Friday, August 29, 2014

The Garage Band Boys

     I would say my family is pretty musical. We sing, we listen to music, some of us even play instruments with varying degrees of skill.

     Several years ago, our grandma sent us some kits so that we could build some cardboard instruments. Mom and Dad helped us glue and screw them together - all the complicated stuff - but the decorations were all our own. We had an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a mandolin, and a ukulele. The kits came with little songbooks as well with chord positions marked so we could learn to play.
     Those were a lot of fun for a year or so, and then they got put away on high shelves and we only got them down occasionally. They were horribly out of tune and sounded just terrible, even to my somewhat tone-deaf ears.

     The guitars were resurrected - something that happens to a lot of stuff around here - when Cob and Pete came up with the idea of writing songs and coming up with finger positions on the frets to go along with it. I personally didn't think it would last long - what kind of an attention span and focused creativity do a 9-year-old and an 8-year-old have? Turns out, they have a lot. Mom has already got them to promise that she gets free tickets to all their shows, and they've got a band name, a songbook, and everything. 

     Please welcome the Garage Band Boys, self-taught musicians and songwriters. They're currently working on their first album, which will feature the 22 songs they've written so far, and if they write more songs they'll start work on a second album. Booking is available, so if you'd like to pay them to do a gig for you, leave a comment below and we'll get back to you. To give you a sampling of some of their best songs, here's the Garage Band Boys in their first live recording. Enjoy.

     Well, I don't know about you, but I thought that was pretty nice. That was the Garage Band Boys, Pete and Cob. And today is Pete's 9th birthday!!

Happy Birthday, Pete!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


     This year we planted five hills of cucumbers in our garden. I didn't think five hills would actually be enough to keep us in fresh cucumbers and cucumber pickles. Boy, was I wrong.

     As I'm writing this we have 12 gallons of cucumber pickles in our refrigerator. (What's actually more amazing than that is that we actually have room for two or three gallons more.) And we still have cucumbers growing on the vine, and cucumbers on the table that we haven't done anything with. 
     What Fro has there is only some of the cucumbers we have left in the house that we haven't done anything with. We'll probably only be able to fit about half of that in jars, so I'd say we've got about ten or twelve cucumbers that we don't have refrigerator space for - oh boy. We might be able to squeeze in a few more if we eat a gallon or so for snack today, but I think Mom will need to get creative with them pretty soon.

     So far, though, we've just been making all the cucumbers we pick into cucumber pickles. We've got a really great recipe for them that doesn't take long to make and is really tasty. Find it HERE.

     Our pickles aren't made quite like the recipe directs since we rarely follow directions. Mom goes with general units of measurement like 'glug', 'dump', and 'just some'. Those have worked well so far. Our pickles don't have salt in the brine - extra step, doesn't affect taste enough so that we care. And we put in 'plenty' of dill since we've got several jars of it. This time around I ran out of mustard seed about a teaspoon short of what I needed - no big deal. Leave out what I don't have, and we'll buy some more for the next batch. I think I also forgot to put onions in one gallon batch yesterday, which is something we usually include even though we aren't all fans of pickled onions. I'm guessing no one will notice that there aren't any onions anyway.

     Everything we do around here we do as a family. That includes making pickles. Yesterday Beck-up and Nah cut the cucumbers for three gallons of refrigerator pickles. Moms, if this makes you nervous, close your eyes. 
Please notice the new haircut. 
     They put the cucumbers in the jars, and I would have let them add all the spices and onions if they'd wanted too. The only job I absolutely had to do was make the brine since they're not safe at the stove yet.
     Nah actually planted one of the hills of cucumbers himself, and has grown his own pickles. He sold some of them at the farmer's market I go to, and he has been pretty excited about that. He's also very excited when his 'prickles' are ready to pick. He can even tell when they're ready to pick because they're all pokey. 

     That's one smart five-year-old right there.

     Having the kids help - and knowing they're safe using sharp knives as well - is really great, especially right now, since we're also trying to make applesauce, can tomatoes, and keep up with school. Posts on some of those things coming up at some point here.

     And because I thought it would be fun: Pictures of the refrigerator.
     And just think. All these pickles and it's only the end of August. I think we'll still be picking cucumbers well into September. The thought of all those pickles could be depressing if I worked on it for a while. But I'm not going to. That's too much like work.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nail Polish

     Another unexpected post title, huh? Who would have thought I'd come out with something like nail polish from this family. But actually, we do use nail polish, and we use it fairly often. It's a great marking tool. We all have our own personal possessions, and since some of our things were all bought on the same shopping trip from the same store, its easy to mix stuff up. That problem is solved with nail polish.

     This is Fuzz's hairbrush. I have one just like it - except no nail polish. 

     And these earmuff are Beck-up's. 
     And this thermos is M's. Tubby has one just like it, but without the nail polish lavishly painted on the bottom. 
     We own some big gray bins that we use to haul things in when we're short on bowl space. Some of them have cracks in the bottom, and they're marked with nail polish. It's good to know which ones leak when we're using them to hold meat during venison processing, or washing peas, but not such a big deal when we just need a lot of bins to carry vegetables in from the garden. But it's nice to know which ones have cracks, and the nail polish takes care of that.
Markings on the handles let us know which ones have cracks.
Markings on the inside show where the cracks are.
     See, nail polish is a really great tool! We do other things with it, as well. Some of us get rashes from the metal backs on wristwatches. Using tape sometimes works, but that gets disgusting pretty quickly. A better solution for us is to just paint the back with nail polish. Problem solved. 
     And then there's the not-so-obvious things we do with nail polish. Mom sometimes paints on toe gold just to throw me off.
Maybe you can't see the toe next to her little toe is painted gold. But when
it glitters in the sun, that really throws me. I think she does it deliberately, too.
     Oh, and sometimes I use nail polish. In, you know, the usual way. Some of my friends got me started on it, and I've really enjoyed it. It makes a good marking tool, remember. So I always know which toes are mine, and then I don't step on them. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014


     My Mom is pretty tough. I haven't got a problem with admitting that, and if I did have a problem with admitting it, that'd be too bad for me, because Mom is still pretty tough. 

     She's also got a few teenage boys who think they're pretty tough too, and before I get in any trouble with any of them, I'll admit that they are also pretty tough. So quite often Mom and some of my brothers will compete with each other to figure out who is really the toughest person around here.

     That means push-ups.

     A few years ago, Mom started trying to get in 100 push-ups every day. Eli got in on that craze, and pretty soon the challenge wasn't just to get in 100 push-ups. They had to get in 100 push-ups and do them in an interesting place - or better yet, one where it was difficult to do push-ups. Mom and Eli got pretty inventive with the places they chose. 
On a pier along Lake Superior. The white stuff? Bird poop.
Push-ups over the Mississippi River!
Eli got his shirt wet with this one, but he thought it was worth it.
     I would like to draw your attention in particular to their form. See that their backs and legs are pretty straight?
Push-ups overlooking Lake Superior.
In these pictures they're several hundred feet in the air at the top of a steep hill.
     That's called Good Form. We require push-ups with good form around here. There are some lazy ways to do push-ups, but if you're really going to be tough and do the 100 push-up challenge, you have to do it right. So keep your butt down, soldier, or you'll get it shot off!
His excuse? He probably hiked about 20 miles that day.
     Just a few months ago, Mom started her daily push-up goal again. Skinny, who's the big-muscle boy around the house now that Eli is working elsewhere, has made it his goal to outdo his Mommy. He routinely does more push-ups per day than she does - and he generally gets his 100 done before she does. His high score?


     Not kidding, folks. 215.

     That's more than I've ever done in a single day. I don't think I'm going to try and beat his record, either. I prefer to leave the push-ups to people with something to prove. And besides, Mom likes to think she's tougher than me. Don't tell her I said that.

     Push-ups. Gotta love 'em, right?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An Exercise in Futility

     We can and freeze all our own beans, which we grow in our garden every summer. We grow both green pole beans (Kentucky Wonder) and wax beans (Golden Wax). This year we have six 4'x4' plots planted with wax beans, and our green bean arbor is fully planted with green beans. It's about twelve feet long, eight feet wide, and made of four cattle panels bent over to form the arch. 
     We freeze most of the beans because it saves jars for other things we can't freeze (applesauce, jam, canned peaches, etc.). First we snap the tops off, then we blanch them to partially cook them so that the sugars in the vegetables don't convert to starches. We want them to stay pretty much the way they were when we picked them. After they're blanched, they go straight into gallon bags and into the freezer. They'll come out later in the year when we need a vegetable for supper.

     Our wax beans start producing first, generally starting in late June or early July. This year we got about 13-15 gallons of pretty much just wax beans, and then when their first season ended, the green beans were started. We're just starting the heavy part of the green bean season, and have frozen about five gallons of mostly just green beans by now, with much more to come.

     The question you should be thinking now is - Ok, so they have 20-some gallons of beans. Where are they going to put them all?

     Good question. 

     We have three chest freezers - one in the basement, two in the garage. The garage freezers are smaller, but they're still nice sized chest freezers, and they both work, which is good since if one of our freezers quit we'd have some problems. Currently one freezer is full of frozen peas, and so the other one was for beans. But the freezer only holds so many gallon bags full of green beans, and when I say full I mean full. There were a few that actually popped open because someone (me) put too many beans in. 

     So we had five gallons of green beans from our last picking, and no room to freeze them. What shall we do about that?

     What indeed.

     When we freeze the blanched beans, we always freeze them as the long bean, unbroken except for where we snapped the stem end off. We don't even take off the little tail on the end of the bean. I know some people do, but for us it's just an extra step that doesn't make a difference in the long run. However, this year we decided to start snapping/cutting the beans into sections about 1 to 2 inches long, thinking we could fit more beans in a bag and save some freezer space. But that still leaves us with about 18 gallons of beans that were frozen whole, and we're still out of freezer space. 

     Mom's solution: Bring in the bags of frozen beans one at a time and chop the frozen beans into sections, rebag them, and stuff them back in the freezer. 

     So we did that.
     Boy, that was a cold job. I learned that chopping frozen, sometimes ice-coated vegetables is a lot like scrapping your fingernails on a chalkboard. But we did get it done. We got things repackaged so that we saved about two gallons of space. 

     But when you've got twenty-seven bags of frozen, chopped beans in the freezer anyway, those two gallons don't make as much of a difference as we had hoped they would. 

     I think next year we'll chop the beans right from the get-go, and hopefully that will save us steps later on in the process.

Lesson learned.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rocking On!

     Two or three times a year, during the summer, we go up to camp on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It's our favorite vacation spot, and we've been going for many, many years as a family. It's always a lot of fun. Half the fun of the trip is just getting to see the lake, throw some rocks in, and spend a few hours on the shore. Lake Superior rocks are very special to Clan kids, either for carrying in pockets, or for tossing, skipping, etc.

     The fascination with rocks from the big lake begins when we're very small. Since we can't take home rocks from state parks, Mom will take pictures. 
Special rocks.
     From there we quickly move onto throwing the rocks into the lake. Not just a few, but a lot. As many as we can carry, and several trips to pick up more. We take our rock throwing very seriously. It's a very important job that someone has got to do, and we've very selflessly stepped in to do it.
     No one is too little to start....
Beck-up 2 years ago. 
     ...or too old to keep up the tradition.
Wait, did I say old? I didn't mean old. I meant...something besides old.
 Or maybe I was misquoted. I think that's what happened.
     Actually, in my opinion, rock-throwing is one of the most common tourist activities along the lake, and it's pretty much undocumented. But it's true, and I've seen it enough times to know what I'm talking about.

     Sometimes merely throwing rocks is not enough, however. There was the one trip when we buried Dad in them while he was trying to nap. 
     I think he actually enjoyed it though. Being buried became quite a fad for about half an hour until we got tired of hauling rocks around and quit. But while it lasted it was good fun.

     What is the point of this post, you may be asking - I am now that I've finished it. I guess the point is to say that we are different from anyone else I know, and we are rocking on just the way we are. Being hick is fun.