Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hanke Christmas Extravaganza

I count myself lucky to belong to a family of people who like each other. I'm not just talking about my siblings here, although that's definitely a good thing. But my extended family also gets along really well, and we genuinely enjoy being around each other. This makes family get-togethers a lot more fun, and is part of why our family gatherings are so large. We like visiting with each other, so when there are parties most of us try to show up. Especially at Christmastime, we end up with some pretty large groups getting together, on both sides of my family.

The big gathering on my Mom's side of the family is the Hanke Christmas Extravaganza. It's usually held on Christmas Day at my great-aunt and -uncle's place. Luckily enough, they have enough room in their small house to hold between thirty and forty people, because that's how many of us normally show up for the Extravaganza. It's a big party!

Our Extravaganza always starts off with a little reading from the Bible. My great-uncle has selected some passages from the Gospels that relate the events of Jesus' nativity, and we read these every year. Since it's divided into about a dozen parts, most of the kids get to take a turn reading a portion. Even the little guys, like Fro and Fuzz, can read a part if they want to. This leads to some interesting pronunciations of words like "Magi" and "Judea," but, hey! We all know what they're talking about so it's all good.

After the Scripture reading, we sing some Christmas carols. Dad brings out his guitar, we pass around songbooks, and sing our way through a dozen Christmas carols.
Somehow I don't think Skinny is singing very tunefully just now.
I won't say we're top-notch singers, but in my completely unbiased opinion we're not that bad. And what we lack in talent, we definitely make up for in sheer volume. We've been told we can be heard from the street outside. Somehow, that doesn't surprise me at all.

But a family gathering just isn't complete without food. That's what comes after we finish singing. We don't sit down for a big meal at this Christmas party. Instead, everyone brings a little something to help fill the table, and we spend the rest of the evening snacking.
We got a few more things after this, but by then it was too late to get a picture.
Because there's no particular order for who gets to serve first, the kids usually jump in first and start dishing up. This tends to make it look (and probably sound) a lot like feeding time at the zoo.

Exactly like that, actually.

As you can see from the picture above, we have a whole sampling of different snacky foods at the Hanke Christmas Extravaganza. The menu varies from year to year, but these are some of the things we had this year—the ones I can remember, at least.
  • Crackers and dip
  • Chips and dip
  • Veggies and dip
  • Caramel corn
  • Fudge
  • Toffee
  • Peanut brittle
  • Pretzels and almond bark
  • Chex mix
  • More pretzels and almond bark
  • About seven different kinds of cookies
  • Even more pretzels and almond bark. You can never have enough pretzels and almond bark, right?
  • Meatballs. Like, five gallons of meatballs. It's rumored that there were some cocktail wieners, too, but those didn't make it past the first handful of kids.
I'm pretty sure this poor, starving child didn't get nearly enough
meatballs. Good thing he knows how to fend for himself.
That's pretty much all we do at the Extravaganza. We don't unwrap presents anymore because that just took way too long and there's not really room for that many presents in my great-aunt's living room anyway. Instead, we come, we sing, and we eat (a lot) and generally just have a good time being around each other.
I'm pretty sure he got enough to eat.
With that many people eating, there usually aren't very many leftovers by the time we get ready to leave. This year it was mostly just meatballs. Even this family can't eat that many meatballs in one sitting.

But it was a really good evening. Everyone was enjoying themselves and we got to catch up with people we hadn't seen since last year. That's why I enjoy going to the Hanke Christmas Extravaganza so much. My extended family always manages to have a good time when we're together, and that makes everything we do much more fun.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Clan and Christmas trees

Hello all, and Merry Christmas!

I'm sure you've all noticed the complete and utter lack of new blog posts over the past couple weeks. I'm properly sorry for that, but real life happened and I just wasn't able to get around to it.

I'm also sure you've noticed my failure to post anything Christmas-y so far. Last December, although I wrote some birthday posts for Mom and Skinny, everything else was completely unrelated to the holiday. And I was almost going to skip over Christmas posts again this year, but then I thought "What the heck! Why not?" After all, Christmas only comes once a year, so I should probably use this opportunity to share a little of how the Clan celebrates this holiday.

I'd like to say we don't do Christmas too differently from the rest of the world. We give presents, we get together with family, we eat a bunch of food, etc, etc. As far as those traditions go, we're pretty normal. But as I'm sure you expected, there are also a bunch of Christmas-y things we don't do.

The big one is decorating. I hope no one is surprised to learn that the Clan doesn't decorate for Christmas. I mean, honestly. You've been reading this blog for a year and a half now. I would have thought you'd have gathered that by now. Our house doesn't look any different at Christmas time than it does at any other time of year. We don't string lights, We don't pose reindeer and sleighs on our lawn—just the usual pair of big white dogs. And to top it all off, we don't decorate a Christmas tree. In fact, most years we don't even have a Christmas tree.

This didn't used to be the case. Before we built this house, we lived in a four-bedroom farmhouse on this same property. While we lived there we'd set up a tree for Christmas. I remember being appropriately excited when the time came for this event—decorating the tree and helping Dad string lights is pretty fun for a five-year-old. But I've helped put up trees since then, and I know the kind of hassle that comes with having one in the house. There's setting it up and taking it down. You have to store all those fussy decorations all year long. And even if you have a plastic tree, the needles still end up everywhere. Eventually, we just stopped putting one up altogether.

And I haven't missed having a tree for Christmas. Maybe that's just my Grinch side showing, but I’m not into decorating and I don’t understand the fascination people have with putting a tree in the house and hanging it full of decorations. It’s not that I hate Christmas trees, but they aren’t what make Christmas special for me. However, many of my younger brothers and sisters don't remember having a real Christmas tree, and for a few of them at least, that can still be really special. And so we still have a tree hanging around that we can set up for Christmas if we feel like it.
Now, I know what you're thinking. That probably doesn't look like much of a tree. But consider the benefits we reap from having one like this.

  1. It doesn’t shed needles.
  2. It comes pre-decorated.
  3. We can use it as a night-light in the bathroom during the rest of the year.

I guarantee you wouldn’t be able to do that with any other kind of Christmas tree. And because it's so small, we can move it around easily. Carrying it upstairs and plugging it in the living room is the work of five minutes. Tops.

Another special thing about this tree is that it’s one-of-a-kind. Some neighbors made it for us one year, using some old boards from a barn and a few other distinctive items. Those are real grapevines you're seeing there.
We also haven't changed the little pieces of fabric they tied to the lights either—which makes me wonder if we've ever changed the lights. I'm not really sure. But we've had this tree for a long time, and it really fits with my family's attitude toward Christmas decorating. Beyond this one little tree, we don't change a thing.

And in my humble and totally unbiased opinion, this is totally fine. With less fluff and stuff to worry about, Christmas becomes that much more enjoyable. And isn’t that kind of the point?

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas this year. Happy holidays, be safe, and look into getting your own wooden Christmas tree. Seriously, they're so easy to work with and they make fantastic night-lights. Perfect for using all year round.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Kitchen Patrol

Just finished supper at the house, and I thought that you might like a peek at what our kitchen looks like after a meal has been eaten.

Basically, it looks like this:
Some meals, it’s not this bad—but on the other hand, sometimes it’s worse. At the moment there’s a lot of clutter on the counter in need of another home that just…hasn’t gotten one yet.

But that is what our kitchen looks like after the ravening hordes have torn through it, filled up with food, and then hidden themselves away in dark corners of the house until the kitchen magically cleans itself.

Unfortunately, we still haven’t got a magical, self-cleaning kitchen installed in the house, so someone has to manually tidy up after meals. Or better yet, several someones.

Mom is a big fan of delegating household jobs out to the rest of us. We all have our daily chores to keep up with. Most of us have a room of the house we’re responsible for tidying and keeping fairly clean. The kitchen, though, is a responsibility we all share.

I honestly can’t remember how long ago it was that Mom thought up the Kitchen Patrol, but it’s probably been around for eight years or more. At some point, she decided the job of cleaning up the kitchen after meals wasn’t going to be her job anymore. So she created Kitchen Patrol (or KP) and assigned out parts of the kitchen cleanup to us, giving everyone a different job to do.

For instance, I’m in charge of clearing counters after meals. I’m the one who puts away leftovers, loads and starts the dishwasher, and washes the counters. I’m the one who turned this:

Into this:
It might not look like a whole lot, but at least the one counter is completely cleared off.

Other jobs like sweeping floors, washing the table, emptying the dishwasher, or washing pots and pans belong to various others of my siblings. Our least favorite of these jobs is definitely the last one. I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a happy dish washer—as long as that dishwasher is a person. Tubby and Jo got stuck with the dish washing duty. No surprise that they’re the only ones anxious for KP jobs to be rotated.

Kitchen Patrol is technically supposed to happen as soon as we finish eating. I will be the first to admit that this is not always the case. More than half the time, there are a few people who need reminders. And as often as not, someone is in need of a personal invitation.

Note: Around here, a personal invitation is not something to be desired. It is, in fact, something to be avoided at all costs.

Hey, I never said we were perfect! We’d be just fine with that magical, self-cleaning kitchen, no problems whatsoever. Until then, however, it’s the Kitchen Patrol to the rescue. Sometimes it takes a while, but KP does eventually get done and life is able to go on as pseudo-normal as it ever does. 

If you ever run across a magical, self-cleaning kitchen, though, be sure to look me up.