Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hereditary joint ache dubbed "migrating hypochondria"

I’ve gotten a lot of things from my family. My sense of humor, home-canning skills, and tendency to run around barefoot are just a couple, but a lot of who I am can be directly linked to my family. One of the lesser known things I owe my family are my joint aches, which are a surprisingly interesting aspect of my life.

Now, when I say “joint aches,” I don’t mean anything too serious. But every now and then, my knees get to hurting. We’ve never felt the need to see a doctor about it, and Mom’s conclusion is that the “pillow” of tissue between the bones in my knee occasionally softens too much to completely cushion the contact between those bones. When the barometric pressure is low, that “pillow” gets more fluid and my bones press together harder—making my knee hurt more. So as long as it’s not going to rain or snow, I’m usually just fine, but when the weather is changing, I’ll sometimes go to bed with a hot water bottle and some Tylenol.

This joint ache is, we believe, a hereditary thing, because when my Grandpa was younger he’d get them, and so did my Mom. Since I and a couple of my younger siblings are showing the same symptoms, it’s a pretty fair guess that the mysterious joint ache got passed down.

The funny thing about my knee ache, though, is that it isn’t always limited to my knees. Most of the time it is—easily ninety percent of the time it’s just one of my knees aching. But sometimes, one of my elbows will hurt too, or a wrist, or an ankle. And that’s because I don’t just have a knee ache. I’ve actually got “migrating hypochondria.”

This is the name my Grandpa invented for his knee aches, and it certainly applies to mine. Hypochondria is basically the belief that you’re ill, while migrating indicates movement. Put them together and you have an imaginary illness that moves around.

Pretty much what I’ve got.

You see, although sometimes I have a real reason for my knee aches, there are also times when I’m pretty sure the ache is totally in my head. Especially when I was younger, my aches used to make the rounds from wrists to elbows to knees to ankles and back around—all in about half an hour! Just thinking about it can also make my knee start hurting. And most of the time, I only get knee aches when I’m already tired and grumpy from a long day. Add all that up, and it starts to support the idea that the aching in my knees might be at least partly a trick of my mind.

This doesn’t actually surprise me, since I’ve vividly imagined things before. My family would point to the time I thought the plucked chicken I was holding had squawked at me as a perfect example—but that’s a totally different story! Let’s just say knee aches are certainly not the first time I’ve let my imagination get away from me. “Migrating hypochondria” is a perfect name for my condition.

Of course, when I first started getting knee aches, I was only about eight and “hypochondria” was really difficult to pronounce. It’s enough of a mouthful now (and a real nuisance to spell!) but at eight, it was a total tongue-twister. I pretty quickly gave up on saying it correctly, and instead opted for the easier to say alternative of “hippopotamus.”

Because that’s practically the same as hypochondria, right?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Wrestling just part of the Clan experience

An interesting fact about the Clan: although we’re certainly not couch potatoes, when it comes to sports and other athletic activities, we’re the odd ones out.

We have the numbers to play almost any team sport in our backyard, but as far as knowing the rules go, we couldn't play to save our lives. Most of us barely understand baseball, and all we know about basketball is that it involves a basket...And a ball...And somehow you score points? That's about it. We’ve played enough volleyball to kinda understand the rules of that, but we’re still not very good.

And if you saw us trying to throw a football, you’d probably laugh yourself silly.

For a bunch of American kids, we have a distressingly poor understanding of football. That’s probably why I thought the Superbowl was a fancy dinner for the longest time. Oops.

Basically, we don’t sport very well. And we’re not very good athletes either. Sure, we go “swimming” during the summer, but what we’re really doing is splashing on top of the water. There’s a difference.

In fact, running is the only athletic-esque thing the Clan has consistently been involved in. Dad started running about six years ago, which is what got our family started on the whole minimalist shoe/barefoot running adventure. (I keep promising to post about it, but then never do. *sigh*) Dad really enjoys running, and for a couple years while we were still figuring out minimalist shoes, most of the Clan would run. We’d turn up for many of the area 5K races in our weird shoes—and every now and then one of us would win a trophy. Eli in particular has placed several times.

But as the people interested in running got older and busier, that practice gradually died out. Anymore, Dad’s the only one who runs, and he only manages to fit it in on an irregular basis.

That’s how sporty the Clan is: not very.

So what the heck do we do? I’d be telling an outrageous lie if I said thirteen kids were able to exist peacefully in the same house without some kind of competitive activity to keep us occupied and expending energy. Martial arts doesn’t really count, because there’s a standing “No kicking in the kitchen” rule at our house which really puts some limits on what we can do to each other. So instead, we wrestle.

Now, although I call it “wrestling,” what we do is nothing like professional wrestling. It’s actually more like brawling, and there’s absolutely nothing professional about it. While we haven't quite taken it all the way to a no-holds barred sport, things like tickling and ear-pulling are perfectly legal and frequently employed. And since we're all ticklish, that's definitely something to look out for.

I’d hate for you to get the idea that we’re an incredibly violent family (all the swords and wooden guns aside), but wrestling is something we do a lot. And what I mean by "a lot" is that every single day, some kind of wrestling happens at least once or twice, if not three or four times. Whether we’re jockeying over who gets to serve their breakfast first, or wrestling just ‘cuz, it happens all the time here.

All. The. Time.
We go from this...
...to this in the blink of an eye.
And Mom’s perfectly okay with our wrestling. It's not like we're sneaking around her back to brawl with each other in the kitchen. (Like that would work anyway!) As long as we're not incredibly disruptive and nothing gets broken, we can put each other in headlocks all we want.

Wouldn't you know it, that's pretty much exactly what we do.

And for the Clan, wrestling translates to bonding, believe it or not. After all, most of the time we're wrestling just for fun, not because we’re genuinely mad at each other. (Although, there are those times...) Wrestling is just one of those Clan things, right along with gardening, canning, and home schooling. The whole family gets in on it, from Becca and Nah all the way up to Mom and Dad—especially Mom. I won’t go into gory details about the time Mom put a banana up Skinny’s nose, but around here, if you haven’t been pinned to the floor by Mom at least once a week, there’s something wrong with you.
Touching Mother/Son moment right there.

Yup. We’re not really into football, but we sure like to wrestle each other.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Head bonks and whisker rubs our bedtime ritual

There are thirteen kids in the Clan. If you haven’t already figured that out, I’m afraid there’s no hope for you. But I’ll forgive you if you weren’t aware that our ages range from twenty-one (my oldest brother, David) to five (my youngest sister, Becca).

This sixteen-year span between the oldest and the youngest in my family may not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually a big contributor to why we are the way we are. I’m used to having siblings much younger than I am, but it’s not normal to have little sisters who are thirteen years younger than you. My two older brothers were still potty-training their younger siblings while they were in high school—most teens don’t get to have that experience. 

I like to think it’s a good thing that we’ve been there, done that at least three times.

But another thing the age difference has done to our family is made our bedtimes vastly different.
For instance, the youngest kids have bedtime at eight o’clock, or pretty close to that time. Then the Melonheads go down at nine—that’s if they can’t linger upstairs for another 10-15 minutes. From there, the official bedtimes become less official and more like guidelines. As long as we’re up the next morning at the same time as everyone else and are able to do our school without falling asleep, Mom is technically okay with whenever we decide to go to bed. Just, you know, as long as we aren’t upstairs making a racket after they go to bed. 

Parents like to sleep, apparently. Who knew?

With this freedom, bedtime for us oldest kids varies incredibly. M and Jo could go to bed anytime between nine o’clock (when they decide they’re bored and might as well go to sleep) and “Oh my gosh, it’s way past my bedtime” o’clock, which could be as far out there as eleven. They keep good track of time like that. Skinny, on the other hand, is pretty good about going to bed at ten o’clock, and that works for him.

Then there’s me, and my bedtime is typically between eight and nine. I’m not a night owl—not even close! Among my family, it’s a pretty well known fact that I turn into a pumpkin after it gets dark, and from there everything is just downhill. By nine, I’m really not functioning anymore (but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) Unless I have writing work to do (or lose track of time) I tend to be in bed pretty early so I can get my sleep and not be exhausted the next day.

As for David and Eli, well, they have a different sleep schedule. Eli hasn’t been living at home for almost two years now, so I really can’t say if he sleeps at all or if he skips that part. And David is in college and works night shifts, so he tends to be up all hours of the night. (Personally, I think they’re crazy, but they don’t really care much for that opinion, so I keep it to myself. Mostly.)

But as you can see, there are bedtimes all across the board at our house. And you might be wondering, with this spread between when the youngest go to bed to when my oldest brothers turn in, if the Clan has any kind of bedtime ritual. You know, reading a story or something like that.

The answer to that question is “absolutely YES!” but our bedtime rituals are a little unusual. This is the Clan, after all. So although Mom and Dad do normal bedtime things like coming down to say good night and tuck in the little kids, it's really not as straightforward as that sounds.

For whatever reason, Dad's the one with the complicated good-night process, not Mom. Though she does plenty of smooching when she says good night, Dad does all that and more. For most of my siblings, good night from Dad usually starts with getting tucked in. Becca always has to have her blankets in the right order, which is no mean feat all by itself. And then maybe he’ll pull their noses (around here that’s called ‘beeping’), or bonk their foreheads with his head. And since he usually has a beard or at least some whiskers, he’ll also give out whisker rubs. I don’t remember particularly liking them—Dad’s beard is usually scratchy and rough. 

But if you were thinking whisker rubs and head bonks were unusual all by themselves, I’ve got another surprise for you. My sister Fuzz decided nose beeps, head bonks, and whisker rubs weren't good enough all by themselves, so she put them all together and made a complicated ritual she does with Dad before bed. It’s so important to her that if Dad is going to be gone at bedtime, she’ll make sure to get it in ahead of time. I'm no expert on this ritual, however, so I had to ask Dad and Fuzz for exact details so I could get it right. And according to them, it goes like this.

First, Dad gives her a kiss on the forehead. Then he beeps her nose, tugs each of her ears, bonks her forehead, and finally, gives her a whisker rub. Fuzz then does all of that right back to him—except the whisker rub, for obvious reasons.

Told you it was complicated.

None of my other siblings have anything close to Fuzz’s good nights with Dad. The rest of us are cool with just a head bonk or just a whisker rub—most of them will even pass on the whiskers. I guess Fuzz just had to take things one step further.

And she sure makes me look boring, because all I do before bed is brush my teeth and turn on my alarm clock.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hidden vegetables and Clan recipes: Chicken and Ranch hotdish

The Clan does a lot of strange and unusual things. We have a gigantic garden, keep bees, run around barefoot, and stock enough wooden swords to supply a small army. There are thirteen of us, and we're all home schooled. Just going from that, you'd have to agree that we're a unique bunch.

But although my siblings and I are very different from most kids our age, there are still a few ways we're like normal kids. For instance (and I'm not naming any names) at one time or another we've all had a certain aversion to vegetables, green ones in particular. My Mom is a one-of-a-kind mom, but she still has to deal with some of the normal issues that go with raising a bunch of kids. Convincing them broccoli isn't the most deadly of poisons is just one of them.

Still, Mom has a much easier time getting us to eat vegetables that most other parents. And the secret to her success is definitely the fact that she doesn't leave us much choice. Around here, you eat what Mom's serving for supper, or you go without—and then have that very same food served up cold on your plate for breakfast. Those are your only two options. And since Mom includes vegetables in our meals all the time, we've pretty quickly figured out that it's better to just eat 'em and like 'em.

When possible, though, Mom likes to find ways to sneak "toxic" vegetables into our meals so that we don't even know we're eating them. So besides eating vegetables in our soups and having them as a side to practically every meal, Mom will also bulk up a pot of spaghetti sauce with a quart—or even two!—of zucchini or eggplant. Our lasagna gets the same treatment, and we’ve had zucchini fritters many, many times. Mom also makes squash pancakes a lot. And in one of her sneakiest moves, she put whey protein and powdered wheat grass in our smoothies. We thought they tasted weird, but didn't know what she'd done until it was all gone.

Unfortunately, she can only manage something like that once before we're onto her, so she's always looking for another way to serve us hidden vegetables. Most recently she did it with a dish called Chicken and Ranch hotdish. Here's the recipe.

  • 1 cup ranch dressing
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups cooked chicken
  • 4 oz room temp. cream cheese
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • The secret, hidden vegetable ingredient
Mix the dressing, chicken, cream cheese, seasonings, and half the cheddar cheese together in a bowl. Then add your secret ingredient: one large, cooked spaghetti squash. Take the peel and seeds out, and fold the squash into the cheese mixture until it's all pretty well combined. The idea is to not break up the squash strands completely, but really just do your best and it'll turn out fine. Put the entire concoction—I mean, hotdish—in a greased 8x8 baking pan and top with the rest of the cheese. Bake this at 350 for about thirty minutes or until the cheese looks done on top. Serve without telling anyone what's in it.

That's how you make it if you're cooking for four or five and are actually following the directions. You already know my Mom doesn't cook that way. If she's making this dish for us, she'll use about two quarts of chicken and quantities of the other ingredients that are mostly not measured to make three 9x13 pans of hotdish. And her "large" squash was actually gigantic, so there was enough for three pans.
Voilà! Chicken and Ranch hotdish
Author's note: As you can probably tell, I'm very bad at food photography. But in my defense, hotdish has never been a glamorous food.

When Mom first made this dish for us, she wouldn't tell us what she made it with. I, naively enough, assumed she's used spaghetti noodles. Only after we’d finished and proclaimed it good did we find out she’d used spaghetti squash.

Very clever, Mom. Very clever.

But since we already admitted to liking it, we couldn't take it back just because we found out we'd been willingly eating squash. *sigh* We have quite a lot of squash this year, so Mom's made this hotdish several times since then. We also have a lot of pumpkins, which Mom has substituted into this recipe—again without telling us. As you  might expect, we ate it and didn’t even know the difference.

We’re observant like that.

If you’ve got squash hanging around the house that you were just looking for a recipe to use it in, I’d suggest you give this one a try. Just, you know, don’t tell the kids there’s squash in it until after they finish eating it. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

This recipe isn't something Mom thought up, though. Instead, she swiped it from this awesome blog a friend of her's writes. Feel free to go over there and check out what the original chef had to say, and if you do, tell her Too Hick To Be Square sent you.