Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sorry, Too Hick To Be Square doesn't live here anymore!

Oops!

You must have missed the memo: Too Hick To Be Square has moved!

Not to worry, though, we haven't gone very far. We've just switched over to our own independent website. Find us at toohicktobesquare.com and maybe even subscribe so you never miss what's happening at Too Hick To Be Square.

See you there!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Too Hick To Be Square is moving!

Breaking news: Too Hick To Be Square is moving to a new home!

I've finally decided it's time to pack my things and leave Blogspot for good—but not to worry! Too Hick isn't going very far, just to it's own independent website where the fun will continue same as before, except with more gadgets and doo-dads for me to play with.

I'm taking everything with me on the move: posts, pictures, comments, the whole shebang! In fact, I've spent the whole last month unpacking everything on the new site so it would be ready for use. There are still a few changes I'm going to have to make before I'm 100% happy with everything, but I'm proud to say that Too Hick To Be Square is now fully operational and ready for use.

So with that, let's say goodbye to Blogger and hello to toohicktobesquare.com!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Things Learned in Guatemala: How to Throw Up While Wearing A Necklace

Well, Jo and Mom made it back from their mission trip in Guatemala alive, intact (and pretty smelly to boot).
Before
After
During
Their return isn’t exactly breaking news anymore, since they’ve been back for an entire week now, but I get around to these things when I can—and that’s rarely immediately.

Since they’ve come back, we’ve been asking a lot of questions about their trip, what they did, what it was like in Guatemala, and what they thought of the experience, plus looking at all the pictures taken by the group they went with. I’ve heard plenty of stories about what they did while they were away, but before that, a little background.

In case you were wondering (because I feel I haven’t been very clear) Mom and Jo did not go all on their lonesome to Guatemala, and they certainly didn’t co-ordinate the trip details and well-drilling themselves. They’re actually just two members of a large team of volunteers that went through World Help, a global humanitarian organization that sends teams like Jo’s to different parts of the world to provide aid and relief in struggling areas. The specific trip Jo went on was also partially managed by Hope of Life, a Guatemala-based humanitarian organization focused on meeting the needs of Guatemalans.

The team Jo went with consisted of about twenty-five people. I found it interesting that twenty of these people were from a church in Pennsylvania, and then there were these five random Minnesotans tagging along. Go figure.

The Pennsylvania group had been to Guatemala before, and last year they raised money to build a church and a home for the church’s pastor in the village of Altimira. This year they came back with plans to repaint that church and build another home. On top of that there was Jo’s well-drilling project, but she was able to raise all the money for that ($15,000) by herself, something I talked about HERE.

Jo and Mom approached this trip with only a hazy idea of what they’d be doing during their weeklong stay, but they figured they’d be helping with the building projects by hauling cement blocks and doing physical labor. (Here in Minnesota we call that “grunt work.” Or maybe it’s just the Clan who says that.) Turns out they were mostly right, since they repainted the church, stacked rocks for landscaping at the home they built, and hauled wet concrete to lay the floor of the new house. There were a few hospital visits and village tours mixed in, but they still did a lot of grunting during that week.
Dedicating the new house
Unsurprisingly, this trip was a huge learning experience for Jo, from start to finish. She went from home school kid who’d never been more than one or two states away from home to a veteran fundraiser and globe-trotter…or something close to that. Along the way she learned quite a number of useful things which I thought I’d pass along to you.

For instance, Jo is now the Clan’s resident expert on how to scrape stucco off a wall without getting stung by the scorpions that get flicked out of their hidey-holes by the scraper. She’s also our resident expert on scorpion smashing—definitely a handy skill to have.
Scraping old stucco off the church
Of course, Jo being who she is, she somehow didn’t figure out how to apply paint to a wall without getting it on her shoes and in her hair, so we’re calling those off-white splatters a “souvenir.”
Another skill she picked up while she was away is how to mix concrete the Guatemalan way. They don’t have concrete mixers in the villages down there, so instead they mix the rock and water right on the ground and then haul the buckets of wet concrete to wherever they need it. Whatever is left just sits there to dry, leaving an oddly placed uneven sidewalk there on the ground.

Jo also learned to drink lots of water while in Guatemala. Staying hydrated there is a full-time occupation: between the heat and the humidity, you can get heatstroke pretty fast. Something else the Guatemalan climate does is grow gigantic grasshoppers. Think 4 inches long and you’ll be on the right track. Mom being who she is, she dared someone to eat one of them and almost had to cough up $20 before he thought better of it.

In case you were interested, it would take more than $20 to convince me to eat a grasshopper, even with chocolate.

Other things Jo learned was how to drink water out of a bag, how to hand out boxes of ice cream, and how to ride a bus for six straight hours. Again, all very valuable skills.
Unfortunately, despite all the immune boosters Jo and Mom took before and during their trip, they did end up getting sick on the last two days, so another thing Jo learned was how to go without eating for 48 hours and how to throw up while wearing a necklace—or rather, how NOT to do it.

 But surprisingly enough, out of all the things Jo learned on this trip, a better grasp of Spanish was NOT one of them. She tells me her Spanish is probably worse than it was when she left because “they talk so fast down there! I got confused.” She did get one chance to show off her language skills, though, because at the dedication of the well she had to give a speech.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Jo is not overly fond of the spotlight, and she isn’t too keen on public speaking either. Her speech caused her a lot of anxiety, but in typical Jo fashion, she figured out a way to deliver a speech and still avoid being the center of attention for more than thirty seconds. The speech she gave at the dedication was delivered in Spanish—and was exactly four words long.

Hallelujah! Gloria a Dios! (Hallelujah! Glory to God!)

It was short, sweet, and to the point—just her kind of speech. It's probably worth mentioning that this was about all the Spanish she could string together at one time.
Jo got the cut the ribbon at the well dedication
Cutting with aplomb!
Since she got back, we’ve asked Jo several times if she thinks she’ll be going back next year. At the moment her answer is “I don’t think so.” It was a great experience, one that she definitely enjoyed, but right now she’s ready to get back to her regular schedule and do things like school, chores, and washing my laundry.

Cuz that’s what sisters are for, right?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Day 5 Without Mom and Jo: Do we miss them?

Since Mom and Jo left for Guatemala, the question everyone is asking is “Do you miss them?” We get asked this by friends and neighbors, by each other, even by Mom and Jo themselves when we catch them in a video call.

The answer is, of course: Nope, not really.


Ok, maybe.


...A little...


All right, fine—YES!!

Because let’s face it. Jo’s a fairly obnoxious person most of the time, but I do miss having the annoying little squirt around 24/7. She does have her good points, after all, and it’s pretty nice to have someone else who will wash my laundry.

But while we miss Jo more than we’ll ever admit to, Mom’s absence is the one that’s gotten to us the most. Jo had her share of jobs and chores we’re having to take care of, but Mom ran EVERYTHING.

Meals. School. Errands. Gardening and weeding. Sibling disputes. Crisis control.

Everything.

We’re having to pick up the slack, and it hasn’t always been easy.

It helps a lot that Mom did plenty of planning and preparation beforehand to make some of these jobs easier. Meals, for instance, have really been simplified by having a freezer stocked with easy meals like sloppy joes and pot roasts that can be cooked up for supper with the minimum of effort. She also did the grocery shopping before she left and made sure we had plenty of fresh fruits and veggies hanging around for us to choose from so we weren’t eating out of jars the whole time. Handier yet, she even made a list of possible meal options so we don’t even have to decide what we’re going to make and if we have the stuff to make it with.
This is good, because when put under pressure, the only meal I can think of is lasagna, and only Tubby would be happy if we ate lasagna all week long.

Mom’s list makes menu planning simple. We sit down to plan the next day every evening, and when it comes to meals, we pick a few things off the list and write them down on the greaseboard.
After that, the only tricky part is remembering to pull things out of the freezer to thaw and getting things on the stove in time. We’re still working on that part, but we’ve shown significant improvement in just three days. Hey, when food is on the line, we get on top of things!

School is another area where we’re missing having Mom around. Most of it is done without her direct supervision normally, but she still comes through and corrects and grades everything. That job we’re trying to divvy up between us as best as can and as far as is appropriate (having Cob correct Skinny’s high school math probably isn’t the smartest), but most of it gets left for Dad and I to do when we get home from work.
Making sure chores happen as they should, when they should, and how they should is also something we’re working on. Most of the normal house chores like KP and feeding the dogs and chickens aren’t really a big deal, but getting bathrooms cleaned and bedrooms tidied is a challenge—though if I’m being honest, it’s probably not too much more challenging than it is when Mom is home. Making sure those things happen just isn’t usually my job.

We’re at Day 5 Without Mom and Jo, and I can safely say we’re doing pretty well. There have been no major disasters or catastrophes. Every crisis that has come up has been something we could handle. But although we’re managing to cope without Mom, that doesn't mean we don't miss her.

When you have a parent on call 24/7, at least through phone or text if not face-to-face, losing that contact (even for a little while) is a shock. I keep catching myself about to fire her a text with a question, and then redirecting to Dad or a sibling when I remember she’s in Guatemala. Though she hasn't been gone all that long, it's still hard coming home and not having her there to say "Hi, how was your day?"

It’s probably much harder for the little kids, because they’re used to being home all day, every day with Mom and now she’s suddenly never there. They show it in different ways (Becca is more clingy, Fuzz and Fro are more cantankerous, M is tired of being in charge and responsible), but we all miss having Mom here to talk to, ask questions of, and even wrestle on the floor if we feel like it.

And yes, we miss Jo too.

I was just talking to her though a video call this evening, and jokingly I told her I liked her a lot better through an Internet connection. The image was super pixelated, so what I could see of her was mostly a blurred image of colored squares. Turns out she’s a lot less annoying when you can’t see her sticking her tongue out and sassing off. And 3,000 miles of distance does a lot to make me remember all the things I do like about her.

Because, as much as it hurts me to say this, I’ve repeatedly noticed and been bothered by the fact that she's not there when I expected her to be. This morning she didn’t wake up to me making noise going to work. Last night she wasn’t there when M and I were lying in bed talking about this and that until way past our bedtime. She wasn’t even telling us to be quiet like usual, so we stayed up even later than usual. (And as a result, were even more tired than usual the next day. Go figure.) And I definitely noticed her absence the other day when we couldn't find some rice she had put away after Mom's grocery shopping. We tore the kitchen and pantry apart looking for it, but eventually just went and bought more because we couldn't find it.

Yup, might as well admit it. I miss that obnoxious little squirt.

Just don’t tell anyone, OK?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Here's What Others Have Been Saying About Jo

When Jo signed up to go to Guatemala, I don't think she realized just exactly what she was getting herself into. To be more specific, when she decided to raise $19,000 to drill a well for the village, I don't think she realized how much work it would be to raise that much money.

Thank goodness she had plenty of people to help her out along the way. Every part of the fundraiser was a new experience for Jo, and she ran into a lot of challenges along the way. While she's not the shy, retiring type, Jo's also not a social butterfly and there were many parts to this fundraiser that pushed her way out of her comfort zone.

When they first started, Mom and Jo had no idea where the fundraiser was going to go, or even how to run one. But not knowing what she's doing has never stopped Mom and she reached out to various people she knows who have done these kinds of things, got some tips and ideas, and was put in touch with other influential people who were able to help spread the news of the fundraiser even further.

And Jo, as the center of the whole operation, got to be involved in every single part of it. Guess who wrote the fundraising letters that got mailed to everyone in Mom's address book? Jo.

Guess who went door to door in town and solicited donations from businesses there? Jo (although she had help from Mom on that one).

And guess who got to be in the spotlight when the local news groups came knocking and asking for interviews?

You guessed it: dear old Jo.
Let's just say that in the past few months, Jo has gotten much better at talking to people about her trip and smiling for pictures.
Big smile, Jo!
One of the first things Jo did, after writing her fundraiser letters, was to write a news release about her plans to drill a well and send it out to most of the TV stations, newspapers, and radio stations in our area. We hoped we would get a couple responses that would help us expand our audience and reach a wider audience. What we got was more than we expected though–and probably a little more than Jo was prepared for. Since the news release went out, she's done five interviews, been on TV at least three times, and even on the radio.

I confess to feeling just a little outmatched by my little sister sometimes.

Here are some of the links to the stories on Jo and her well fundraiser. First, KIMT news aired a piece on the project and put a video out on their website HERE. KTTC also aired a story, but they've only kept a short write-up on Jo and the silent auction we did on their website, which you can see HERE. The Spring Vally Tribune did an article on Jo's fundraiser and upcoming trip in late March which you can see HERE. Shortly after that the Rochester Post-Bulletin published a piece which can be found HERE. There was also a last-minute radio interview that was scheduled about twelve hours in advance. Definitely interrupted our day a little when Mom and Jo had to run out in a hurry, but no one really cared.

With five interviews under her belt, I would say Jo's pretty much a veteran at this business now, but it hasn't been something she's enjoyed immensely. Like I said, she's not a social butterfly and being in the spotlight so much and in front of so many people made her very uncomfortable. There were a couple times when she almost decided to live under a rock for the rest of her life and never see anyone ever again. But she stuck it out, did the interviews, talked to people, and did her bit for the fundraiser. And although I can barely believe I'm saying this...she did a really fantastic job.
Because work kept me out of the house and busy when big things were happening, I was only tangentially involved in the whole fundraiser campaign, but I still had ringside seats for a lot of exciting things. I was (unfortunately) unable to be present for any of her interviews, but I did get to watch Jo write addresses on literally hundreds of envelopes, master the art of licking envelopes, and wear her fingers out sticking on stamps.

If that's not thrilling, I don't know what is.

I also got to watch her run around getting ready for the silent auction, crunching numbers with Mom to figure out how many dollars they had left to raise, and generally just freaking out about the whole thing.
 After a couple months of this, Jo felt the spotlight had been on her long enough. Actually, after just a few days of it, Jo was saying "I'm pretty sure I didn't sign up for all this!" and Mom and Dad were saying "We're pretty sure you did." She stuck it out, but she was thrilled when all the fundraiser business was over with and the well was paid for. Then all she had to worry about was boarding the plane for Guatemala–her first flight and her first time outside the USA.

She's still trying to forget that people are going to want to come back for post-trip interviews to talk about how things went in Guatemala. As far as she's concerned, her five minutes of fame are up and she's ready to go back to being an obscure home school kid who doesn't have her name in every paper in the area. Eventually someone will probably have to tell her "this is just part of being a celebrity" and to get used to it. That's not my job, though. I'll just keep on doing my blogging thing and let her figure it out for herself.

That's what big sisters are for, after all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Countdown to Take-Off

Announcement: Jo is going to Guatemala.

I'm sure most everybody who follows my blog knows this already and heard the news from other sources. Since the trip was first decided on in the beginning of this year, we've been spreading the news of Jo's travel plans and getting the word out there through the media pretty well. But although this is my sister we're talking about, I've been completely silent on the topic up until now. Previously it was because she was getting so much coverage from other people and at the time I didn't feel like repeating the exact same news they were giving.

Now that the hubbub has died down  and the trip is right at hand, I'm finally ready to throw in my two cents and give my own take on Jo's Guatemala trip.

Jo's been carrying around the idea of going on a mission trip for a couple years now. There was never a specific destination in mind, but she was pretty sure that it was something she wanted to do. She would mention it to Mom and Dad every now and then but didn't start getting really persistent (and sometimes downright annoying) until September last year. She wanted to go on a mission trip, preferably soon if not right away.

She got the OK from Mom and Dad on January 1st this year, and since then the whole thing has taken shape. One of the members of our small Bible study group has gone on mission trips several times in the past few years and was already planning another one for this year, so it was decided that Jo would go with her group. The destination: Guatemala. The purpose: to help build a school, outhouses, and other necessities for a small village in Guatemala.

The trip will last a week, and a group of about twenty-five people are going. Only five are from Minnesota, and the rest are actually from a church in Pennsylvania, so that will be a little unusual. I'm expecting it to be a huge learning experience for Jo and she's been very excited about it for a long timepretty much since Mom and Dad gave permission.

But Jo has a personal goal for this trip that's kept her busy for the past six months and created a bit of a buzz in our area. She wants to have a well put in this small village, because right now the only access to water they have is from streams or riversthe same places they bathe, wash their clothes, and even put their waste. It's not a healthy situation, and the lack of access to clean water is part of why life expectancy is so low for these villagers. Drilling a well would give them a reliable source of clean water and dramatically improve their quality of living.

Drilling a well costs money, though, and going on the trip isn't free either. If Jo wanted to do both (which she very much did) she was going to need to raise $19,000 in about three months.

Crazy, huh? Totally.

I'll write later about how they managed to raise that much and share the links to articles and TV clips about Jo and the well fundraiser, because for now I want to talk about the upcoming trip and how Jo's dealing with it.

The anticipation is quite high. Since a date was decided on in January, Jo has been cutting links off a paper chain every day to mark how long she has until she goes. What started out as a chain with 153 links now has just 2 left and Jo is literally counting down the hours until she and Mom get on the plane.

As I'm writing this, that would be 68 hours. And 22 minutes. And a few seconds.

I wouldn't say she's exactly irritating, but she's getting pretty close.

I can't really blame her for being excited though, because this is a big deal for her and it's been building up for a long time. Six months is a long time to anticipate something and now that it's finally here she's probably justified in being over the moon.

Besides being really excited, she's also pretty nervous. There are a lot of firsts for her on this trip–her first plane flight, her first time in another country, her first time in a place where English isn't actually the dominate language. She's been learning Spanish for a while now, but I wouldn't say she's fluent yet. If it were me going to Guatemala, I'd certainly be nervous right now.

She's also getting tired of taking pills and immune boosters. As part of the whole "traveling outside the country" thing, she and Mom had to get some vaccination shots for typhoid, malaria, and hepatitis. Mom's also doing other things on top of that to build up their immunity in a more general sense. They've been drinking kefir, kombucha, and other probiotics for the past month. This increases the number of good bacteria in their gut, which should help fight off any bugs or bad things they pick up while traveling. Jo doesn't want to get sick while she's there, but she's also not super fond of constantly drinking that stuff, so it's a bit of a toss-up.

Last but not least, Jo and Mom are getting their bags packed and working out what exactly they're going to bring. They have at least one box of Bibles that will be coming along, and there's also a small, portable stove that they thought would be useful to some family. And then someone donated a guitar, so once we figured out what hoops to jump with getting that on a plane, it went on the packing list. Rounding up all the right luggage and making sure everything weighs in correctly is keeping them hopping at the moment.
The backpacks, a box of Bibles, some of their medicines, and their super-cool bags.
Passports!
For today, that's the story. Jo is counting down the hours until take-off and possibly driving us all mad, but it's all in the name of a good cause, so it's OK. I intend to post more frequently this week and the following one while they're gone with more information about the trip and about what it's going to be like at the Clan house when Mom is out of the country for an entire week.

Until then: Adios, mis amigos!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The only lawn game we ever play is Kubb

Here’s a game I bet you’ve never heard of: Kubb.

If you’re like most people I know and this is the first time you’ve heard of Kubb, no worries. In the three or four years we’ve been playing Kubb, I've only run across a handful of people who know what this game is and how to play it. But although it's not as well-known as horseshoes or lawn darts, the Clan enjoys Kubb so much that it's really the only lawn game we care to play. There are a couple reasons why it’s such a great game, but one of the best things about it is its simplicity. The setup, rules, and gameplay are oh-so-easy.

To play a game of Kubb, you first mark out the playing field, a 16’x26’ space that is preferably played on level ground. We mark ours with white string tied to the corner pegs, eliminating disputes about whether a throw was in or out. Well, most disputes anyway. Five kubbs (small wooden blocks) are set up on each end of the field, spaced out along the 16’ side. The object of the game is to take turns throwing six wooden batons at the wooden kubbs on your opponent’s end of the field, trying to knock them down.
Starting setup
If one (or more) of your kubbs is knocked down, you have to throw it back into your opponent’s half of the field. The goal here is to get it past the King marker standing in the center of the field, while at the same time not throwing the kubb across the string and out of bounds. Wherever the kubb lands it gets stood up and then you proceed on your turn as normal—except you have to knock down that kubb before you can resume throwing at the end kubbs along the edge of the field.

If you should happen to throw all six of your batons and end your round without hitting that kubb, your opponent gets to step up to it and throw from there as he tries to knock down the rest of your edge kubbs. It's to your advantage to knock it down as soon as possible, then, because the closer one gets to a target, the better their aim tends to be.
The game continues in this back-and-forth way until someone has knocked down all the kubbs in their opponent’s end of the field. Then he gets to throw at the King marker in the center of the field. Being the first person to knock over the King is the ultimate goal of the game and what declares you the winner—but there’s a small snag. If you happen to knock over the King before all your opponent’s Kubbs have been knocked over, you automatically lose and the game is over.
Fro knocked over the King. Whoops.
Eli isn't too impressed with losing.
So…try not to hit the King, ok?

This is the quick-and-dirty version of the rules—there are actually a few more details to when you throw a kubb back into the field and details about strategy that are important to know, but without the game physically in front of you, these are a little tricky to explain. A quick Internet search would turn up the official rules of the game, but when we’re teaching new players, we tend to lay out the basics (throw at their kubbs) and then explain the rest as we go along.

Sometimes this makes it seem like we’re adding extra rules just to make you lose, but I promise we’re not.

Extra rules aside, the game is a very simple one. Basically it’s just throwing sticks at blocks and it takes zero skill to play. Beginner’s luck, we’ve come to discover, is a very real thing, because every new person we’ve introduced to this game has won on their first or second game. Can’t explain how that happens, but it does.

In fact, luck is a very big part of Kubb, because even though a certain amount of skill is useful, you never know what’s going to happen to the baton after you throw it. When they hit the ground they have a tendency to fly off in all directions or bounce in just the wrong way. I’ve had so many near misses because my baton hit the ground just in front of the kubb and then bounced neatly over the top and landed on the other side. In other cases the baton might slither through the grass and come to a stop just touching the kubb. If you totally miss, they’ll spin end over end over the field line and try to take out the legs of your opponents—nice, but not exactly what you were aiming at. And then there’s the batons that skitter sideways as soon as they hit the ground or actually land on top of the kubb—without knocking it over, of course. *sigh*
Ok, so this shot was slightly set up, but the real throw that actually landed this way happened just shortly beforehand. Unfortunately, I forgot I was taking pictures and moved the batons from their original positions...but things like this really do happen in Kubb!

Hilarious incidents like this make the game fun, but the real secret behind our enjoyment of Kubb lies in the super un-serious attitude we bring to it. We’d all like to win, of course, and we’re not shy about jeering and taunting the other team to try and make them fumble their throws. (Pro tip: putting your face right behind the Kubb they’re aiming at is a good way to distract them. Just try not to get hit in the face, okay?) But for the most part we're just joking around and generally having a good time.

Kubb is a great team game and a fabulous spectator sport, but we like to have multiple games going at once. For this purpose, Dad has built several Kubb sets. At the moment we own four, but he's made several more that we've given away as gifts to people who really enjoyed the game.
Plastic feed bags from Fleet Farm make great Kubb totes.
Not all our sets are made from quality lumber.
Old porch railing from a garage sale did the trick for this set.
And unlike other lawn games you could mention, such as horseshoes, darts, or Bocce, Kubb is really perfect for anyone and everyone. You don’t have to have good aim to play—I’m a pretty good example of that. And you don’t have to be very big to play either, as Nah will demonstrate for you at any invitation. He can play a mean game of Kubb when he’s in the mood. He also flourishes and pirouettes after a throw a lot more than I do, too, which is probably part of the reason he’s so much better than me.

If all this still hasn’t managed to convince you that Kubb is a fantastic game and that you should go out immediately and buy lumber to start building a set of your own, there’s probably something wrong with you. Seriously, Kubb is a great game. If you’ve never played, you’re missing out.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Milestones: Graduation day!

Yesterday was my graduation open house.

Needless to say, I was too busy mingling, talking, and being the center of attention to take pictures. Theoretically, M was going to take pictures, but she was too busy eating, talking, and eating to take many pictures.

And as it turned out, the only pictures she took were not of me.
Go figure.

But at least we have some good shots of the parking attendants, right?

I also saw something in the local paper this week where all the 2016 graduates from the public school were listed with the activities they had been involved in, memories from their school years, their plans for the future, and a piece of advice for future graduates. Somehow, no one thought to ask me to contribute to that section--weird, right? But their oversight doesn't prevent me from throwing my two cents in now.

So without further ado...

{photo credit: Kelly Reiland}
Since y'all know who I am, I'll skip over the introduction bit.

Activities: Most recently I've divided my time between working two jobs, blogging, and writing articles weekly. I was never in band, and I only took guitar for a year. I've never joined a 4-H or FFA club, and I certainly didn't do any sports (unless martial arts counts), so as far as school-related activities I've got nil.

Memories: Getting the email from the library saying my poem was going to be published in their annual poetry collection. I don't think I've ever literally screamed in excitement before.

Future Plans: I'm going to college this fall. I'll get my two-year degree at the community college first and then transfer to a Twin Cities college to finish with a degree in Creative Writing and Journalism. After that, I couldn't really say for sure, but I know writing will be a part of it somehow.

Advice: Most of the "advice" segments I read talked about not wasting time or procrastinating. Just for the sake of being different, my advice is this:
"Since you're all just pawns in my master plan for world domination, there's really nothing to worry about."

So, yeah. Hooray for graduating seniors!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Summer jobs leave us rich but anxious for rain

The Clan has long had a reputation for being a reliable source of kids willing to do manual labor in exchange for some spending money. Consider it a side effect of our family size and the flexible schedule home schooling has given us. Our neighbors have learned that we're the ones to call for odd jobs around the house, yard, or even on the farm.

Most of the time, I consider this a very good thing. If we're willing to put in the hours (and we usually are), people keep calling and asking for us. I used to have a lot of spending money for a twelve-year-old, and nowadays even Cob (12) and Pete (10) are rolling in the dough.

The variety of jobs we get is fairly endless as well. Although the majority of the work usually goes to the older kids (currently that ends up being Skinny), those who aren’t a big teenage boy, or even a teenager—or even a boy for that matter!—will get hired for something. I didn’t tear down old fences or haul hay bales as much as David and Eli did, but I still got those jobs.  And you’d be surprised how much lifting and hauling you can get done with two or three little boys. Besides that my sisters and I can always find someone looking for a babysitter, so as you can see there has never really been a shortage of opportunities for us to make money.

But by far the biggest job we do, the great money-making moment of the year, is rock-picking.

We start getting these calls in early May, after the fields have been planted. This is when farmers are looking for someone to drive up and down the rows and pick up the rocks that could later damage harvesting machinery. Usually anything the size of a golf ball has to go, so just imagine how many rocks you’ll be picking up across just one field.

In general figures, I would say a lot.

A more useful estimate puts things at eight tractor buckets per field, but that's not very accurate either because some fields are big and others are small, and some fields are pretty clean while in others it takes us half an hour to move ten yards. It all depends.

Either way, rock-pickers like my siblings and I can count on spending long hours in the sun bumping over clods while we crisscross a field at a crawling pace in a Gator, or alternatively, walking beside a tractor and wagon with five gallon buckets.

That's rock-picking. Sounds great, right?

Not so much.

Typically, three or four of us head out at a time. The farmers like to have us out there as early as possible for as long as we'll stick around, so seven o'clock in the field is the norm. That means we're getting up at six in the morning to eat a big breakfast and make sure lunch is packed. Food is a big deal when we're rock-picking, and newbies learn pretty quickly that more food is infinitely better than too little. Sandwich consumption goes way up this time of year and Mom makes sure to stock foods like carrots and apples as lunchbox fillers. If you should happen to drive by a field and see a bunch of kids sitting around gnawing on raw carrots, well, that would be us. Just wave and keep driving.

After food, water is the next most important thing. Keeping hydrated is a big deal out there, so we fill all the water coolers we own and bring extra water bottles for lunch.
Sunscreen is also a big deal. Oh, on the first day or two we think we’re tough enough to stand a little sunburn, but when we come home red as lobsters after seven hours in the sun, you can bet we slap the sunscreen on thick the next morning. Still, by the end of the first week or so, you can tell the difference between the rock-pickers in the family and the ones who stayed at home.
I'm not rock-picking this year, and you can definitely tell the difference between me and Skinny.
That tan comes from several seven-hour days in the field. That's a typical rock-picking day for us, and as long as there are still fields to pick and kids willing to do the work, the job goes on. We could be out there five days a week for four or five weeks. And because the farmers know how hard it can be to find someone willing to put in the hours and do the job, they're willing to pay us really well.

Like I said, it's a great money-making opportunity.

It’s also incredibly boring.

I picked rock for three years, and I still cringe whenever someone brings it up. I used to hate it so much, not just because working in the sun and wind and dirt isn't my ideal environment.
There's nothing to do while you're out there but watch the corn go by and count rocks. You can only talk to your rock-picking partner for so long, and singing loses it's appeal pretty quickly as well. The hours drag on and on—after one o'clock, we'll have exhausted all our options and want nothing more than to pack it up and go home right then and there.

All my siblings share my distaste for rock-picking and the boredom that goes with it, so during rock-picking season we’re unusually attentive to the weather forecast and especially for rain. If it's rainy or if the fields are wet, we don't have to go to work. These breaks are wonderful after a couple days of rock-picking. You'll probably never find a bunch of kinds more excited for rain during the months of May and June than us.

Still money is money, and it’s kept us coming back for five years, even though rock-picking isn’t anyone’s favorite job. I mean, how many other ways can a twelve-year-old make two hundred dollars in two weeks? All things considered, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lawn mowing an all day, whole family job

We’ve been mowing the lawn for two weeks now, and it’s getting just a little ridiculous.

I feel I should point out that this is highly unusual for us, but even under normal circumstances mowing the lawn is an all day job.

We’ve got about 4 acres to mow on a semi-weekly basis. Even with a lot of people capable of running mowers (and a number of mowers to choose from) it still takes time to get the whole job done.

Every Clan mower starts out on the push-mower, trimming around trees and mowing close to the house. You’re considered old enough to push-mow as soon as you’re stout enough to push the mower around without standing on tiptoe to keep it in the grass. It’s the kind of mower with a bag on the back that growls along only as fast as you push it and needs to be muscled up hills and reined in going down them. I can’t describe how strongly I used to dislike that mower. Pushing it around not only involved actual work (and who wants to do that?), but emptying the bag was a pain and had to happen pretty often.
The big kids (i.e. those heavy enough to keep the mower from stalling every time they bounced on the seat and who could actually reach the pedals) have the great privilege of driving the tractor mower. Mowing with this is a vast improvement on the push-mower. No more walking—you can cruise along at the incredible speed of five miles an hour and never have to worry about emptying the bag. I don’t have to tell you there have been a lot of twelve-year-olds who “thought heavy” when it came time to mow.
The rider mower sections are significantly larger than the ones we push-mow, so we can count on having between twenty and thirty minutes of just sitting and steering. I’ve always found this to be a great time for singing and/or storytelling. With the earmuffs on, I always had to crank up the volume to hear myself over the mower, so Mom could always tell when I was having a good time.

Those were the days, huh?

The last mower is reserved exclusively for Mom and Dad. A zero turn radius mower, it can really cover some ground—which is probably why Dad never lets us drive it. It comes in handy for mowing big chunks of lawn in a hurry and doing the windbreaks and around the beehives—both places where going fast and turning quickly are important.

We’re able to keep all three mowers running pretty much all day, us kids taking turns on the push- and rider mowers. And when we’re not mowing, we usually aren’t sitting around either. There are always flower gardens to weed or work to do on the hives.

Mom and Dad have always been really good about finding ways to keep the whole family involved in big jobs like this. When we garden there’s always some little task for the three or four kids who are a little to young for the really important jobs. Mowing is the same deal. Fro, Nah, and Becca might be too small to run the mowers as of yet, but they have another job: being Water Guys.

Water Guys are in charge of running water bottles out to the mowers so they can stay hydrated while working in the sun. Ever fifteen minutes or so (depending on whether they remembered to start a timer) the Water Guys and Girls will gather up their water bottles and run around the yard so everyone has a chance to get a drink. When they show up, the chance for a drink is welcome. When they don’t show up…well, that’s another story.
We've had Water Guys as long as we've had family mowing, as you can see in this picture of M and Dad.
Mowing isn’t the whole job though—after we’ve got everything mowed down, we hook the lawn sweeper to the rider mower and some lucky person gets to drive it around the yard at top speed, cleaning up the grass clippings. On the one hand, this is a fun job because with the deck and blades off, the mower can cover ground pretty fast. But on the other hand, there’s no suspension on that thing and you feel every single bump in the backyard (of which there are a great many).

Still, nine times out of ten, I’d prefer sweeping over mulching the garden with the grass clippings—which is what we always do with our clippings. They’re a great, inexpensive way to keep the walkways in the garden clearly defined and control weeds. Plus we can keep remulching spots that need it all summer long—can’t beat that.

Normally, we can go from firing up the mowers to putting away the sweeper over the course of one day. But the first mowing of the year is a little bit different, and that’s why, as I said before, we’ve been mowing for two weeks now.

This first spring mowing tends to remind me of haying because the grass is always at it’s longest on this first mow. We have to wait so long before starting because it’s constantly rainy and wet—terrible weather for mowing lawn. Dad also has to check all the mowers for issues before we get them out which can often cause delays for repairs. Most of the time the grass is long and the backyard will be full of thick tussocks before we get around to it.

This year is definitely like that, except it wasn’t just the backyard that was tussocky. Even in the front lawn, the grass was knee-high on a six-year-old and in the backyard it was close to even Dad’s knees. You could ride a bike through there and feel your feet swishing through the grass on every down-stroke.
High time for mowing.

Typically, we’d approach the first mow like a regular mow and get it all done in one fell swoop. It might look pretty ugly by the end, but it would be cut. This spring has been incredibly busy for us, though, and we’ve had to stagger mowing out over the past two weeks, doing a chunk here and a chunk there, whatever we have time for when we’re not wrapped up in other jobs. The entire yard has been mowed once, but there are sections that we mowed two weeks ago that are ready for mowing again while we just hacked off—I mean, mowed the backyard for the first time.

And all that long grass has turned into incredible quantities of grass clippings. To much for the sweeper to cope with, so instead we’re having to use lawn rakes and a cart to clean it all up.
Definitely looks like we're haying.
This weekend we spent several hours of the afternoon loading all these piles and many more into carts and hauling them to the garden where they will wait in great heaps for the garden to be ready for mulching. Thank goodness that job is done for the year, but we’ve still got to remow and sweep the entire lawn so it looks less patchy and uneven.

Yay for mowing, right?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Home School High School Graduation

Some exciting news this week: in the next week or so I'll be graduating from high school.

And about time, too!

The Clan has done a couple of these graduation things before for my two older brothers, so although I’m not officially there yet, I know a lot of what to expect. Turns out graduation from home school high school isn’t too terribly different from how most people do it. There were a few steps we skip over, like prom and the cap and gown when we’re presented with our diploma, but Mom does order diplomas for us. My siblings and I all had front-row (dinner table) seats for the graduation ceremony of the graduating classes of 2013 and 2014.

In case you were wondering, yes, we’ve all graduated valedictorian in our classes. And no, thank goodness, we didn’t have to give a speech.

I never really considered my brothers graduated from  high school until they had their graduation open house, though. For the Clan, these affairs start with the invitations. Making them is the job of the graduate, and I and my brothers have all had different approaches to this job. As far as I can tell, David barely remembers making his, while Eli spent several days getting his just right. I was somewhere in the middle and threw mine together in a couple of hours, but most of that time was actually spent trying to outsmart the program I was using. Turns out the default photo-editing program on my laptop was free for a reason.

And getting them all printed and addressed was pretty tedious (not to mention costly in colored ink). Now I understand why people pay someone to do that job for them.

Another part of the job that Mom delegates out to the graduates is choosing the menu. She has the final say, but we get to weigh in on what food and beverages we’d like to have and any activities we’d want to have going on. This is another area where you can see the different approach my brothers and I have to these parties. David just wanted to wear his suit jacket and fedora.
Eli, on the other hand, wanted the piano and violin out in the garage so he could play some music if he wanted to, and he wanted to climb one of the big pine trees in the front yard at some point during the party. (See the video of that stunt HERE.)

As for myself, I intend to wear clean clothes but that’s about all the intricate planning I’ve got going on.

Outside of our individual additions or exhibitionism, however, a graduation open house at the Clan house isn’t anything too startling. We set up a bunch of tables on the driveway, put food on the counter, and set up lawn games for guests to play. Mom will put up lots of pictures as well, including the most embarrassing/cute selection of baby pictures she can dig up. (Trust me, there’s quite a few.)

One way to tell for sure that a Clan open house is going on is to look for the parking attendants. Two or three of the Melonheads will be out on the driveway wearing orange vests and holding colored flags when the guests start to show up. Their job is to direct traffic to appropriate parking spaces in the backyard.

(I feel really bad that we don't have any pictures of these guys, but at the graduation open houses Mom is usually otherwise occupied and she's usually the one taking pictures. You'll just have to use your imagination on this one.)

The Melonheads aren't too worried about getting this job, even though it means they have to eat in shifts and pay attention to their job. Apparently some of the relatives give tips.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Dad's Making the Summer Switch and Shaving His Hair!

Y’all know the Clan haircut by now. You’ve seen the pictures, I’ve even written a post or two on the subject. Clan haircuts are now and always have been done one of two ways. Hair is either ON or OFF—there's no in between.
Time hasn't improved their camera-smiling skills too much.
All the boys in my family have been rocking the skinhead look since day one, and that includes Dad. But he's got the beard to contend with as well (something most of the Clan boys have never had to deal with), and sometimes he has reason to cut his hair a little differently.

During the summer, he gets a haircut as often as the boys do—every four weeks or so—and he generally shaves his beard at the same time so everything is even. Less hair is always a bonus during the summer, so for most of the year his hair stays pretty short.

But for the four months of the year where we have snow and bitter cold weather, short hair is not the best headgear. During that time, the other boys still get regular haircuts, but Dad lets his grow. By March, he has the woolly/shaggy thing going pretty well.
The Early-April Dad
This hair comes in very handy when he’s driving the tractor and pushing snow for several hours at a time. His fingers and toes might get numb, but his face always stays toasty warm. Sure, he might grow a few icicles while he’s at it, but even when we have blasting winds his face is well protected. It's perfect for a Minnesota winter.

Now that we're getting into spring, however, it's getting hot again and the full beard has reached the end of its usefulness. Plus now that he's beekeeping regularly again there's the danger of getting bees caught in his beard...not fun. So a couple nights ago, Mom got out the clipper and cut it all off.
The May Dad
Every year I find Dad’s complete transition from winter to summer haircut a little shocking. It’s one thing during the summer when he's trimming everything on a regular basis. I can handle that just fine, especially since all the boys get their haircuts at the same time. When all the male members of my family have their hair go from short to completely gone to short again at the same time, it's no big deal.

But to go from 3+ inches of curly hair and a full beard to a total shave of everything—well, that takes some getting used to. These past couple of days I’ve found myself doing a double take every time I see Dad out of the corner of my eyes, just to make sure I know who I’m looking at. I’ll get used to it eventually—I always do—but for the moment it’s a little strange to actually be able to see all of Dad’s face.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Why We Don't Eat Waffles

I like to think that, in the overall grand scheme of things, the Clan doesn't eat too differently from everyone else.

Sure, all the canning, gardening, and other food preservation we do means we have zucchini in our spaghetti sauce, which I suppose is a little unusual. But for the most part, I believe the kinds of food Mom cooks for us are pretty much the same kind of thing other families are eating. We eat spaghetti, calico beans, chicken and potatoes, tortillas, salad–just about everything. Really the only difference is the quantities.

We need two more pounds of noodles to make spaghetti. We have to open five more quarts of applesauce than your average family, cook another whole chicken,  and throw five pounds more potatoes in the oven. We go through an incredible amount of peanut butter and jam, and we use three or four loaves of bread making toast for breakfast.

But seriously, beyond the high volume of our meals, the things we're eating are the same.

Now that I've said that, however, I do need to kind of take it back. Turns out that sometimes high volume cooking makes certain meals really impractical food options for us. Steak, for example, is a meal we only have once a year, right after we finish processing venison for the year. I can vouch of venison steak being really tasty, even though I'm really not a fan of steak in the first place. Seafood is another thing we have only rarely–luckily most of us aren't fond of fish or shrimp, so we don't miss it much. But something we only occasionally have and really do like is waffles. Unfortunately, they fall into the "impractical food options" category.

Here's why. First: volume.

Think about the number of waffles we'd have to make to go around for all of us. We like waffles (anything you can smear with butter and syrup and eat with a side of sausage is a good thing in our book), so I can guarantee all thirteen of us will be coming back for second, third, or even fourth helpings. That adds up pretty quickly.

Mom can handle the volume part, though. She's used to cooking for us and by now she knows how to come up with enough food to keep anyone from starving. The real issue with waffles is the time it takes to make that many waffles.

When we make pancakes, Mom can turn them out pretty quickly. She can cook six on our big griddle and have them coming off there every few minutes. Waffles, however, are different. Our waffle iron makes a grand total of two waffles at a time. It also takes about five minutes to cook those waffles, so start thinking about how long it would take to make enough waffles for thirteen starving children.

A really long time. Appliance manufacturers were obviously not prepared for the Clan version of "family size."

If we all ate at once, we'd spend most of our time standing in lines and hovering around Mom asking "Are they done yet?" I don't have to be a mom to tell you that would get irritating really quickly. So for this meal, we actually eat in shifts, usually two or three at a time. And of course we go in age order, so the older kids like myself have to wait a long time for our turns. Last time we had waffles, I was waiting for two hours.

The waffles were worth it when I eventually got my turn, but I was having supper at 7:30. Given our busy schedule, there aren't many days when dragging suppertime out for that long is really an option. Most of the time we need something we can finish in under an hour from start to finish.

Waffles is not that kind of meal for us. As much as we enjoy them, they're too time consuming to work out very often. Plus, Mom ends up standing behind the waffle iron for three or four hours doing nothing but cooking waffles. We have to give her some time to forget how tedious and boring that was before ask to have waffles again.

Around here, we know that if you want to have waffles, you have to be willing to wait for them. And sometimes that wait is a really long one.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Old paint is still good for things–even if it's pink!

I'm pretty sure everyone has old paint. You know the kind, the cans that have been sitting in the garage for literally forever—so long that no one really remembers where the paint came from or what it was used for (if anything). They just seem to appear and then sit there for years gathering dust and cobwebs. Someday you’re going to get your act together and haul them off…just not today. Or even this year.

The Clan has a bunch of paint cans like that, except we intentionally got ours. This probably sounds a little dumb, because why would you actually seek out more dibs and dabs of old paint to fill your garage with? Don’t we have enough already? But actually, at the time we bought thirty+ cans of old paint off of Craigslist, we didn’t have any paint lying around and we needed some.

This isn’t going to turn into some super DIY post, though, so don’t get your hopes up. We didn’t make something magically awesome and innovative with that old paint—Dad just needed it to use on his beehives. He’s constantly building new boxes and other parts for his beehives, and these last longer and hold up better if they’re painted. Free paint works just as well for this job as any other kind of paint, especially since we really don’t care what color we’re using.

And we did get quite an assortment. After Mom went through and sorted out the cans that were so empty or dried up that they wouldn’t be any good, we still had twenty or more cans of paint in a whole bunch of different colors—mostly colors that weren’t particularly attractive. I mean, brown is a nice color, but if you get just the right shade of tan, it looks a lot like puke.

Still, we’ve been gradually working through them for the past several years and have used up quite a lot of it. Thanks to our old paint, we’ve been able to paint most of Dad’s new beehives pale green.
There are also some blue boxes, and as you can see in this picture, we've even got a few lids that are light pink. Let’s just say our beehives are distinctive and leave it at that.

But besides painting beehives, Dad’s been able to use that paint for a couple of other outdoor projects. For instance, a couple years ago Cob and Pete had the ambitious idea of building a small shack in our fruit orchard. With Dad’s help they were able to finish this, and then they got to pick some colors to paint it with. As you can see in the picture below, they decided on a nice bright blue for the main building and then a vivid orange/red for the door.
I like to think they ran out of blue paint and had to choose another
color for the door, but apparently they just planned it this way.
Dad’s also built several wheeled chicken tractors for us to keep the chickens in over the summer and fall. These needed several coats of paint as well, so it was back to the old paint cans. Mom painted one of the tractors in a pretty neutral shade of brown, and another in a very pale blue (same as the beehives). But for the last one, she mixed up a very eye-catching flamingo pink and gave it several coats of that.
The chickens don’t seem to mind though, so I guess it’s okay. At least this way you can’t mix them up. We always know what we’re talking about when we say "Flamingo Tractor."

Today our paint status is still pretty intense: fifteen or more cans are still living in our garage. My guess is that we’ll eventually use them all up on beehives and chicken sheds and whatever else Dad decides to build. The kids might decide to expand on the shack in the orchard, or maybe Dad will build some new picnic tables or something. One way or another, I think we’ll find a use for it all eventually. After all, we don’t really care if we have green beehives and pink chicken tractors. Old paint does the job just fine, regardless of what the color happens to be.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Once more with the birthdays as Mom gets creative with our candles

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking: Birthdays AGAIN??!?! Haven’t I posted about birthdays before, several times?

Well, yes. Yes, I have. But in my defense, birthdays are kind of a big deal at my house, if for no other reason than that there are THIRTEEN of them. That’s a lot of birthdays, so the chances of me having interesting stories to tell about them are pretty high. Plus I keep looking back through my old posts and finding things I missed talking about. Like birthday cake, for instance.

Sure, I’ve revealed the recipe for Clan birthday cake HERE.

And I’ve discussed how it came to be the only food on the menu at our birthday parties HERE.

But I’ve never really talked about the candles before, and that seems like a serious oversight on my part. Blowing out birthday candles happens to be a big deal where I come from, and Mom is largely responsible for that. Where most people just put the candles on the cake in no particular order, Mom likes to make this event a challenge.
So what does she do? After 15+ years of creative candle placement, she has quite a few tricks up her sleeve, but the consistent theme is to scatter the candles all over the cake. They'll be stuck higgledy-piggledy across the entire 9x13 pan, so even if you just have five candles to blow out, it can be pretty difficult. We also reuse all our birthday candles, so some will be taller and others will be little stubs a quarter inch from scorching the frosting. This puts extra pressure on the birthday kid, because although getting melted wax on the frosting isn’t the end of the world, we tend to act like it is. Even when you’ve just got five candles, this can make things pretty difficult for you.

And of course, the older you get the more candles there are and the more creative Mom is with where she sticks them. On a couple occasions Mom has served the cake on a plate instead of from the pan, and whenever she does that you can count on having candles stuck in the sides of the cake as well as in the top.
This is Eli's "Seriously, Mom?" face
Those are really a challenge, especially when Dad won’t let you turn the cake to get the best angle for blowing. Spoilsport.

I can think of other things Mom has done with our candles to make blowing them out tricky. She made a Bundt cake for spring birthday once, and poor Eli had a couple candles stuck on the inside of the cake—I honestly can’t remember if he was able to get them on the first try or not.
David has also experienced the difficulty of having most of your candles stuck in the cake in front of you—and then the last one sitting all by itself in the other cake halfway across the counter. That one was...tough.

And then just when you think Mom is falling into a predictable routine, she’ll do something different, which is what happened on my latest birthday. I got the usual treatment (eighteen candles of different sizes spread all over the cake, some leaning out over the edge of the pan.) Thanks to my good set of lungs and superb blowing skills, however, I actually managed to blow them all out in one breath.
Or so I thought. There was this one plain, boring blue candle that looked like it had almost gone out…and then it puffed back to life again. Shoot! I was so close! But I blew it out again—and it relit.

Trick candles, Mom? Seriously!?!

On a final note, I would like to comment on the incredible number of cake pictures I was able to find when I started hunting. Mom's been taking pictures of our cakes for 20+ years—there are so many pictures I found that I wanted to stick up here. These are a few of my favorites, though.
Fuzz getting a little blowing help from the Old Dad.
It's all in the tongue.