer's Apprentice and upload it for all of you to enjoy. And maybe laugh at - it was meant to be funny, after all.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"If you can't beet 'em, can 'em."

     I know it's wintertime now and the ground is frozen and maybe there's snow if you're up north like we are. I'm a little short on post material just now though, so I thought I'd do one about beet harvest, which typically takes place in mid-October. Thankfully, canning our beets isn't as overwhelming a process as processing venison. Beets are something we can do alongside our everyday activities such as school and laundry and rewriting the lyrics to classic blues songs. Canning beets is actually a pretty simple process, especially if you have any number of diminutive minions to assign to the job.

     Which, believe it or not, is something we've got around here.

     For this post, I'm going to go beyond the basic beet harvest and canning process, and tell you about our beet planting as well. Because, honestly, beets are a pretty small subject within the scope of things we do around here, so I might as well just kill this bird and do it all in one go.

     For starters, we garden kinda/sorta according to the methods described in this book: Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I say kinda/sorta because I don't think we go into all the extra steps of regular weeding, watering, fertilizing, building hills, etc., that may or may not be described in the book. But we do use his method of planting in square blocks, not long rows, and it works really well for us with the space we have. Even though we've got a very large yard, we try and keep the garden from taking over.

     This year we planted 4 blocks of beets, all of them 4'x4' squares. We broke up the sod and turned in some compost from our compost heap before we planted, but that's all the soil preparation we did. I think this year I planted beets with Fuzz and one other little person. To make it easier for the kids to plant, we draw on the dirt with fingers and mark off 16 sections that are roughly square, and within those sections poke 16 little holes for the seeds. The back of the seed package indicates how deep the holes should be - read it and make sure you're doing it right. After that, just drop the seeds in and brush soil over the top. Done.

     We have our preferred beet type, and this year we planted mostly that, with a few Detroit Red in some of the blocks because we had one of those packets to use up. But whenever we can we plant just Cylindra beets. Detroit Red beets are your typical round beets - I think they've got some other perks (growing well in cold climates, hardiness, etc.). We don't mind Detroit Red's, but we really prefer Cylindra beets because they're long and thinner instead of being round. In other words: cylindrical.
An nice cylindrical beet.
     The thing about cylindrical beets is that they grow out on the surface, just the last inch or so is in the dirt. They're really easy to pull, and even the littlest Clan kids can pull them, no problem. This is great because Nah and Becca liked to be involved in everything we're doing. 
     The other great thing about Cylindra beets is that they're so much easier to cut. You don't have a slippery round beet to mess with, and the long and narrow beets cool faster. But now I can see I'd better get into a rundown of how we prepare our beets for canning, because I don't know how other people can beets. Maybe you do it differently? (Although, how many different ways can you prepare beets for canning? They're just beets!)

     In our process, the first step is filling our big pot with raw beets from the garden. Because we don't usually try and pack all of our beet canning into one day, we only pull enough beets to fill the pot. The rest we leave in the ground until the pot is ready again. They stay fresh that way - and if we have to take a break of several days because something else needs to be done, they're fine. To prepare to beets for the pot, we rip the stems off until they extend about an inch from the flesh of the beet, and then layer them in the pot until there's only about an inch of space below the rim.
Pete showing off his beet-top-tearing skills.
Big, dirty beets. As you can see, we don't even wash them.
     We take this huge pot of beets into the house and fill it up until the beets are submerged. Then we hotify them.

   Hotify  (vb)

       A technical term that refers to the heating and sometimes cooking of a substance. It can be conjugated like a verb (hotified, hotifying) and also has a noun form (hotification). This definition brought to you by Obvious Tours.

     Did I say beet canning was simple? Well, except for the 'hotify' part, it's simple. And now that you know about hotification, that's simple, too. So I was right all along.

     We cook the beets for something like half an hour or forty-five minutes. Time isn't the deciding factor here, it's how cooked the beets are. If they're soft about a quarter inch beneath the skin, they're done. Another test is to spear one on a knife and put it under cold water. If it peels easily, they're done.

     The next part is peeling the beets and cutting them up to go into jars. Peeling beets is really, really easy. If they've been cooked right and were completely submerged, the skins just come right off. You can just about squeeze the beet right out of it's skin. It's kinda like skinning a cat.
     (Ok, I've never skinned a cat, so I can't vouch for that, but I've skinned deer, and it is like that. But easier.)

     We cut the beets into bite-size chunks and put them in quart jars for canning. Then we fill the jars up to the neck with water, and they're ready to go. If you're having issues with your helpers wanting to know what 'bite-size' is, tell them that it's whatever size they want to find on their spoon. That usually settles things. If not, we also cut sample pieces and have the younger ones match that size or get close. And if a mongo-beet turns up in your bowl next winter, well, that's what you've got teeth for. 
     Now, the actual canning part of the job that we do is just like anything you might find in any book that talks about canning and preserving garden produce. Look under beets, and it should be there. A quick web search should turn up the same results. Basically, once they're mature, all beets should can pretty much the same way, especially the red ones. The main difference you're get when you plant different hybrids of beets is color, size, the time they mature, hardiness, and maybe a bit in flavor. Generally red beets are the ones for canning, but maybe the yellow ones would taste OK even though they look a little funny. They should all can pretty much the same way.

     Our canning book, the Ball Blue Book, says quart jars of beets should be canned for 35 minutes at 10 pounds pressure in a steam-pressure canner. If you're at a different elevation, canning time might be a little longer or shorter - your canning book will tell you. I'm not writing this post to tell you how to can, just how we can.

     And one of the things about our canning is that we don't add salt to our canned produce. Pretty much all canning books say to add some amount of salt, usually a teaspoon or so, to your jars before canning. We don't. The salt isn't really necessary. It's added to produce like this just for the salty flavor. If your Mom never cooks with salt (like our Mom does), you don't expect that salty flavor, and so your food tastes like what it is. Food, without added salt. Also, the food is healthier without the salt, which is another reason to skip that step.

     That's how we do things. Hopefully you learned something from this post, or at least enjoyed it. If you're interested in more 'how-we-can' posts, comment below so I know and I'll make sure to plan a few more. Otherwise they'll come as I feel like it and can take pictures of the process. And everyone who knows me should know how irregular that's going to be. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Signs of Intelligence

     By this time, you've all probably realized that I've got a somewhat twisted sense of humor. And it kicked in today as I was driving through town.

     I saw this sign outside the grocery store, advertising one of their sales. It struck me as kinda funny.
     See that? They're selling boneless pork loins.

     Boneless pork loins.

     For those of you who don't understand yet why this is funny, let me explain. The muscle group on an animal - or person, for that matter - that's in the cut of meat called the loin runs right along both sides of the backbone. I've cut some loins out of the deer we process on our kitchen counter over the years, so I know that this muscle group starts at the base of the head and stretches basically the entire length of the backbone, all the way down to the rump. And there aren't any bones in it.

     This goes for all animals: cows, pigs, deer, even squirrels. Granted, on some animals, the muscle group called the loin is actually pretty small - I've never actually seen a squirrel loin, but I know they've got them. And I know that squirrel loins don't have any bones in them.

     So why are they advertising this sale on their boneless pork loins? It's not like they have any bone-in pork loins, right? So why specify?

     Actually, being the person I am, I'm almost tempted to go to the store and ask for a bone-in loin. Just so see what they would say. I'm curious to see if they'd even know the difference, and if they'd think I was serious.

     I don't know, maybe it's because I'm homeschooled? Is that why I noticed this?

     Okay, and as if the boneless pork loins weren't enough, take another look at the sign. They're selling these boneless pork loins for $249 a pound. I think whoever put up that sign needs a little help. Either that or they don't have any periods?

     Yep, signs can be pretty funny.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Other Remedies

     In a previous post I listed a variety of ways we use garlic to treat head colds and infections. When a head cold or a stomach bug goes through the house, everybody gets it. We share everything, germs included, and so if one of us gets sick, we can all count on getting it within a week or two. But contrary to what you might believe after reading that post, garlic isn't a cure-all for us - although we do use it a lot! There are other things we use to treat colds and such - things like salt water, plastic toys, and green grease.

     Sounds weird, huh?

     I know. We are weird.


Stuffed Nose

     You know when you've got that bad head cold, and when you go to bed at night your nose is all stopped up so you can barely breathe? We clear that up with a stinky-nose-rag.

     What, you don't have those?

     A stinky-nose-rag is just a kitchen washcloth, folded in thirds or quarters, with three or four drops of eucalyptus oil folded into the center. Snap a rubber band around that to keep it together, and put it near your pillow at night so you can smell the eucalyptus. Works like a charm. 

     Since I'm trying to give the why's of these statements, here's the layman's explanation of why eucalyptus oil clears up a plugged nose. It's a decongestant, which means the vapor helps clear up the mucus in your nose. Eucalyptus oil, like garlic, is an aromatic substance that quickly becomes airborne, so the scent of those few drops on the rag hang in the air and can be inhaled. As an added bonus, eucalyptus is antibacterial and can give a little boost to your immune system.

     Another trick that works during the daytime is to cut an onion and then inhale deeply. That stings like all-get-out, but it really loosens things up and gets the snot flowing, if you'll pardon the expression.


Sore Throat

     Gargle salt water, several times a day. Mix yourself a pint jar of drinking water with about a tablespoon of table salt dissolved in it and gargle this in the back of your throat as many times a day as you remember to. Spit it out afterward. This works really well.

     Oh, and label your glass, please. Otherwise some unsuspecting person is going to take a swig of your salt water, and they won't be happy.


Coughing

     There's that point in a your head cold when the fever has gone down, the infection is basically killed, and your body is ready to clean out all the dead bacteria and white blood cells. You're constantly blowing your nose, probably sneezing a fair amount more than usual, and coughing. Sometimes it can be hard to get to sleep because you're barking like a seal all night. In our experience, some of this coughing is caused by the way you're positioned.

     Don't quote me on this, since I've not really got any proof besides what we've observed over the years. But we've found that if you're laying on your back, you're going to cough a lot more than you would if you laid on your side or stomach. This could be caused by the mucus in your lungs not draining well and interfering with your breathing. That's all hypothesis - we don't know for sure. But if you lay on your side or stomach, there's generally less trouble with coughing.

     Most of the Clan doesn't have a problem with remembering to lay the right way at night, but Becca and Nah don't always get this part down. Instead, Mom takes a hard plastic toy - 
     - tapes it to the back of a white t-shirt - 
     - and has them wear the shirt to bed.
     I guarantee you won't lie on your back with that thing there.

     I'm not going to guarantee lying on your side/stomach as a cough suppressant, but it does work for most cases. Sometimes, though, its not enough. I actually just recently got through a head cold that had me coughing no matter which way I laid down, so I know how that works. The only way I could get my coughing under control so I could sleep - and everybody else could as well - was to use some cough drops.

     Mom doesn't like the conventional, sweet, sugary cough drops that taste like fake cherries. They might do the trick, but there is a tendency for people - ahem, that would include Clan children -  to treat them like candy and just want another one whether they actually need it or not. The cough drops we use now don't fall into that category. They're called Fisherman's Friends, and I have yet to meet a person who actually likes the taste.
     These little guys are really powerful cough suppressants, though, and they do work as well - if not better - than other cough drops. These are what enabled me to sleep while I was sick and coughing.


Plantain

     We keep bees, and getting stung is just a part of having bees around. Thankfully, none of us are allergic, but we still swell up if we get stung. Unless - don't you love unless? - unless you know about plantain and how to use it.

     Plantain is a broad-leaf weed that is found all over the world - including right here in Minnesota. It has many herbal properties, and just one of those is that it's a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and will pull out the poison of a bee or wasp sting. If you get stung, the first step is to remove the stinger. Then pick a leaf of plantain, chew it up to break the cells and let the juices flow, and plaster that lovely green goo onto the site of the sting. Keep it there for several minutes, maybe change it if it starts to get dry. The longer you hold it there, and the sooner you apply it, the more effect it will have, to the point where it can prevent any swelling at all.


Green Grease

     Our green grease is a salve made from plantain, comfrey, beeswax, and coconut oil. At some point I'll probably do a how-to post on it, complete with pictures, for for now, I'm just going to do a run-down on how we use it.

     We use green grease on bee stings after the initial treatment of plantain (see above). We also put it on blisters, bad cuts, chapped lips, and any other minor abrasion that needs a little something. Really useful, really easy - green grease is just a handy thing to have around the house just in case we need it.


Epsom Salts

     We occasionally soak a swollen foot or hand in Epsom salts, or one that's got an embedded splinter or some other small wound that's hard to treat with our other tools. The salt solution is a ratio of a quarter cup of salts to a pint of warm water, and the soak can last for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes several times over the course of a couple of days. That generally does the trick. But why does Epsom salts work? It's all about the chemistry.

     It's because of osmosis. When you have two liquid solutions, they will exchange water molecules until the concentration of the chemicals dissolved in them is equal. If you have a swollen foot and you soak it in plain water, your body will naturally try and absorb more water. But if you put salt in it and raise the salinity of the water to a higher level than the salinity of your own body, the water will be transferred from your foot and into the solution so that eventually both your foot and the salt solution have the same concentration of salt. This reduces the swelling.

     My Mom gets so excited about chemistry, and since we live here, we all get to hear about it. But you have to admit, osmosis is pretty cool.

*     *     *     *     *

     These are our go-to remedies for these kinds of common ailments. You'll probably notice that we don't actually use a lot of conventional medicine. No trips to the doctor involved. No cough syrup, no wound salve or shots. It's all pretty straightforward and simple, which is how we prefer it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Laura Ingalls Wilder

     As you should know by reading one of my very early blog posts, we're a homeschooling family. My Mom does all the teaching, all the way out to high school graduation. As we get older, however, a lot of the direct teaching comes from textbooks instead of directly from Mom. Anymore, now that she's gone from pre-Kindergarten to graduation with two kids, she knows what parts of schooling she wants to be closely involved with, and what parts we can do independently. There's a period of time early in our homeschooling process when we do just about everything with Mom. And that starts with learning to read.

     Mom is the one who teaches all of us to read. I could do my own post on what tools Mom uses to teach us to read, how long it takes, how the process moves along, why it works, etc, etc. But since Mom wrote her own post on that on her blog, I'm just going to tell you to read that. Mom did a much better job that I would have done. So find her post HERE.

     Now, assuming you read that insightful post, you'll know more about how Mom has taught all of us homeschooling kids to read. Currently there are two Clan kids going through the reading process. Fro is just starting, getting through the 100-EZ Lessons book, and Fuzz is about halfway through. She's equipped with the skills, knowledge of letter sounds and understands phonics pretty well. Now she just needs practice.

     Mom makes sure we get that practice in reading before she forces us to rely on our ability to read to learn advanced math, grammar, history, science, and everything else. And to do that, she has us read two entire series of books. On our own.

     (And if you read Mom's blog post, you'll know what books I'm talking about.)

     The two series we read are the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which we read first, and then The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S.Lewis. The interesting thing about Little House series is that the reading level advances as you progress through the series. The first book is marked for ages 8-12, and the last book is for ages 12 and up. Our new readers might be 8 by the time they start the series, but they're not even close to 12 when they finish. Mom forces us to learn to read well by equipping us with the tools to do it, and then making us practice and practice and practice.

     Fuzz is currently about halfway through the Little House series, and she really, really likes them. She was very sad when Laura's dog, Jack, dies and goes to the Happy Hunting Grounds, but I think she'll perk up when they get their new cat in the 7th book. So, go Fuzz! I have a feeling she's going to turn into a bookworm like me. Good for her!

     And, for those of you who don't know it, today is Fuzz's BIRTHDAY!!! She's going to be 8, which means that she's halfway through a series intended for 8-12 year-olds and she's doing really, really well and reading like a pro.
 Happy Birthday, Fuzz!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Garlic

     This is a huge topic, because my family uses garlic a lot. Besides cooking with it - since Mom likes to add garlic to soups and pickles, etc, we also take advantage of the enormous medicinal value of raw garlic.

     My Mom's a smart cookie, and she knows some pretty interesting things about garlic, and the things it can do. She's been treating everything from head colds to the flu in this family for as long as we've been around, and her first response to anything is garlic. There are some good reasons for that. Raw garlic contains a chemical called allicin. Allicin (pronounced like 'Alice in Wonderland') is what gives garlic its distinct smell, and it's a natural antibiotic, antiviral, anti-just-about-everything. It's very effective for fighting bacterial and viral infections, which cause things such as head colds. Here's my list of things we use garlic on, along with our method of getting the garlic where it needs to be to do its job.



Eye Infections

     Eye infections are easily treated with garlic poultices. Depending on how strong you want your poultice to be, you can mince, grate, or crush a clove of garlic onto a paper towel. To aid in getting the garlic juices into the eye, you can dip that paper towel into hot (not boiling) water. Then just apply that to the closed eye. This stings like crazy, and the length of time you apply the poultice depends on how much you can tolerate. If it hurts really bad, probably only twenty seconds is sufficient every time you apply the poultice. If it doesn't really sting at all, you can leave it on for a minute or two, which will allow the garlic to be absorbed through your eyelid as well. Applying a garlic poultice a couple times a day can clear up pinkeye in 24 hours.


Ear Infections

     Ear infections are also something we use garlic for. We don't blow our noses very consistently, to tell you the truth. The common practice is to just sniff it back and save it for later - gross, but true. Unfortunately, sniffing everything back into our heads can cause an ear infection, which adds a new dimension to the misery.

     The cure? Garlic. Of course. Garlic cures just about everything. 

     For most ear infections we take a clove of raw garlic and score one side of it with a fingernail, breaking the skin. The clove goes in the infected ear, scored side toward your eardrum. Garlic oils are aromatic - you can smell them in the air after the skin has been broken. Those oils are quickly airborne, so if you put the cuts in the garlic toward your ear, , they'll be sealed in where they can do their stuff. Slap some tape on that to hold your little buddy in, and if you change your garlic every 24 hours or so, you've got your ear infection licked.

     There's another method which doesn't look as stylish, but also works on ear infections. We'll put warm oil infused with garlic oils in the infected ear. This is a more direct treatment, because it applies the garlic directly to the ear drum, and it's pretty comfortable, too. To prepare this oil, we mince a clove of garlic incredibly fine and then mix it with warm oil. Our preference is coconut oil, but any oil will work. Be sure to strain out the garlic after you've let the garlic steep in the warm oil for a while, otherwise you'll get garlic stuck in your ear! This oil can be stored in the fridge for a long time, and if it was made with coconut oil, it'll even solidify in the fridge, so you don't have to worry about spilling it. 

     When you need to use the oil, warm a little in the microwave - don't fry it! As soon as you start cooking the garlic, the allicin will be killed, and then you're just putting oil in your ear, which maybe wins you style points, but won't make you feel any better. Also, if you heat the oil too much, you're going to burn your eardrum, which will hurt - a lot. So test it carefully before you put it in your ear. In fact, our preferred method of heating the oil is to warm a small bowl of water, and then float the container of oil in that. The result is warm oil, but not boiling hot, cooked oil.
     Once you've got oil in your ear, it should sit there for several minutes. You can even take a nap with it in there, if you are so included. Whatever floats your boat. When you're ready to be done, just get up and go. I'd press a rag to my ear before I actually got up, so that all the oil drains into the rag and doesn't run down the side of my face, but that's my personal preference. Again, whatever works for you. If you're really particular, you can actually wash your ear once you're finished - with soap, even. Again, whatever floats your boat.


Raw

     Taking raw garlic is also a good way to wipe out a head cold, because you'll have taken a massive dose of anti-everything that will get rid of whatever was troubling you on its way through. Mince up a clove of garlic and take it with some honey or applesauce or something to help get it down, and you're all set. 

     I only do this if I'm feeling truly desperate or truly brave. I prefer to rough out a head cold, but that's because I hate the taste of raw garlic. If you don't mind the taste, go for it. It'll clear things up amazingly.



*     *     *     *     *

     As you can see we use a lot of garlic. Buying as much as we use yearly from the grocery store is pretty ridiculous, especially when you can grow your own garlic in your garden, and then store it through the winter. Garlic is in the same family as onions, so it grows underground with a green stem up top. We plant a lot, and then in the fall we dig it up and dry them before we braid the stems. This is very handy, and keeps everything together so we can hang it in the garage where it won't get stepped on.

     All that lovely garlic. Twelve big ol' braids of it, in fact, which makes Mom incredibly happy. She loves garlic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Deer Chateau

     It's deer season!

    We eat a lot of venison - it's actually our primary meat for canning in chili, spaghetti, or just as meat for soup and sandwiches. Most years we have at least one Clan hunter out in the woods waiting for a deer to volunteer to stand at close range for a few minutes so we can get off a shot. My grandma has some property in the woods out behind our house, so we hunt on that property, and there are deer out there.

     This year we have two hunters, Skinny and Mom. We're hoping and praying they get something, because so far we haven't gotten a call to pick up any deer anyone else has shot and doesn't want for meat. That's how we get 2/3 of our venison on the average year, so things are turning out differently this year.

     Out in the woods we have three deer stands. A 1-man tree stand, a 2-man tree stand, and then my grandpa's deer chateau.

     In 2008, after my grandpa was diagnosed with kidney cancer, he and my grandma moved down from North Dakota to live closer to our family. Grandpa liked to hunt, but what with the cold and the long hours in the exposed tree stands, he didn't think he'd be able to hunt with us. So he asked one of our neighbors, who is a building contractor, to help him build an insulated deer stand in the woods so he could still hunt with the boys. 

     Not only did the contractor agree to help, but he and his crew supplied the materials and volunteered their time and labor to build it. It was a fun project to watch go together, and the deer stand has worked really well. It worked great for Grandpa to hunt out of, and we've enjoyed hunting from it since. It's much warmer than sitting in a stand in a tree from sunup to sundown. Especially on windy days, the 'deer shack', as we call it, is to be preferred.
     And the mice certainly prefer it during the wintertime. 

     The deer shack is about 7 feet off the ground, with a ladder going up to the mini-deck by the door for easy entrance. It's about 7.5'x3.5', with insulated walls, floor, and ceiling. The exterior actually has siding on it, and there are nice sliding windows on every side.
     After we'd hunted in the deer shack one year, we added a few additions to make it more comfortable and easier to shoot from. We put old carpet samples from my great-grandpa's barn along the walls and floor to eliminate some of the thumping noises that the gun makes when it's moved around. 
     Mom also sewed some bolsters out of polar fleece to stuff in the windows. This is because when you're got cold fingers stuffed in mittens, those windows are hard to open without making noise and startling that deer you were gonna shoot. But the alternative is to leave them open all day, and then it gets frightfully chilly in that shack. By stuffing the bolsters in the window, we can still see, keep in a bit of heat, and shoot if we see anything.
     Add a chair, and we've got a party. 
    
     I've noticed more and more insulated deer stands going up in the neighborhood, which tells me that apparently hunters are getting less and less tough. Either that, or deer hunters are finally getting smarter and realizing you don't have to rough it out in the below zero weather and cutting wind to get a deer.

     And by the way, to any disbelievers out there, the deer shack does work. We have shot deer out of it. My Mom shot her first deer out of it last year, a nice 8-point buck.
     Yay, Mom!!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Clan Does Fancy

     I know you're not going to believe this. I think some people think we do everything as plain and simple and boring as we can. But that's not so. We do things the fancy way every now and then.

     Like applesauce. 

     In my previous post, I talked about applesauce and the making of applesauce in the Clan household. But sometimes we like to have something a bit more special. So every year Mom cans up between 50 and 100 quarts of chunky applesauce.

     Chunky applesauce. It just sounds special and extra fancy, doesn't it?

     To make our chunky applesauce, we use our Apple Machine to peel, core, and slice the apples.The apple-peeler-corer-slicer, as we call it around here, is a really handy tool and generally can peel, core, and slice an apple in 30 seconds. Just crank.
     All those chunks of apple go into one of our biggest bowls. We probably about half fill it with apple slices, but I have no idea how many apples we go through to do this. Quite a few.
     Then we fill the bowl with applesauce. Fill it right up until it really shouldn't hold any more because we won't be able to stir it, and then add a bit more. That's just how we do things. Then, to make things really fancy, we add some flavoring. Cinnamon. A nice layer sprinkled all over the top. It's not necessary to measure. Add to taste or until you run out.
     And that's chunky applesauce. We can it just the same way as normal applesauce, and it technically saves time because we don't have to cook down as many apples. It does take a bit more labor, though, to crank the apple-peeler-corer-slicer for all those sliced apples, but we think its worth it. 

     And there's the added bonus of having all those apple peels around while we're running that apple-peeler-corer-slicer. We like to eat those on the job. Sorta like enormously long noodles.
     See? We can do fancy just fine. But it's generally more work, and anyway. At this house you eat when Mom cooks, and that's it. And Mom doesn't always have time for extra steps. Chunky applesauce is probably the fanciest thing we cook, and the only fruit or vegetable that we season before canning it. And since all we did was add cinnamon...well, that says just about everything. We don't add seasoning to the fruits and vegetables that we can. The exceptions are the chili and spaghetti sauce we make. And that's it, folks.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Applesauce Marathon

     It's that time of year. The apples are ripe, our neighbors have picked all they want off their trees, and now they've given us a call and asked us to come get the rest.

     So we have. Several times. I'm not even going to guess how many bushels of apples we've picked this year. I measure our harvest in jars of applesauce canned. And that comes out to 250 jars of applesauce this year. 250 jars.

     Making that many jars of applesauce is a long job, but we do it in steps. We've found that taking things one step at a time is the best way to getting it done.

     There's no rule that says we can't try to do all those steps all at the same time, though. That could explain some of the craziness around here.

     We cook down our applesauce in a big pot. It's actually very slow and inefficient to cook down whole apples - it takes a long time to get the insides soft enough. Instead, we slice all our apples and this saves a bunch of time. 
     Then we pack as many slices into our biggest pot as we can, add about a pint of water, and put it on the stove. It takes something like 20 minutes to cook down a pot of apples. Sometimes it takes longer, other times it's shorter. That generally depends on the kind of apples you're cooking. We cook down a variety of apples, so the cooking time differs. 
Before
After
     As you can see, we leave the peels on and don't take the cores out. The entire apple gets cooked down because we used a Squeezo to make our applesauce. 
     The apples go in the hopper at the top, then a small person turns the crank, and the applesauce comes out the screen and drips down into the pan. The peels, seeds, and hard bits go out the end into the brown pitcher. Presto, you've got applesauce!
     A bit of advice: It's important to cut your apples fairly evenly and cook them until they are soft. If they're too thick or don't cook down enough, most of the apple will actually go out the end into the compost bin and go to waste. And that makes the job pretty much pointless.

     The job of cranking the squeezo generally goes to a little kid, and by the end of the day everyone has gotten a chance to be 'cranky' at least once or twice.
Becca being cranky.
     We don't sweeten our applesauce, so from the pan it goes straight into jars and into the canner. Because applesauce is high in acid, you can can it in a steam canner, which is much faster and easier than canning in a pressure canner. We can our applesauce for 35 minutes, not because it's the official number but because that's what Mom can remember. The official time is 20 minutes. Just another reason why Mom isn't USDA approved. 

     There was a time when we would devote an entire day or more to making applesauce, and we kids would fill every single large bowl we had in the house with sliced apples. Mom would spend all day cooking these down and canning them up, and that would be the entire day's activities. In the past two or three years we've started just filling enough bowls to keep ahead of Mom by a load or two. This takes much less time than filling all the bowls, and means we don't get so far ahead of Mom that she's canning applesauce until midnight. She used to go a little crazy doing that.
     And the other advantage of only filling a few bowls at a time is that it gives us a bit more time throughout the day to do other things. So now on applesauce days we also do all our schoolwork and a million other jobs Mom has in mind which may or may not be impossible to complete.

     And when we've finished the applesauce marathon - which starts in September and ends in October - we have between 250 and 300+ quarts of applesauce. Just about enough to get us through the year, believe it or not. This year we're a bit short - we recently hit 250, so we could be a bit tight for applesauce come May. But for a change this year we stored more nice apples for eating fresh during the winter, so there are 100 pounds of apples in the rafters downstairs right now that won't be made into applesauce. Hopefully between those and the canned applesauce we'll have enough.
Look like enough to you? It's not. That's not even half of what we've got downstairs.