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.


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.