Tuesday, October 21, 2014


     October 18th was Jo's 13th birthday. Sadly, I wasn't home to write a birthday post and get it published, so this one is going to be (hopefully) the latest birthday post I ever do.

     When it came to coming up with a subject for Jo's birthday post, I had an incredibly difficult time. It wasn't as if I couldn't come up with anything to write about Jo, because I can think of several things. But not all of those are exactly 'birthday post' material.

     Hey, I'm her sister. I can have unflattering opinions if I want to.

     But when I think about Jo, one of the biggest things that pops out at me is competition. Jo is a competitor all the way. She's not like Skinny and Eli, who you'll notice have been one-upping each other on push-ups in the comments section of that post. But Jo does like to win and be the best. 
That includes being a macho laundry-girl.
     One example of Jo's competitive attitude is in her game-playing strategy. We play games with our grandma regularly, and Jo is one of those game-players who brings her winning attitude every time. My favorite example out of all the games Stick has played (and frequently won) is her strategy in a game called The aMAZEing Labyrinth or just Labyrinth. 

     Labyrinth is a board game where each player is searching for a list of treasures in a constantly changing maze. I would say most of us play this game in a fairly relaxed way. We'd like to win, but we're not going to do everything possible to foil our opponents, especially if it's going to make things difficult for us, too. But that's not how Jo does things. She goes to extra trouble to make it very hard for her opponents to find their treasure. Most of the time this makes it extremely challenging for her to win, but I really don't think she cares.

     And to be honest, she has won this way, so it has it's merits. Still, it can be very annoying to play her at this game. She's a cutthroat opponent.

     Another recent example of Jo's competitive spirit showing itself would be just this summer. Our martial arts studio was in some of the local parades, and we got to walk with them and throw candy. Mom made up a brochure for the students to hand out, and all Clan members enrolled at the studio were asked to make a statement for the brochure. We all had great things to say about the instructors and the martial art (Tang Soo Do), but Jo's comment was particularly interesting.

"Learning Tang Soo Do hasn't been easy, but the Yennie's[instructors] have been a great help to me when I was struggling. I'm sure they will support me as I work toward black belt and all the ranks beyond." - Jo

     "All the ranks beyond." That's our Jo. She claims this was a grammatical error, but I'm not so sure. It looks to me like she's planning to become the next Tang Soo Do Grandmaster. It could be a few years, but I'm positive that's her plan.

     Anyway, all joking aside, Jo is 13 now.

Happy Birthday, Jo!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy birthday, Dad

     It was Dad's birthday on the 14th of October, and I'm almost very ashamed of myself. Why? It's because I forgot Dad's birthday. Well, not just because I forgot his birthday. Actually, it's because of something Dad started two years ago on my birthday.

     He was backpacking up on the North Shore of Lake Superior with David, Eli, and Skinny on my fifteenth birthday. Usually on our birthday's Dad will come in and wake us up before he goes to work so he can wish us happy birthday. There's also a bit of a competition going on on birthdays. It's a feather in your cap if you can be the first person to say "happy birthday" to the birthday person.

     Well, on this particular birthday, Dad wasn't going to be home to wish me happy birthday. He would be back two days later, and I guess I didn't expect him to really wish me happy birthday at all. He surprised me. At 6 o'clock in the morning I got a phone call. Somewhat groggy, I answered, and I think I managed to croak, "Hello?"

     I could hear Dad grinning when he said happy birthday. He thought it was very funny. I was glad he'd wished me happy birthday, but I definitely thought he could have picked a better time. Oh well.
Yup, that's my Dad
     Have I ever mentioned that I'm a very competitive person? I am. I really don't care about push-ups much, but getting Dad back for the early birthday call is definitely right up my alley. Plus I've been known to take a great joke and repeat it. For some reason I didn't call him on his birthday that same year, and so the joke didn't last enough for Dad to call me on my birthday the next year (which would be last year, if you didn't catch that). But I called him on his birthday that year.

     He was up in Duluth with Mom on a short vacation. I got all the kids together at 7 in the morning and put my phone on speaker-phone. Then we called Dad and all of us sang happy birthday as a special surprise for him. My Dad isn't particularly easy to surprise, so that made it extra special for me.

     This year I wanted to one-up him. I wanted to get up earlier in the morning on my birthday than he did and be the first to call. And I did. Actually, I was really tickled that I'd beaten him to it, but pride cometh before a fall, and I'm not famous for remembering birthdays. So on October 14th Dad comes into the girls' room at around 7 and wakes me up and asks me if I have anything to say.

     Mornings are not my thing. Especially not when I planned to sleep until 8. So, intelligently enough, I said: "It's 7 o'clock?"

     And Dad said: "Aren't you going to wish me happy birthday?"

     Oh man!! I forgot! How could I forget? (Knowing me, pretty easily.) So currently we're even, and I'm going to start planning what I'm going to do to Dad next year. 
Happy Birthday, Dad. 
I won't even tell everyone how old
you are like I did with the other kids.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Honey Spin

     Every year about this time, usually in the last weeks of September or the first weeks of October, the Clan and some of our neighbors gather for our honey spin.

     Ah, honey spin! It's a fun part of the year, the day when we harvest our honey. Not a lot people have the chance to experience honey spin with the Clan, so I thought it would be fun to do a post about it. It's a very interesting process.

     First of all, I'm going to assume everyone reading this knows what honey is and that it comes from bees. The bees make honey from nectar, which is more watery than honey, and then they actually dehydrate the nectar until it has a moisture percentage of 18.6 or less. Then it becomes honey and they cap it with wax, sealing the honey away for winter when they'll need it to survive. When we're spinning honey we use a tool called a refractometer to determine the moisture content of the honey. Around the honey spin garage we actually call it the honeyometer, but it's a very handy tool.

     As beekeepers, we put frames in our beehives for the bees to build honeycomb on, and when the honeycomb is full of capped cells, we pull the frames out for honey spin. We make sure to leave frames of honey for the bees to have over the winter, but because we collect over the early fall and late summer when honey production is at it's peak, the bees have access to nectar to fill honeycombs for us and for themselves. When they fill combs we take them away and replace them with empty. The bees keep collecting and capping, producing enough surplus for us in addition to their own stores.

     Once we've got our frames of honey, it's time to extract.

     The first step of the extraction process is to take the caps off the comb cells. When we first started keeping bees and extracting honey, Dad used an electrical uncapping knife, which was heated. Supposedly this makes the uncapping process faster. We found that the hot knife would singe the wax and honey and made things taste less pleasant. It also heated the honey so much that it started getting very runny and was a difficult tool to clean. So a few years ago Dad bought a cold knife. The cold knife isn't electrical, eliminating the melted wax problem. Much easier to operate as well, because there aren't any electrical cords for short-legged children to trip over in a small garage. Yes, that was always a problem.
     After the capping is completed, the frames are put into the extractor, which is a large, barrel-shaped contraption with a motor and a rack with space for six frames. 
Are you seeing her pose?
     Once its loaded, the motor spins the rack around really fast, and the honey is flung to the sides of the extractor. Then it drips down to the bottom and out of a honey gate at the bottom of the extractor and ends up in a bucket. This honey is generally full of little bits of wax and bee parts that fly off the frames when the extractor starts spinning, so we always put a net over the bucket to strain out all those unappetizing bits.
     The last step in our extraction process is to bottle the honey. We use half-gallon jars and five gallon buckets because of the sheer amount of honey we collect every year. Filling all those piddly little bear-shaped bottles would be pretty stupid at this point. The ladies are in charge of the bottling part of the job. Mom strains the honey through the net into a clean bucket, and her friend runs the honey gate on the bucket and fills jars. There's also one lady who's job is to clean the dirty nets, and her work is much appreciated because almost no one else likes that job.
Mom showing off her muscles. Must be all those push-ups.
     That spout on the front of the bucket is called a honey gate. That's your new word for today. Try to sprinkle it into your everyday conversation. People will think you're really smart.

     And that's basically it! That's our extraction process. It's pretty stripped down and simple. We don't have time for extra steps because we like to get all the honey extracted in one day, and sometimes we've got lots of frames of honey to extract. The men are in charge of capping and extracting, while the ladies run the bottling process. The kids also have a job, a very important one.

     The extractor is operated from the top of a picnic table. It's strapped down pretty tightly, but when that thing gets spinning, the table starts to jump around and scoot over the floor. Which is not good. The job for the kids is to sit on that table and hold it down when it starts moving. And would you believe it? That's a job that thirteen kids can do pretty well.  
     In a good year, the Clan can pull in 25 gallons of honey. This year we only got 15, but that's still not too bad. We had less hives this year, and it wasn't a particularly good bee year either. 

And by the way, people, I think there's an open invitation to stop by during honey spin and see is do what we do. Maybe you'll learn a few things.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Girl Birthdays

     There's been a birthday party in the Clan, folks. It's the fall birthday party, with myself, Jo, Pete, Fuzz, and Beck-up as the birthday kids. It was quite a blast.

     The fall birthday party has mostly girls, with poor Pete thrown in the mix. One of the challenges of this birthday party is what to get Clan girls. I know that there are some things that people think should be given to girls, and other things that are great gifts for boys. Guess what? We really don't adhere to those rules. At all.

     Anyone surprised?

     Mom and Dad have been pretty smart about getting gifts for all of us girls. We have never been particularly interested in sparkly tutus, princess tiaras, frilly dresses, and all things pink (although Fuzz likes pink, so go figure). Mom and Dad also aren't in the habit of giving pointless gifts. They like to give a gift that will be useful, not something that will just sit around. There are enough things sitting around in our house already, and it would be really dumb to add to that total by giving 13 kids presents that can't be put to use.

     For another thing, there are a lot of practical things that any kid should have and can make use of on a regular basis, and it doesn't matter if you're not a boy. Watches, a pocketknife, a deck of cards, a Buff, and a thermos are gifts that every single Clan child can count on getting at some point. Fuzz is going to be 8 soon, and she got her thermos and watch today. She also got headphones, and just about everyone else in the house has their own pair. Most of us have a toolbox with a combination lock for storing things we want locked away and safe. 

     And the biggest birthday milestone is when you reach thirteen and get a camera for your birthday. That is always a very exciting birthday gift.

     The best thing about this arrangement is that it cuts down on the number of toys, toys, and more toys that we'd otherwise acquire. Mom and Dad are going to end up having to provide watches and headphones and all those things for us at some point anyway, and they were smart enough to decide to make birthday presents out of those.

     But we don't just get practical stuff all the time. We're not that boring. Some of us like to get LEGO's every now and then, after all.

     Good girl gifts over the years have reflected our interests. I have crocheted a lot, and when I started to show a really strong interest in it, Mom and Dad gave me crochet tools for my birthday. They were all things I needed, and I use them regularly when I crochet. M's changing hobbies have been reflected by the variety of things she's received for birthdays, everything from doll clothes to Window Art to a USB flash drive for her to use with the computer. Jo has been a harder one of Mom and Dad to peg, but every year they manage to find things she likes and is interested in. She's gotten everything from a doll bed to a Nerf gun and a pack of darts. 

     Fuzz has always been an easier one to get things for, because she has definite ideas about what she's interested in. One of the best gifts she's ever gotten is her tea set, which she really wanted. Mom and Dad surprised her with the works. A porcelain set of cups and saucers, a tea pot for her to brew tea in, and several boxes of tea bags.
     Mom and Dad give real gifts. If Fuzz wants a tea party, she gets a real tea party, with real tea. Come over some time and ask for her to make you some. There are four cups!

     Beck-up is in that stage where she really is more interested in fun things to play with. Toy animals and read-along audiobooks are very exciting for her. The rest of us just suffer along and listen to Tikki Tikki Tembo for the hundredth time. 
     And I know you won't believe it from that sweet face, but I think that sometimes the only reason she listens to those audiobooks is to drive everybody else crazy.

     Just sayin'.

     We still get more girly gifts, too, things the boys would never get. I like jewelry, and every few years I get a few more nice pieces. M got a purse last year - which she promptly lost, of course. And she would use it if she could find it. Jo has also gotten some jewelry, and Fuzz and Beck-up love the dresses that our grandma sews for them. 
     So it's not as if we hate to get girl gifts, but we've got a wide range of interests. Not all of those revolve around clothes and dolls. Actually, almost none of them do.

     The other smart thing Mom and Dad have done is not give a huge amount of gifts at a birthday party. Generally the grand total is only seven or eight packages, and it never amounts to a whole pile of things. Beck-up can hold everything she gets in her lap.

     And you know what? We've never been disappointed by this. We don't ever feel our parents are being stingy. And because they keep the gift tally small, they can avoid running out of good things to give us. They can space out the things we'll need over several years, and give us a few fun things ever birthday without ending up giving us pointless gifts. After all, there's only so many things a person needs, and after that it's just stuff.

     And believe me, we have enough stuff around already. We don't need any more, thank you very much.

     In the end, finding gifts to the Clan girls isn't really so much different from finding gifts for Clan boys. Because you know what? Clan girls would be just as interested in getting a big, black sword for their birthday as any of the Clan boys. And we have a set of parents who just might do that for us.