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.


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.
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!