Friday, May 23, 2014

Is He a Linguist or What?

     Today is Eli's 18th birthday. I was trying to think of a post to write about him yesterday evening, and I had a heck of a time coming up with a good one. I could blame it on his multi-faceted personality and say it was so hard to choose something to share. Actually, I just couldn't find the right thing to share. But finally I settled on fudge.

     Like I said before in my very first post, Eli is a very outgoing person. I meant that literally - he's constantly going places for odd jobs and to take lessons in art and music. He's also not afraid to try new things. Several years ago, he accidentally invented a new word that we've found very descriptive and meaningful. Subterfudge. 

     I could go into word history and origin here, but I won't. I will warn you to be careful not to mistake subterfudge for subterfuge. They're spelled nearly the same, but trust me, they're different things. Subterfuge just means deviousness, trickery, and intrigue. But as far as I know, subterfudge refers to that last piece of fudge which just disappeared off the plate when there was only a starving teenage boy around.

I would say this subterfudge mission is 
lacking in subterfuge, but he's cute anyway.
     Eli is very involved in fudge around here. He makes almost all the fudge we ever eat, and we really like it. And it's really simple, which fits right in with Eli. Cooking is often too involved for him. 

     The ingredient list on the recipe card (titled Foolproof Dark Chocolate Fudge) is as follows:
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 14-ounces of sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
  • a dash of salt
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • nuts to taste
     But we always skip the salt, and most of the time Eli forgets the vanilla. But the recipe is still foolproof. He just melts the chips in the microwave, stirs in the milk, spreads the chocolate into a 9"x9" pan. We always line the pan with foil, which makes it much, much easier to get the goodies out of the pan once the chocolate is hardened. It takes only a few hours in the freezer for it to get nice and hard, and then he takes a big kitchen knife and chunks it up. And it's really, really good.

Happy Birthday, Eli!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nah and Blackmail

     My Mom has this thing about us kids growing. She doesn't like it. She's got all sorts of reasons for this dislike, but I'm not going to go into any of them right now. (It's my post, after all.) My point today is that she's been trying for as long as there have been kids in this house to keep us from growing. There have a been a few times when she thought she'd won.

     Like the time when she bribed Nah with a cookie to stay three forever. She promised to throw him a birthday party every year, too. All he had to do was stay three.

     That worked. He was sold and all for it! That is, until Dad told him that if he didn't turn four he wouldn't get paid for helping with lawn mowing. He changed his mind fast when he heard that. And today he turns five.
Better luck next time, Mom!

     But I'm not surprised it was Nah that Mom tried to convince to stay three. He was a pretty sweet three-year-old. (No, he didn't skip past four. Mom made that deal last year.)
Look at that smile: One happy blackmailer!
Happy birthday, Nah!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Birthday Cake M's Way

     Clan birthday cakes are fairly plain. No layer cake, no ice cream on the side, nothing but cake, frosting, and a dash of candle wax. 

     All our birthday cakes are chocolate. Mom has one recipe that she's used on all our cakes for as long as I can remember. Here it is, rattled right off the top of Mom's head. She's got it memorized.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 dump of cocoa - or between 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup of cocoa.
  • A quarter-sized portion of baking soda - or 2 teaspoons
  • no salt
     Chase that around until there aren't any lumps. Then add:
  • 2 cups water
  • 2/3 - 3/4 cup of oil
  • 1 glug of vinegar - or 2 tablespoons
  • 2 glugs of vanilla - because you can never have too much vanilla. Technically, it should only be 1 teaspoon of vanilla, but that's almost a pointless amount of vanilla.
     Stir that until there's almost no lumps, and then bake in a 9"x13" pan at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until you remember it. Don't bother preheating the oven, it just makes the house warm. We never do it. 

     The name of this cake is Bunny Cake, because my Mom's grandma got the original recipe from a woman named Bunny. This recipe has been adapted over the years, mainly because the moms in my family don't have super memories. 

     Most of the time, we frost these cakes with vanilla frosting, and we use the same box of candles that we had when David was little. Since they only burn for a minute one or two times a year, they really don't melt down too much. And since they don't spoil or grow mold unless Mom forgets to wash off the frosting, they last forever.

     See? We've got thriftiness and cleanliness down in one go. 

     We didn't always do cakes this plain and simple, however. Back in the day, we did things with a little more style. That was before there were 13 of us. The decorated cakes stopped around the same time as the individual parties did. But back then, Mom would actually decorate the cakes. That means colored frosting, swirls, writing, the works. And on top of that, Mom used to put whatever picture on our cakes we wanted, which was the really fun part.

     We have photographic proof of some of our old cakes. There are a few I remember: a Tigger, a Winnie-the-Pooh, dogs on a leash, and then there was a frog muffin.

     This last cake has a story to tell, which is fairly obvious, given the name. I'm expecting a few eyebrows to have gone up with that one. After all, you're probably asking what Mom asked M when she was three: "What is a frog muffin?" 

     Not an easy question to answer, as it turned out. Mom asked M what one looked like, since she was stumped. M's answer: "Like a frog muffin!"

     Yeah. Thankfully, M has gotten slightly more helpful over the years. 

     Thank goodness, however, Mom did finally figure out what a frog muffin is - whew! It's like a toadstool, but with a frog on it. Duh. 

     If you have kids around the age of 3, do they understand that description, because I don't. Why is it a muffin instead of a chair or something like that? It would make more sense to me if it were a frog chair, but either way, it doesn't make much sense. I don't know. It must have something to do with the way M's head works. Mom suspects it has something to do with curly hair.

      But once Mom finally knew what she was supposed to be putting on this cake, she came through wonderfully. For M's third birthday party, she got a frog muffin on her cake. Just like this.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Clothing Switch Part 1

     In this house, there are a few rules which are never kept. (Don't take me too seriously - never do that!) In this case, the rules I'm referring to have to do with growth. And in this house, the rule is: Don't. 

     The end. 

     We aren't allowed to grow. Mom tells us that somewhere in this world there is a Growth Requisition Form we can fill out, but none of us have managed to get our hands on it yet. 

     Obviously that rule has never been kept. Some of us were large babies, but not this large! Most of the time that rule isn't mentioned, but there are two times every year when Mom trots it out.

     Clothing switch. We do a seasonal clothing switch twice a year, once for spring and summer, and once for fall and winter. All the boxes of stored clothing are brought upstairs and Mom figures out what size all of us allegedly non-growing people need to move into. This is more than just moving little children into their older siblings' clothing - this is a long, drawn out process which takes place over several weeks and is nothing short of torture for everyone involved. Especially for Mom, this job is one to be dreaded. 

     The first part of clothing switch probably takes up the least time overall. We have a storage room downstairs which is pretty nearly packed with boxes of clothing or shelves of paper goods. When clothing switch time rolls around, we haul out something on the order of 20 Rubbermaid® and Sterelite® bins and bring them out into the living room where we can get at them. Our living room is very big, but those bins take up almost all the space, even stacked up in piles of two or three. There's room to walk around between boxes, and that's about it. Another thing we did is label all the boxes with tape so we would know what was inside. Otherwise this job would take ten times as long. Labeling things is something we do, otherwise we'd never know where to put things if we ever are in the mood to put things away. 

     Once all the boxes are upstairs, the 'fun' part begins. Mom generally starts with the little kids. Beck-up and Nah really enjoy this part. They love putting a dozen different shirts, putting their hands up in the air so that their tummies stick out, and running back and forth between the living room and the refrigerator to prove their pants won't fall off.

     By the time Mom has worked through Beck-up, Nah, Fro, and Fuzz, she's gotten very serious about this job. After about the second child, clothing switch has moved from slightly entertaining to extremely dull. I'm often directly involved in the process of getting clothes for the four littles, and I know it's no fun. Once Beck-up and Nah are done, so are Mom and I. It's so boring. So the Melonheads are done all at once.

     The Melonheads have a less strenuous job. They don't have to run back and forth to prove their pants won't fall off - Mom just grabs the waist and pulls. If they stay up, they can keep them. If not, they go back in the bin for another year. Or, if Mom is really tired, they can try them on again in ten minutes when Mom has forgotten what they've already put on. During the pants step of the process, the Melonheads are shirtless. This doesn't happen very often, but during one of these incidents I was able to verify that Pete has all of his ribs. Every single one shows.

     Then - woopee! - it's the girls' turn. Jo and M have gotten to the point where they can do their clothing switch almost completely by themselves. Mom usually goes through their clothing with them once to make sure it's all OK. For M and Jo, it's about thirty trips to the bathroom to try on a pair of pants, a few shirts, and then back to the clothing bins for the next load. And since they usually do theirs at the same time, they have to wait in line for the bathroom.

     The four oldest Clan members - David, Eli, Skinny, and myself - all do our own clothing switch. It's been a few years since I had Mom's help with my clothing switch. Partially that's because she wants nothing to do with it by that time, and partially because I like to be able to do it myself. It's way faster to assess my clothes in the mirror than run out and show each one to Mom. (We still do that for dresses, but that's a whole 'nother post.) The three big boys - Skinny, Eli, and David - usually the boys don't have much to switch. They've got plenty of shirts, and if they needed new pants, they got them earlier in the year when they trashed the last pair. 

     And that's the end of clothing switch, right?


     Throughout this process, Mom has been making a list of all the things we still need. Even though we have an insane amount of clothing in those bins - none of them are half full! - we still need new clothing. Most of the time its for us older kids, but not always. Dad bought new underwear recently for some little boys. So after we've all gotten what we can from our own stock, we take all the bins back downstairs. All the pants and shirts are smashed back into their boxes, the lids are put on however we can get them to fit, and we pack them back in the storage room. Then we shut the door and try to forget that we ever had to go through that ordeal and that we'll have to do it again in about six months.

     Then Mom takes her shopping list to town, and a whole 'nother rodeo begins. But that's another post.

     Ok, so maybe you're thinking: "Well, that was interesting, but how was it funny?" 

    Yeah. Well, about that. I guess clothing switch makes me smile through my distaste for the job because of the sheer magnitude of the project. I mean, who has that many plastic bins? And out of all those crazy, Fleet Farm loving people, how many of them fill all those bins with clothing? 

     That's what's different. That's what makes me smile. That's what makes us seem too hick to be square. 

     And if you still don't think that's funny, I'm afraid there's no hope for you.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Birthdays with The Clan

     Well, there was just a birthday party in the Clan, so what better time to do a post about how we celebrate birthdays? Like just about everything we do, we don't do it like anyone else I know. We don't hold 13 different parties for each and every kid when their birthday rolls around. It's really not practical at all - we'd sometimes have two a month! And that's just plain crazy.

     Instead, we group the birthdays together seasonally so that we have only three parties: one in the winter, one in spring, and one in the fall. All the kids with a birthday in that time frame have their party at the joint birthday party, which makes it all a lot easier. (In case you're mathematically challenged, that means about four kids per party.)

     Another birthday thing we don't do is have a fancy party with decorations and games and a huge guest list. We tried to make the whole operation as easy on ourselves as we could. So it's just the grandparents and great-grandparents who live nearby who come to the parties. And up until recently we also always had the parties at our house. But none of the grandparents are getting any younger, so we've started doing them at the senior care center so they can still come. It's actually a lot more fun to have the great-grandparents at the parties than you might think - how many kids get to know their great-grandparents?

     Having the parties at the senior care center has also led to a few laughs. When the smoke from the candles on the cake is particularly thick, we've not just joking around when we wonder what would happen if the sprinklers in the ceiling went off. So far, so good.
     Another simplification we've made is to not have a special meal with the party. We used to when it was at our house, but it's really too complicated to bring food to the care center. After all, if we did, most of it would be eaten by us anyway! We try to avoid extra complications if we can. The fifteen of us can be complicated enough on our own.
See what I mean?
     We aren't so hick that we don't give gifts at the party, however. The gifts Mom and Dad choose, however, are not your ordinary birthday gifts. You won't see us getting Barbies and Spiderman toys for our birthdays.

     For example, the last birthday party was for Eli, M, Cob, and Nah. Eli got art supplies which he'll probably use to make more artwork to sell on his website. M got a really great leather purse and a board game which has already gotten plenty of use. Some of Cob's presents were sunglasses, a measuring square, and a shirt with The Grinch on it. Nah also got sunglasses, a blanket for his bed, and Star Wars LEGO's.

     By the way, do you know what it means when Clan boys wear sunglasses? It makes us twice as cool! Or twice as weird...or maybe more normal? I don't know, how many 5 year-old's wear sunglasses?
Notice Nah's glasses are upside down. Twice as cool!
     And its also not a party without cake. Clan birthday cake is special - and not just because it's cake. It's the candles. I'm pretty sure blowing out all the candles in one try is a well-established tradition outside our family, but how many people do this with the candles?
Please do not do this at home. This trick has been done
with up to 19 candles. And counting.
     And that's birthdays with the Clan. We do other things to make the individual birthday's more special, but that's for another post.