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.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

History Timelines Are Both Home Schooling Tools and Decor

Home schooling is as big a part of the Clan experience as canning, gardening, beekeeping, and the other activities I’ve blogged about in the past. In fact, it’s probably a much bigger part of our lifestyle, because if we didn’t home school, we wouldn’t be doing all those other things.

Despite that, home schooling is a topic I haven’t really written about much. Although I’ve mentioned it in passing before, I’ve never done a post that was directly about home school.



There are a couple reasons. The big one is that, contrary to what you might think, there’s a lot about my family’s particular approach to home school that I’m not in the know about. Mom has always been the one in charge of school: she picks out all the curriculum and has designed several of our courses from scratch. I can list the various textbooks and teaching tools we're using or have used, but Mom knows all the reasons behind our particular home schooling approach. She would be able to tell you what we've tried and why we've chosen to use the tools we use today. That's something I can't do, and it's why I haven't felt knowledgeable enough to pull off a home schooling post.

The other reason I’ve largely steered away from writing about home schooling is that it’s such a HUGE topic. I’d have to write a book to tell you everything there is to know about how my family home schools—and while that’s definitely a possibility, it’s not super helpful in the short term. So until the "Handbook of Clan Home Schooling" hits the market (publication date pending), I thought I’d give this “blogging about home schooling” idea a whirl and tackle those aspects of home schooling that I am familiar with.

Like timelines, for example.

Timelines are one facet of Mom’s approach to teaching us history. When she first began this home school adventure, she chose not to go with the conventional approach to history, which pretty much constitutes memorizing a handful of dates, taking a test, and forgetting them. Call me judgmental, but I’ve taken tests that way, and I know that information is gone as soon as the test is over.

Mom’s approach uses a variety of reading material and audio tapes to repeatedly expose us to history—not the dates and numbers, but the names, the events, the information about what happened and why. I would say most of the time we might not know the exact date, but we'll have a pretty good grasp of when the event happened in the grand scheme of things. And timelines have really helped with that.

Back before we built the house we’re living in now, Mom had a bunch of different timelines on the wall. As far as I can remember, those timelines were mostly ancient history or Biblical events. Mom made them out of things we had around the house all the time, like colored ribbons and waxed paper, and stuck them up on the wall with sticky wax. When we saw them every day, several times a day, it didn't take long for the basic chronology of events to stick with us.
The dining room wall is a great high-visibility, high-traffic place to put timelines.
After we moved, Mom decided to make some new timelines and put them up, and I think the increased wall space made her more ambitious. The first timeline I remember her making in this house is one that shows the lifespan of the Biblical patriarchs, starting at Adam and going all the way down to Moses.
The other major timeline Mom put up was one that showed events of historical significance all the way from creation to the present day. This one was very much like the timeline we had in our old house—a long ribbon with 3x5 cards decorated with pictures that represent the major historic events and time periods (pyramids for Egypt, people in togas for Rome, and so on). In fact, we even reused some of the old cards to build the new timeline.

Now, as I said before, Mom’s been using timelines for basically forever, and I’ve noticed that the longer we have them around, the longer they tend to get. Usually this is because we decide we want to show more events on our timelines and find we've run out of space to do so. This is exactly what happened with the timeline we put up in the dining room of this house. That timeline was about fifteen feet long and pretty accurate until you got up to the 18th century. Then we kind of ran out of room on the wall, and so the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries ended up kind of jammed together.

So what did we do? Upgrade!

And holy cow, did we upgrade.

It started with the gold ribbon. Mom happened to have some wide gold ribbon lying around, maybe leftovers from the ribbon we used on our very first timelines. It was perfect for the job, so we put it up in the living room—all fifty feet of it! This involved lots of ladders and sticks of sticky wax, but we eventually got it done. Then we spent forever marking it off in 100-year time blocks and moving the old cards over to their new places. But after a week or two, everything was set up on our new timeline and we were back in business.

Unfortunately, this new expanded timeline had plenty of gaps that we couldn’t fill in with our old cards, and we never did get around to making more. (I would take pictures, but it's fifty feet long and eight feet up in the air!) I believe at some point making new cards for the timeline will become part of high school classes like World and US History, but at the moment that plan hasn’t been put into action. So at the moment, our timeline is a bit of a disappointment.

Still, although it isn’t quite the impressive visual record of history that we originally intended it to be, the gold ribbon on the living room wall does make a great conversation starter.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Wanna Know What Spring Means to a Clanster?

I figure since I’ve done my first garden post of the year, we could say spring has arrived.

There are a couple things I’ve always associated with spring, besides the prospect of replanting the garden. These things are probably quite different from what people normally associate with spring: flowers, green grass, rain, Easter, etc.

But it wouldn’t be Too Hick To Be Square if something weren’t a little different.

First on my list of spring-related events is getting the yard back in shape. I’m not talking about hauling out the picnic tables and other portable play equipment—far from it! The springtime yard fix-up is quite different from the pre-summer routine. Once all the snow has melted off, we go out and find all the pieces of turf Dad turned up with the tractor bucket while he was pushing snow over the winter. As best as we can, we put these back on the bare patches of lawn, green side up if we can find one.

This is also the time when we rake the gravel back onto the driveway and try to fill in the potholes the vehicles turned up while everything was covered in slush.

Because of this general muddiness, something else I associate with spring is not being able to ride my bike. Even though there are fantastic mud puddles to ride through this time of year, bike riding is frowned upon until things dry off. Apparently bike tires leave muddy ruts in the driveway and on the lawn.

Something we can do while the ground is still pretty wet, however, is move the chickens outside. During the winter they stay in a small insulated portion of our tractor shed, but we like to move them out of these cramped and stuffy quarters as soon as we can, so once the snow is off the ground and the overnight temps aren’t below freezing, the chickens get relocated to the mobile chicken tractors Dad built several years ago.
Designed by John Suscovich at Farm Marketing Solutions
Yes, when the wind gets to blowing it can be a little chilly, but Dad installed a roost and covered laying boxes inside, so the chickens have someplace out of the wind to stay. Besides, after four months in the same insulated box, they’re glad to be out in the fresh air with something more interesting to peck at than the Styrofoam in the walls.

Warm(er) temperatures means more to us than moving chickens, however. There’s no spring activity we wait for more anxiously than jumping on the trampoline. Clan law, as laid down by Mom, declares the trampoline is off-limits until it’s fifty degrees outside. I can’t possibly describe the level of anticipation that builds while the kids wait for the thermometer to turn from forty-nine to fifty.

It’s pretty tense.

Of course, once it hits fifty the trampoline stays full of bouncing kids—in bare feet and shorts half the time. I think it’s because we’re Minnesotans. They could be blue in the face and shivering, but they won’t put a coat on unless there’s snow on the ground.

In fact, the going barefoot starts immediately after the snow melts. Once we’re not freezing our feet by stepping out the door with no shoes, footwear is discarded entirely. This makes regular washing of the feet an important activity, but, not surprisingly, it’s one that’s often neglected. My brothers seem to believe their feet have always been naturally dark brown—they’re constantly being reminded to take a rag to the bottoms of their feet. Usually they figure as long as they don’t leave tracks, it can’t be that bad.

Last but not least, spring is an important time for us to begin rebuilding our collection of interesting sticks. Once lawn mowing begins, this valuable opportunity will be lost, so it’s of vital importance to get on it right away and make sure that all the best sticks are found and saved in a safe place. Like the garage for instance, or on the front porch. Really any place goes, as long as it’s out of the reach of the lawn mower. Never underestimate the importance of a good stick.

And that’s spring, folks. Told you it was going to be…different.