Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Anniversary: Too Hick To Be Square!

     Today I almost screwed up and missed writing a very important post. What post is that? Well, today is a very exciting day for me because today is the one-year anniversary of Too Hick To Be Square!

     Thank you, thank you, but there's really no need to make a huge fuss. It's just  Ok, go ahead and celebrate all you want. This is exciting stuff, after all!

     Yes, a year ago today I published my very first post on Too Hick To Be Square. That was a pretty big day for me, starting something new and very different from anything I'd tried before. But as you can see, it's turned out pretty well since then!

     Since it's the anniversary of starting Too Hick To Be Square, I thought it would be fun to talk about where the name came from, something I've never really talked about before.

     First of all, although the idea of blogging about my family and about the things I find funny was my idea at first, the name itself was someone else's brilliant idea. That happens to me quite a lot, actually. My siblings will suggest something for me to write a post about, and most of the time I do. (Thank you, siblings.) So although I might be the one writing the words and stringing them together into grammatical sentences, I get a lot of help and inspiration from my family.

     The name of this blog was one of those things, and it was originally Mom's idea. She got the idea from the name of an 80's song she remembered from way back when called Hip To Be Square. And yes, to me the 80's are way back when.

     The name is what officially made my blog a thing, because at the time I was still not sure about having a blog and didn't know what I wanted to write about for sure. Too Hick To Be Square turned out to be more than just the name for what I'd write, but also a general idea of what I would write about. 

     In fact, naming this blog was a real breeze. For my other blog, Under Cover Agents, I and my co-blogger Mountain Gal had to think long and hard about what we wanted to call it. The name for Too Hick sparked one of those amazing inspired moments when I could picture everything I wanted to do on the blog. And I've never reconsidered the name either. It's too good a name to change.

     Plus, it's true. We are too hick to be square.

     So that's where the name for Too Hick To Be Square came from. Since the day I started one year ago, I think I can say I've had amazing success, way beyond what I expected when I started. Today I have 68 published posts — all that in just one year!

     Thank you for sticking with me and Too Hick for this past year. It's been a heck of a journey, with a few bumps along the way for me, but I've enjoyed it. And I'm looking forward to being able to look back next year and the year after at how far Too Hick To Be Square has come. Hopefully you'll still be reading these posts then.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Camping Food 01: Bananas

     The Clan goes on camping trips at least three times a year, sometimes four. We usually go up to the North Shore and camp at one of the state parks there for four or five nights. During the day we'll hike the trails and spend time along the lake where we throw rocks into the water. 

     Bringing fifteen people on a camping trip is no mean feat, and the list of things we bring along has been altered over time as Mom and Dad gradually figured out what worked best for us. Obviously, to cover everything we bring along and why would be a serious challenge, and it's definitely not something I can cover in just one post. But hopefully this year I'll be able to take pictures as we prepare and while we're camping and write some posts about what we do and how we make these camping trips work.

     Today my camping post is about food. We eat a lot of food when we've been hiking all day - or even just part of the day - and so making sure there's plenty of food along is important. But the kinds of food we bring on our trips aren't what people usually have on camping trips. No sandwiches, no hot dogs, no marshmallows, not even granola bars. Our breakfast will consist of leftovers from the night before, fruit, maybe some Abbi bars. Our 'lunch' is really just snack foods that we can pack in a small backpack and carry on the trail so that we can stop whenever we feel like it and eat. We bring a lot of these snack type foods along on camping trips and there's always a wide variety so that we don't have to eat one or two types of granola bars or trail mix for four days.

     Not that we wouldn't eat it. But we do like variety.

     Mom will make some trail mixes from M&M's, peanuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, or whatever combination of nuts and dried fruit she can find cheaply. We also usually have dried fruit we've made ourselves, such as dried apples or bananas.

     Our dried bananas are similar to what you can find in stores sold as 'banana chips'. But banana chips have extra sugar on them and they're full of preservatives to make them last longer. The way we see it, the dried fruit will last long enough just on its own, and bananas are sweet enough.

     We use a large dehydrator to make all our dried fruit. We used to have a circular one, but four or five years ago we got this Excalibur dehydrator, and we like it very, very much. It has nine large trays and several heat settings, so we can dehydrate anything from fruit to noodles to meat. And we actually do use this dehydrator to do all those things - but that's for another post.
It would appear these dials are never washed...
     The bananas we use for dehydrating are the ones that are getting overripe and turning brown and black. They can even be bruised up, it doesn't really matter. We can get quite a few of these 'bad' bananas from the grocery store, and whenever we make a big haul we'll sit down and cut some up for the dehydrator.
     Cutting bananas for the dehydrator is a job for the kids. Mom rarely has to do any of it. All of us can handle a knife carefully and there aren't usually cut fingers around here. Even the littlest kids could probably do the banana cutting job, but usually the older kids will do that part so that the banana wheels are a consistent width and dry evenly.
     Having consistent widths to the bananas is fairly important. If they're all different sizes - some thick, some wafer thin - you end up with some bananas that have been super-cooked while the others are still really mushy and wet. We aim for a quarter of an inch at the very thickest, but we try not to go much thinner than an eighth of an inch. Really thick bananas will end up very sticky and chewy unless you dry them for forever, while very thin bananas are super crisp and break into tiny pieces in the bag.

     While we older kids cut the bananas, the younger ones will lay them on trays. The bananas will shrink down as they dehydrate - not a lot, but a little - so we try and pack the trays as full as we can. This means the little kids have to remember the neighbors rules: the bananas are neighbors and they go right next to each other. Every now and then they forget and have to be reminded, but even Beck-up can fill a tray with bananas all packed close together nicely. They also know not to stack the bananas on the trays, since then they get stuck and don't come apart.
     Once all the trays are filled and in the dehydrator, we turn it on for something between 14 and 16 hours and the next morning when it's finished, some of the kids will take the dried bananas off the trays and load them in gallon bags. One dehydrator full of bananas will mostly fill a gallon Ziploc bag. One or two bags of dried bananas will do us for an entire camping trip.
     The nice thing about drying bananas like this is that it's very easy. It probably takes fifteen or twenty minutes to load the dehydrator with everyone working together, and taking them off the trays when they're done is a piece of cake. Also, even one handful of dried bananas is very filling, especially if taken with a pint of water. They'll expand in your stomach and make you feel like you're about to explode.

     True story.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Shack

I think people wonder why the kids in the Clan know the things we know. And it's true, many of the skills we have are not skills that you would expect to find in a bunch of kids. Even the littlest kids in this family understand a bit of how canning works. I can butcher a deer all by myself, as long as I have a muscle-bound brute handy to help hold the thing down. Skinny built himself a potato cannon from PVC. The list goes on and on. And the reason we know the things we do is actually very simple.

Mom and Dad let us participate in the things they do. When Mom is making food in the kitchen, any of us can volunteer to pitch in. She will find a job for Beck-up, even if it’s just holding a spoon in between stirs. When Dad is working around the house or outside on one of his building projects, anyone who wants to join him is welcome. He’ll then start teaching you how to build whatever it is he’s building. This is exactly how it went with the shack, a project Pete and Cob came up with, and it's a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

Their idea was to build a small shack in the orchard, something that would have four walls and a roof and a floor. Dad agreed to help them build it and let them use his tools to put it together. It probably took a little more than a month, from start to finish, and obviously isn’t very big. The shack is about 55 inches high at the front and 42 inches high at the back. It’s 65 inches wide and 65 inches long - just enough space for two boys and a few things. The roof is shingled with real shingles we had laying around, and Skinny helped the boys paint the exterior blue and the door red. Dad bought some latches for the door so that it wouldn't just swing open and let in all kinds of critters, but would be easy for the little kids to open. All in all, a very nice shack.
They definitely need to do some spring cleaning in there.
As you can see (sort of) in the picture above, the boys have done a little interior decorating. The bin of walnuts and the old sheets aren't their's, but the small file cabinet in the very back is where they keep stuff. They also have two “beds”, one on each side of the shack. During the summer when it isn't freezing cold after dark, Cob and Pete will sleep out there overnight.

The way Dad handled the building of the shack is a perfect example of how we do things around here. Once the boys came to him with the idea, Dad didn’t just build the shack for them. They helped him cut and measure. They lined stuff up, learned to use the power screwdriver, and helped Skinny apply the paint. They were involved in many of the steps, and when they weren’t directly helping out, they were standing around watching so they could see what Dad was doing.

And that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Mom and Dad don’t cater to our every dream and whim. (No, really. They don’t.) If we’d like to make something, Mom and Dad don’t just do all the work for us. They will provide the materials, show us what to do, and provide help if it’s needed, but after that most of the work is done by the person who had the idea. I think this is a great method to use and a very empowering one. We've learned that we can do whatever we're interested in. We've learned how to learn what we need to know to do the things we want to do, either from Mom and Dad or some other source.

Cob and Pete helped to make that shack. They learned a lot about basic carpentry at nine and eight that many adults never learn. They will still have those skills next year and in five years and in ten years. More importantly, they know that if they have another idea for something they want to build, Mom and Dad will help them build it and teach them how so that if they want to build something else after that, they can do it on their own. And this is what I consider the most important thing about that shack. It’s not the fact that it turned out really well, or that Cob and Pete got a cool place to play. They learned a ton in building that shack, and if they can build a shack, they can build anything they want.

This is why I think that having your kids do things with you is so, so important. By allowing them to work beside you as you cook, clean, shop, and do projects around the house, you are teaching them. Equipping them with those practical skills is an incredibly important part of teaching them how to be independent and capable people. Your son may never become a professional carpenter. Your daughter might never use a sewing machine again after she sews that one pillowcase. That’s fine. But put those tools into your twelve-year-old’s hands and tell him (or her!) “Okay, you’re building this birdhouse. I’ll watch, but you’re going to do the work.” And then let him do it. You’re teaching him more than how to measure accurately and how to put a screw in straight. He’s learning that he can do things for himself and that if he wants to learn something, he can do that. You’re exposing him to all the fun, interesting, useful stuff he can learn. And I cannot stress how important that is.

Teach kids how to learn. Then teach them how to teach themselves. In the world we live in today, if you can read, you can learn how to do anything. But for that to be useful, you have to know that just because you don’t know how to do something now, there’s no reason you can’t learn how. And in my humble, unbiased opinion, my parents have done an amazing job of teaching that to every single one of us.

Now, the lecture is over. You’ve read what I think. Maybe it’s different from what you think, but consider it anyway. And then when you’ve finished that, you can wish Cob happy birthday, because today he turns eleven!
Happy birthday, Cob!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Garage Band Boys: New Instruments!

     Today Noodlehead Productions has big, big news to announce on the behalf of the Garage Band Boys!

     No, not their first national tour.

     No, not a live concert.

     Or their CD.

     Or a new song.

     We're happy to announce to all their fans that the Garage Band Boys have just acquired some brand new instruments! The old ones were falling apart, and although the duct tape looks classy, they both agreed it was definitely time for an upgrade.
The Garage Band Boys (August, 2014) 
     Before making their choice, they looked at and considered a variety of different options, trying to find something that fit their musical style and would allow them to add their personal touch to the instruments. In the end, they decided to stay with the style of guitar they used before: the cardboard guitar. Both of their old instruments were made of cardboard, crafted by hand and handed down over the years until they were passed to Cob and Pete. Those instruments have gotten them a long way, and so they feel their new, personalized cardboard guitars will be perfect for recording their album, which is still in the very early stages of production.

     These new guitars will have the same cardboard body, wooden neck, and real strings and tuning pegs that their old ones did, making the transition from old to new easier than it might have been. Both Cob and Pete purchased their guitar kits at Musicmakers, so fans can find exactly what the Garage Band Boys have there and even purchase their very own cardboard guitar. For those interested in how these guitars were made, here are some special, behind-the-scenes pictures of the guitar-making process. All credit goes to Noodlehead Productions.
Cardboard body with sound holes.
Two wooden necks - no strings, frets, or pegs attached yet.
Hammering the bridge in...very carefully.
Pete getting the strings and tuning pegs organized - pictured here 
being assisted by Noodlehead Production's seriously underpaid roadie.
This flame design, featured on Pete's guitar, was specifically
created by the art department at Noodlehead Productions.
Cob's guitar displays a simpler design, a Garage Band Boys original.
     Basically, these guitars have a simple, cardboard body, held together with glue. They attached the tuning pegs to the head of the neck, wound the strings around them, and fastened the other end of the strings at the bridge. The entire neck is glued onto the middle of the body, and this time around the Garage Band Boys have straps for their guitars. Full instructions for these guitars come with the kits, which as I said before, can be purchased at Musicmakers, as well as kits for various other cardboard instruments.
The Garage Band Boys (March, 2015)
     For those of you who want to know what the Garage Band Boys will do next, further band updates will be published through this blog by Noodlehead Productions. To listen to the Garage Band Boys' first live recording, click HERE.