Too Hick To Be Square

Dumps and glugs: the new cup and tablespoon

My mom does a lot of cooking.

With eight starving boys living in this house (and five girls who may or may not also be starving), making food is a pretty big deal and a task that takes up a good deal of her time.

I’m not going to make this about whether my mom is a good cook, however, because on a scale from excellent to burned cookies, she’s all over the place. I’ve had Once-in-a-Lifetime soups and Leftover Surprise that have been the absolute best thing ever (plus she makes REALLY good cheesecake!) but we’ve also had burned cookies, flat biscuits, and squash custard. The verdict is pretty well mixed.

These were supposed to be applesauce cake, but Mom forgot to put any baking powder in it.

(Note: when the homemade bread deflates in the oven, the result is bricks. Which, as luck would have it, make pretty decent toast.)

Rather than get myself in trouble by talking about all the not-so-fabulous food my mom has served us over the years, I thought I’d instead touch on the process behind Mom’s cooking: both the good and the not-so-good.

Perhaps the secret to all of Mom’s cooking success is that she doesn’t follow the recipe blindly. Instead, she keeps an open mind and adapts or makes substitutions when and where she feels necessary. Do the chocolate chip cookies call for an egg yolk? Nah, skip the hassle and just throw in a hefty dollop of sour cream. Same difference.

In fact, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Mom almost never follows a recipe 100%. Most of the things she’s using a recipe for are pretty simple anyway: bars, cookies, soup, biscuits, or some kind of crockpot wonder meal. If she decides to skip an ingredient or add something new, it’s pretty safe. And if not, well, that’s what eight starving boys are for, right?

Of course, the flip side of rarely using a recipe is that Mom has memorized the proportions of the things she makes most often and just eyeballs them instead. When making pancakes, she knows what the consistency of the end result ought to be and just keeps adding milk and flour until she gets there. Depending on how excited she gets about this, we could end up with a couple gallons of pancake batter by the time she’s got it close enough.Again: that’s what eight starving boys are for.

I should mention that Mom is also a “chase it around until most of the lumps are gone” kind of cook. So pancakes, especially squash pancakes, have the potentially to be very interesting.

Squash pancakes, for those unfortunate souls who have never had the rare privilege of trying them, are pretty much just ordinary pancakes with a few pounds of mashed squash added to the batter. In my mom’s kitchen, “mashed” is a term we use fairly loosely. Squash pancakes can end up pretty darn lumpy.

In fact, in many cases Mom treats recipes like a rough guideline of what could potentially be used to cook something vaguely resembling the original dish. She has no problem with making changes to the suggested proportions if she feels the cookbook has it wrong. There was one time when she commented on the “cowardly amount of chili powder” one recipe called for. It was a deficiency she soon remedied. Apparently you can never have too much chili powder?

Another thing about Mom and cooking is that after eyeballing recipes for long, the accuracy of her measurements is highly questionable. I sometimes wonder if she even remembers what measuring cups are for. Around here, they’re used more often to convey “just about enough” of whatever she’s working with from the container to the mixing bowl instead of measuring out exactly what’s called for. Rather than measuring the amount of flour or honey needed for a batch of bread, Mom eyeballs it and throws in as much as “looks right.”

Since she’s been making bread with that recipe for 15 years, of course, I expect she knows by now what looks right, but her disregard for actually measuring things in recipes goes beyond that. The recipe for our chocolate birthday cakes calls for (no joke) exactly one dump of cocoa and two glugs of vanilla.

If you’re not used to cooking with Mom, that might be confusing. But in layman’s terms, that comes down to about 1/3 cup of cocoa and about two teaspoons of vanilla, erring on the side of more because you can never have too much vanilla.Clearly, following the recipe is something we’re not very good at. But around here, it’s our philosophy that if it eats, that’s good enough. Mom’s been using the glug-and-dump method for years now, and since we’ve all survived, I think that’s all the proof anyone needs that her way works.

Author’s note: After this long spiel about Mom and cooking, I feel anyone else would have found a way to throw in at least one pop culture reference to some hit cooking show. But since I have never actually watched a cooking show, really the only thing I can say is that as far as I can tell, people on cooking shows spend way too much time cooking fiddly little cupcakes or have spotless kitchens and way more spotless cooking utensils than are good for them. Not only does that seem like an incredibly unrealistic representation of how cooking actually happens in the real world, but I feel like I can find plenty of other ways to waste my time. Which is why I’ll leave it up to you to decide what kind of sarcastic cooking show reference would have otherwise gone here.

You’re welcome.

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Is there anything cuter than kids with no teeth?

Confession time: My siblings or I hate getting our picture taken.

Correction: Most of my siblings and I hate getting our picture taken.

Or at least strongly dislike it. Standing extremely close to each other and trying to look happy while Mom takes 75 million pictures of us is not our idea of fun.

But this aversion to smiling for pictures wasn’t always part of our mentality. It seems to rear its head about the same time we start loosing teeth.

Everyone reaches that part of their lives, usually somewhere between the ages of seven and fourteen, where all their teeth start falling out of their head. And not just one or two teeth, but all of them, all at once. And the new ones come in late and sideways until your “cute” smile is replaced by a spacious and gap-toothed gin.

You might not like to remember this part of your life, but it was definitely there.

I personally think it was a pretty fun time.I and all my siblings have been or are currently going through this snaggle-tooth stage. It’s pretty incredible, but this part of our childhood development has been well documented for each and every one of us. We have an extensive photo library full of happy, smiling children with no front teeth.

But what makes this even better is that our loose tooth stage appears to have happened at the exact same time as our “bare your fangs for the camera” stage. An early phase of our current “avoid the camera entirely” situation, the only way we would ever smile for a picture then was by pulling our lips back and stretching our mouth into our widest possible grin to show all our teeth.

What this did, of course, was reveal just how few teeth we had. Also, these big grins tended to look more like grimaces of extreme pain, especially when the tendons in our neck stood out every time we did it.I like to think what we’ve got going on here is pretty cute, but it could arguably be considered terrifying as well. Really, it depends on your perspective. Is there anything cuter than kids with no teeth? Because if there is, I’m pretty sure it’s kids with just seven teeth barely hanging on.

When it comes to pulling our loose teeth, the Clan is pretty traditional. I know some people get creative about this process and cook up all kinds of contraptions: pulling with a piece of string attached to a doorknob, fiddling around with gauze, and who knows what other forms of cruel and unusual torture.

We tend to go for a more simple, boring method of tooth extraction that works via frequent wiggling of the tooth by use of tongue and fingers.

How long this process takes really depends on the individual. Some of us will go from a slightly wiggly tooth to a gaping, bloody hole in a matter of hours. Others are content to string a loose tooth along for weeks. I’m pretty sure I was one of those who putsed around with it for days. David and Cob also fall into this camp, while Tubby and Fro practically rip theirs out of their heads as soon as one shifts a teeny weeny bit.

Even as a slow tooth puller, David knew the proper way to display them.

Of course, sometimes there’s someone who just wants a loose tooth gone but isn’t particularly interesting in giving the final tug themselves. In these situations, tooth pulling can get a little exciting. Mom has been called on to do the honors with a pliers a handful of times, but it’s WAY more exciting when Jo jumps in to help. If we had to pick someone to be the official Tooth-Puller of the Clan, it would have to be Jo.

I don’t believe I was ever brave enough to enlist parental assistance in pulling my loose teeth. But even if I was, I’d never let Jo anywhere near me with a pliers, never mind sticking it in my mouth! Apparently my younger brothers have no such qualms. It wasn’t that long ago that I happened to look up from the computer (writing a blog post, as a matter of fact!) and was just in time to see her triumphantly holding up one of Cob’s teeth in her weapon of choice, a needlenose pliers.

I later learned that although she was successful in pulling his tooth, she allegedly broke it a couple times in the process. I really feel that was more information than I needed to know, but by the time I figured that out it was already too late. Now I just try to look away and pretend nothing is happening.

By the way, with all these loose teeth floating around, you might think we’re making a killing off the tooth fairy. In reality, however, the Clan has never subscribed to the tooth fairy theory. (And before you ask, we don’t believe in the Easter bunny or Santa Claus either. And no, that doesn’t mean I had a terrible childhood.)

Rather than putting our freshly removed baby teeth under our pillows (which I personally think is a pretty crazy practice in the first place), Mom opts for the much easier and less complicated alternative: storing them in a little plastic bag and dragging them around with us until they get lost.

What’s really great about the Ziploc Bag method is that these are exciting to find tucked away in a box of other unusual treasures years later when we have to clean our rooms. And by exciting, I mean mildly disgusting. And by that I mean they almost universally end up in the trash. Still, since we all had twenty baby teeth and saved most of the ones we lost, it’s possible we’ve still got a couple hanging around somewhere. And Becca isn’t finished with all of hers yet, so we could be finding those for years and years yet.

All things considered, being toothless is pretty darn exciting. From oodles pictures that will come back to haunt you years later to getting your teeth ripped out by your younger sister, there’s really nothing like the thrill of being eight years old and loosing all your teeth.And there’s arguably nothing cuter.

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My Mom is unreasonable

I recently accused my mom of having a Grandparent Mentality. While I don’t intend to retract that accusation (or at least, not yet), I feel I had better balance it out with another fact about my Mom.

She’s unreasonable.And not just any old unreasonable. Mom deliberately and intentionally sets out to have expectations for us that are far more demanding than truly necessary. And unlike with the Grandparent Mentality, being unreasonable is something Mom admits to and in fact advertises and is proud of.

Think I’m kidding? Well, I’m not. How about a direct quote?

“In my school, talking is a privilege and can therefore be revoked. You told me I was unreasonable so I’m stepping up to the challenge. Have a great Monday here at Woodlawn Academy!”

Mom’s unreasonable requirements are something my siblings and I have been keeping track of for a long time now. What we’ve found is that Mom is not only completely and totally unreasonable, she’s also extremely thorough about it. She’s unreasonable about everything.

For example, she’ll make us wear socks if she feels cold. My skinniest little brothers might feel comfortable in February wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts, but if Mom is feeling chilly, they have to add socks to their ensemble. This definitely ruins the fashion statement they’re trying to make, particularly Nah. That boy has class.Who else do you know who can wear a clip-on tie with a t-shirt and look AWESOME?

Or how about this? We can’t do chicken chores barefoot in January and we have to put a coat on if we’re going to stand around in the below zero wind chill to supervise the dogs while they finish their breakfast. Like I said, totally unreasonable.

Also, I’ve mentioned before how we can’t jump on the trampoline until it’s at least 50 degrees outside. Don’t get me started on how completely unfair it is that we can’t jump on the trampoline when it’s covered in snow or when there’s sleet coming down.

Plus, Mom makes us change into clean clothes after taking a shower, rather than putting on the same shirt and pair of pants we’ve been wearing all day long. Also, for some reason she expects us to have clean feet and clean ears when we’re done showering. What’s with that?

She also has this thing about changing into a clean shirt every week or so. Some of us have more of a problem with this than others, particularly the Melonheads. I honestly think they ‘d wear the same shirt for months if Mom let them.There’s plenty more I could say about Mom’s unreasonable standards for personal hygiene (washing hands with soap?), but for the sake of time I’ll move on.

On top of her unreasonable requirements for the amount and cleanliness of the clothing we wearing, Mom is also unreasonable about school. This is actually a big part of where her reputation for being unreasonable first came from.

Would you believe that she doesn’t give us extra credit points when we fit all 25 questions of our math assignment on the same sheet of paper, crammed together in itty-bitty writing in the margins. This is actually completely unfair, because it’s a lot of work to do all that math in our heads without writing any of the problems down. And since we’re doing it to save paper, you’d think we’d be rewarded for all that work. But not with this mom! “You don’t get points for using less paper” is one of her favorite things to say.

Because she’s so unreasonable, we have to show our work for every single problem. That can take three or four sheets of paper, way more than is necessary. She also requires legible handwriting, and marks problems wrong if she can’t decipher what’s been scribbled there. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, she refuses to negotiate with us about whether the authors of the correction book got the answers wrong. Oh, and because we’re home schooled, we don’t get snow days. Bummer!

We also end up doing school at the same time as we process venison across the kitchen counter or husk several hundred ears of corn or cut twenty bushels of apples for applesauce.

At this point, you might think Mom has reached the limit of how unreasonable one human being can be, but that’s not all. We’re also not allowed to have fun, grow, or get sick without filling out an undisclosed amount of paperwork. Theoretically, this wouldn’t be a big deal, except none of us have ever seen these forms or have any idea where we might find them. As you might expect, this makes things pretty tense at birthdays and clothing switch.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of our grievances, it’s a good start and should make it extremely clear to you why she’s the most unreasonable mom we’ve ever had. It’s not exaggeration, folks. It’s truth.

By the way, if you think the only unreasonable parent we have is Mom, I want to stop that idea in its tracks. Dad gets in on this, too, though certainly not as much as Mom.

(They look so nice, but you really have no idea.)

Dad won’t let us air condition the outside (and there are some days when it needs it!), and he won’t let us operate the lawn mowers with bare feet. He also backs Mom up on everything else, so between the two of them, we just can’t win.

But you know what makes it worse? Although Mom is definitely and unarguably unreasonable, she’s inconsistent about it. Every so often she’ll do something that takes us completely off guard, like giving us a half day of school or letting us have poisonous-colored, chemical-flavored popsicles for snack. It’s not because she had a moment of weakness. It’s because she wants to keep us on our toes and constantly guessing.

We certainly have it tough over here at Woodlawn Academy.

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The Clan’s “No fun in this house” policy

Grandparent Mentality.

I’m pretty sure my parents have one.

A Grandparent Mentality, if you’ve never heard of this before, is what happens when your parents start to get soft in their parenting techniques and end up spoiling the youngest in the family. That’s where the whole “baby of the family” comes from. It’s that last child who comes along right when your parents are starting to relax all the rules that ends up spoiled rotten.

Or at least that’s the idea. I’m not sure how applicable it is to all situations, but in the case of the Clan, the baby of the family situation is compounded.

Because there are 13 of us, and because there’s a 16 year age gap between David and Becca, the whole Grandparent Mentality set in before the last few were born. Some days it feels like we have three or four babies of the family, and in my opinion, Becca got a double or triple dose of being the last in line. This can be measured at least in part by the number of nicknames she received.

Party Pooper. Stinkpot. Beck-up. Squirt. Her Royal Highness Princess Becca, Keeper of the Birthday Cards, Holder of the Personal Items, Party-Crasher Extraordinare, Herald of the Throne, Fifth Daughter of the Clan, Companion to the Nah, Revealer of All Secrets, and Speaker of the House.

The fact that half of these are actually titles is a good indicator that Becca is the last child.

The number of baby pictures we have of Becca is another tip-off.

My older siblings and I, especially David, Eli, and myself, have frequently told Mom and Dad they have a Grandparent Mentality and that the way the littler kids are being raised is different from what we experienced at their age.

As you might expect, neither Mom or Dad is too terribly impressed with this assessment. They also don’t really care what we think about it, so there’s that too.

But I like to think that my siblings and I have at least some measure of justification for thinking that Mom and Dad have gotten more lenient over the years. This is mostly because certain activities in the “fun” department seem to be more accessible to the younger set than they were to us at their age.

Take movies as an example. When I was little, movies were a special thing. We didn’t watch them very often, and when we did, it was usually the same selection of old Westerns, Toy Story, Bug’s Life, and Star Wars. (There was also an eclectic mix of old movies Mom took of us as babies and toddlers, some Signing Time, and Michael Pearl’s knife-throwing video).

Evidence that Pete has ALWAYS been a video head.

While I have nothing against any of those movies, I don’t remember Mom doing much in the way of checking out movies from the library for us to see, or purchasing many new ones at garage sales until I was 10 or 12—which are both things she does now.

And, as I said before, we didn’t watch movies very often when I was young either. Now, however, it seems like every time one of the younger kids asks (and there are a few that ask constantly, aka: Pete), Mom and Dad say yes. I don’t remember that happening when I was their age!

Candy is another reason the older Clan kids sometimes complain about Mom and Dad’s Grandparent Mentality. When I was six and nine and twelve, candy wasn’t something we had very often. Dad kept the candy jar in his room, and it only came out every so often. This usually coincided with Halloween or the 4th of July, which is a different pattern from what I’m observing today.

It’s not that we never watched movies or had candy when we were little, but it sure seems like the younger group gets to have these “fun” things more than we do.

And it’s more than the number of times the little guys watch movies that make us think Mom and Dad have a grandparent mentality. Having ice cream on non-birthday nights is something I don’t recall happening when I was little that does now. I also never got to ride my bike anywhere outside the yard when I was Pete or Fuzz’s age, something they’re sometimes allowed to do. And spending my money on junk food at the grocery store never used to happen, but now the littlest kids sometimes come home from shopping with Mom with a bag of chips or candy or something like that.

Put all these fun things together, and I think you can start to see where we start to conclude that Mom and Dad have a Grandparent Mentality.

But in all honesty, and to be perfectly fair to them, a lot of these differences in how I was raised compared to how the little kids are growing up are pretty minor. There’s also a certain amount of bias and over exaggeration in how the older Clan kids remember things, which might mean our version of reality is slightly warped. (This wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened!)

In fact, even though the younger kids might get to watch movies more often than I did at their age, and even if they’re consumption of candy and ice cream is slightly higher than mine was, not much else has changed. If you ask Mom about it, she’ll still say what she was saying when I was Becca’s age:

“There’s no fun in this house!”

The littles still have to do all the things I had to do when I was little. They still have chores, often the same ones I and their older siblings had at their age. They still have to eat vegetables without complaining. They still have to help with the gardening, canning, lawn mowing, and other family jobs around the house and yard. They still have to toe a well-defined line, and the consequences for failing to do so really haven’t slackened at all.

And as for the fun department, I think a lot of the reason Mom and Dad have gotten more lenient about the little details like watching movies and having candy is because they’ve realized that with thirteen kids, there are a heck of a lot of other, more important things to worry about. Their concerns have become more prioritized.

Also, there’s only a certain number of times you can watch the same movies over and over again before the parents get tired of it and decide to branch out. As for riding bikes on the side of the gravel road, I suppose it’s possible that I couldn’t do that when I was 12 because I didn’t have an 16 or 18 year old sibling to go along with me, something that the younger kids do have.

Instead, I had a brother who would let me risk life and limb hanging off the back of his bike while he drove. It’s a toss-up as to which one is more exciting: biking on the road or riding with Skinny.

Basically, as much as we might accuse them of having a Grandparent Mentality, I don’t think Mom and Dad have actually gotten soft in their parenting. Despite what Mom might say, they’ve just gotten more fun!

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The Barefoot, Beekeepin’, Banjo-Pickin’ Bluegrass Band

Over the years, I’ve noticed this interesting phenomenon in regards to large families, particularly large, home schooling families like the Clan.

A significant number of them happen to be musically inclined.

I believe the Clan is an exception to that rule, or at least that we have no serious aspirations to create our own traveling troupe. (There have been possible band names suggested, should we ever consider this career choice, however. The Barefoot, Beekeepin’, Banjo-Pickin’ Bluegrass Band was the favorite last I checked.)

But while I don’t see our family forming a performing group anytime in the foreseeable future, we still make our fair share of music.

It starts at the tender age of eight or nine, when Mom has us perch ourselves on the piano bench for our first introduction to the instrument that will be a part of our lives for the next 8-ish years. It usually takes us that long to pound our painstaking way through the 8 books of piano music (FYI, they’re not very big books!).

These are the piano books I learned from. They’ve seen better days.

By the time we’re done, we can read notes, follow a metronome or play without, and bang out some modestly complex tunes into the bargain. All without pulling out too much of our hair, or Mom’s.

Impressive!

Lest you get the idea that all my siblings loathe piano, Eli chose to take further lessons and study it in more detail and with more effort than I’ve ever felt inclined to do. Once I finished my obligatory period of piano lessons, I decided that was all the further I cared to pursue that particular instrument. He really enjoyed it, though, and even got to play in the pit orchestra for a local theater production of Little Women.Here’s the fun part of our home school music department, though. Once you’ve sweated your way through piano—and for some of us, it comes more easily than for others—we’re then free to pick an instrument of our choice that we’d like to learn to play. Currently, my two older brothers and I are the only ones who have reached this point, but we all jumped at the opportunity. David decided to go for the banjo, and although I hate to complement a banjo player, he’s actually quite good at it. Very good, in fact. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Eli couldn’t decide what instrument he wanted to take up, so he picked three: violin, mandolin, and more piano. I decided on guitar.

Some of these were instruments our parents could help us learn. Dad knows how to play guitar and banjo and Mom knows how to play the piano, so as far as the basics, they had us covered. But David taught himself most of the banjo he knows now, and Eli is definitely self-taught in mandolin and violin.

Of the three of us who did go on to learn another instrument, I’m the only one who gave up on it. David still hauls out the banjo at frequent intervals, and I think if we’d let him, he’d provide backup when we’re singing Christmas carols. (Needless to say, we don’t let him. One should never let a banjo player get out of hand.) And while the mandolin and violin don’t appear as often as they used to, Eli could probably hammer out some ragtime on the piano if we needed him too.

The rest of my siblings haven’t yet reached the point where they could really pick up another instrument, or developed an early interest in learning another. One of my younger brothers is doing a little guitar, and another really, really, really wanted to learn to play the drums for a while, but beyond that they seem largely willing to thump a few tunes out on the piano, blow tunelessly into the obligatory recorders we have lying around the house, and crank our tiny accordion at top volume every so often. We have a gift for making noise. It isn’t always musical noise, but its noise all the same.

Another thing we like to do is sing, and again, this is something we do a lot of. Not to name any names, but some of my siblings don’t have an “Off” switch to go with their singing, or a volume knob that goes anywhere but up.

What this picture won’t show you is the noise that accompanies that face 24/7.

We sing as a family, too. We sing Happy Birthday (at least 13 times a year), we sing praise songs and hymns at our weekly Bible study, we sing Christmas carols (sans banjo), and just randomly on road trips. With the volume cranked up loud and all five benches belting out the lyrics, we’re a sight to behold – and an assault to the ears of the unwary.

Unfortunately, the songs we grew up singing weren’t the popular radio hits, the Alphabet song, or something tame from Sesame Street. I grew up with Bob Dylan, the Beatles, U2, Counting Crows, and all Mom’s 80’s hair bands. Trailing after Mom down the grocery store aisle, we could be singing anything from “Sweet Home Alabama” to Irish pub tunes like “Johnny Tarr.”

In a lot of ways, I’ve had a very unusual childhood.

In a lot of ways, the world is lucky I’ve come out as normal as I have.

But while I’m not very up-to-date on recent music and have a very selective memory of tunes from artists like Woody Guthrie, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the Vigilantes of Love, I think I’ve managed just fine.

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