Too Hick To Be Square

College and home school are practically similar

I’m starting my final semester of college this year, only a few months away from graduating with my 2-year degree in May.

When I first started back in August two years ago, I was understandably worried that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the public education system after being home schooled my whole life. Not because I wouldn’t know how to socialize or because I’d wear suspenders and a straw hat all the time, but because I’d never had to sit through a lecture or take a class from someone who doesn’t also make my supper and tell me to pick up my socks.

Nearly two years into the college experience, I find that college and home school are actually remarkably similar. While I haven’t had a professor actually make me supper or remark on my socks at this point in time, there are many other comparisons I can draw between the two.

For instance, there are instructors who talk for 15 minutes before realizing they went on about a dozen tangents and tangents of tangents—and they weren’t even doing geometry or math.

Not only does that description fit a few of my past instructors, it also describes Mom to a T.

There are also instructors who will answer any question with an excess of explaining because they wind up repeating themselves at least twice.

Again, Mom. She often ends conversations by asking “Have I used enough words yet?” Usually she has.

Or how about the instructor who spends every class until after 11 am drinking coffee/tea/something out of a ginormous mug? I’ve seen several super-jumbo coffee cups in college, but none that top Mom’s coffee bowl-with-a-handle.

Ordinary mugs are as nothing before the awesome power and might of Mom’s GIGANTIC coffee bowl.

And then there are instructors who assign an unreasonable amount of homework. Not only is Mom certifiably unreasonable, but because we’re home schooled, all our work is technically homework. Which, of course, is the oldest home school joke in the book of home school jokes. You have no idea how tired we get of that one.Another instructor all college students learn to dread and even avoid is the one who assigns extra homework over the break.

Now that I’m actually in college, I understand why this is a pain. But back in home school, we didn’t have breaks or days off. Aside from major holidays, our only days off throughout the rest of the year are ones we spend camping, being incredibly busy, or puking in ice cream buckets. Having homework over the break wasn’t a concept I understood until college.

Outside of the many shocking similarities between college professors and my Mom, college and home school are remarkably comparable in several other ways.

In college, there’s always one or two classrooms where it’s freezing cold—regardless of the time of year or how many socks and sweatshirts you put on. That happens in home school, too.

Of course, usually that’s because the “classroom” is a tree stand out in the woods during deer season. Toward Lifetime Health is a required course at my home school. Classroom assignments include everything from digging potatoes in the rain to shoveling six inches of snow off the entire driveway to processing some venison that partially froze during a cold snap while it was hanging in the woodshed.

“Classroom” is one of those words which can be very loosely interpreted when applied to home school.

Sometimes this is home school….

And sometimes it’s this.

That’s why the flip side of the classroom temperature scale is another similarity. Not only does every college campus have a set of freezing classrooms, they also have some that are always too warm. Again, Mom is responsible for this.

Her ideal temperature is somewhere in the mid-90’s. Thus, her favorite days to get out and put in the whole garden, do extensive yard work, harvest a gajillion tomatoes, mow the entire lawn, and split and stack firewood for Grandma are always the hottest days. And of course, all those activities are part of Toward Lifetime Health, so we’ll be sweating and getting sunburns while in the “classroom.”

According to Mom, the best day to burn brush or learn to start fires with magnifying glasses is when it’s 87 degrees out.

And if we can’t get outside, Mom maintains a warm, stuffy classroom environment by running the oven and all the burners all day long — with no A/C because we’re on a school budget.

I’m telling you, college and home school are practically similar. It’s eerie.

Of course, I’m not blind to the fact that there are MANY things about college and home school which are drastically different. I have yet to take classes with a 7-year-old in college, and as far as I know no one has ever been asked to dissect a deer or a chicken for a biology credit. Still, overall I’m happy to report that college and home school aren’t nearly as different as you might think.

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Mind over modern appliances is an observable phenomenon

Clan appliance use log:

  • Over the course of an average day, the Clan washes five loads of laundry.
  • Depending on the time of year, we may have as many as three full chest freezers scattered around the basement and garage.
  • On a daily basis, we keep both our full-size refrigerators stocked with a rotating supply of leftovers.
  • During the average day, the microwave will be used about a half dozen times to reheat some of those leftovers for an unscheduled meal before someone goes to work.
  • We fill the dishwasher at least twice a day—and that’s not counting the multiple sinks of pots, pans, and large kitchenware we wash by hand.
  • Our four-burner stove is used at multiple times throughout the day, whether that’s to prepare multiple pounds of noodles or rice, to heat up a couple gallons of soup for supper, or to scramble four to six dozen eggs for breakfast.
  • Finally, the oven is regularly employed to bake the latest batch of bread or make a couple pans of Once-In-A-Lifetime hotdish.

In other words, the appliances at our house get a LOT of use.

Because they’re in use so much and so often, our appliances tend to wear out at an accelerated pace. But since these kinds of large appliances are expensive to replace or do extended repairs on, we usually go for the cheaper option of putting up with their deteriorating and increasingly quirky performance for as long as possible.

Even when all our appliances are being quirky at once.

As I write this, the four-burner stove currently has the cooking capacity of two and a half burners. This wouldn’t be so bad if at least two of the burners had full power. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Instead, one burner is completely shot—and by shot it doesn’t even light anymore. The other three burners operate at about 60% capacity, and that’s on a good day.

Luckily you can only fit about two of our giant cooking pots on the stove at any given time, so we’ve managed to limp along without significant setbacks so far.

It’s worth noting that cleaning the stove is one of those crabby chores that doesn’t happen nearly enough.

Both the refrigerators have their individual foibles as well. The big one in the garage sometimes builds a snowman on the bottom shelf, or makes random, vaguely threatening sizzling noises whenever the door is open. Since it still keeps things cold, we don’t ask too many questions, especially since the inside fridge isn’t always reliable in this area. The inside fridge has recently developed the counter-productive habit of occasionally taking an extended leave of absence and just stops working for a couple hours.

Not cool, fridge. Not cool.

Then there’s our washing machine.

Our washing machine is special. We don’t talk about the washing machine where it can hear us because it’s very sensitive. When offended, what started as a simple spin cycle may send it into a fit of bumping, banging rage. It doesn’t quite start crashing around the mudroom, but the dryer sitting right next to it will take quite a beating when the washer decides to take insult at something.

Don’t stare. It’s sensitive about its size.

The dryer, by the way, has its own faults. We can turn the dial to whatever setting we want, but from time to time the dryer will have other ideas and may pick a different setting at random. We can still force it to do what we want, of course, but it will retaliate by voicing loud protest through sporadic beeping throughout the cycle.

Go figure.

But at our house having a battle of wills with the dryer is considered fairly normal. The real contest of mind over modern conveniences has developed more recently, and it involves the microwave.

Over the past few weeks, the microwave has developed the interesting habit of not doing what it’s been told to do. Ordinary electricians would call this “shorting out”—we call it “needing an unusual degree of convincing, encouragement, and moral support to work properly.”

Never underestimate the power of perspective.

Just briefly, here’s a synopsis of the microwave’s current symptoms. These symptoms are inconsistent and don’t happen every time, but we still have to take a Microwave Encouragement Break more often than we’d like. For instance, sometimes when we start the microwave, it will reach the end of the timer, beep at us…and then continue running.

In other words, don’t forget your coffee in there, Mom, or it will boil dry by the time you remember it again.

On other occasions, we will close the door after removing our food and find that the microwave has decided to keep running, even though we haven’t set any time on it. In this situation, hitting the “stop” button won’t make it turn off. However, banging on the outside has been proven to work on a number of occasions.

Even warming a bowl of soup has become fraught with danger.

Basically, the microwave has lost its marbles and we’re just waiting for it to explode.

In fact, the only appliance in our house that is currently in reliable working condition is the dishwasher. But don’t tell anyone I said that. It may choose to break down just to spite me.

Stranger things have happened.

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Drool-cicles: It’s what the dogs are wearing

Remember my post from a few weeks ago when I wrote about the surprisingly balmy days we were having only weeks before Christmas? Turns out I didn’t need to worry about losing any more of our limited days of Minnesotan warmth because those days are long gone. In fact, it’s now actually starting to feel normal to wake up to subzero temperatures and even lower windchill.

But there are more factors besides the freezing cold and windchill which indicate we’re finally having what I consider a normal Minnesotan winter. These signs aren’t things most people would notice, but to us they’re part and parcel of this time of year.

For instance, there are the frozen eggs. We keep our laying hens outdoors over the summer, but their winter quarters are an insulated shed just off our tractor shed. I say insulated, because Dad fixed up what used to be an old woodshed so that it blocks wind, withstands snow, and keeps the cats out. But it’s not heated.

Because it isn’t heated, we have to shovel all the thawed chicken manure out in the spring. Fun.

When the temps dip below freezing and the snow starts to fly, we make multiple trips out to the chicken coop throughout the day to collect eggs before they freeze. Some might find this unusual; we see it as a fact of life.

And by the way, even if the eggs freeze, it’s not really a big deal to us. As long as the frozen yolk/white doesn’t bust the shell open, we still consider them edible. Those frozen eggs will just sit in a bowl in the fridge until they thaw out, and then we’ll make them into scrambled eggs and fried rice and such.

Look for our cookbook “Cooking With Frozen Eggs” at a bookstore near you.

Another wintery fact of life around here is dogs with icicles hanging off their lips.

The Clan has always kept big dogs, which for the past few years has been a pair of Great White Pyrenees. However, in our years of keeping big dogs, we’ve realized that there’s a direct correlation between the size of the dog and the amount of drool they produce. For most of the year, this just means we need to be strategic about petting them to avoid getting slobber all over ourselves.

We’re about halfway good at this.

They look like gentle giants, but they’ve actually got a secret weapon that’s terrible (and slobbery) to behold.

Winter is a completely different story. Turns out dog drool freezes at almost the same temperature as water and then hangs off their lips and chin fur in little icicles. This can be disconcerting at first, but the dogs seem used to it. I imagine wearing drool-cicles is similar to having a frosty beard after a couple hours of shoveling snow.

Here’s another Clan winter issue: starting vehicles on cold mornings. This is, of course, a fairly normal issue for anyone who lives in Minnesota (or most of the Midwestern states for that matter), but I feel our situation is a little more complicated than most because we have so many vehicles that have to be parked outside in cold weather AND because there are so many young drivers in our family.

The mad scramble to jumpstart enough vehicles to get everyone where they’re supposed to be is not an unfamiliar experience for the Clan—in fact, it’s one we went through just this past week. But it gets really fun when the inexperienced teen drivers don’t think to start the car ahead of time to let it warm up, and find out minutes before they need to be leaving that the battery has died.

I’ll save myself a lot of heckling from my siblings by admitting that I’m as bad if not worse than most of my siblings about this (my battery was the one that died this week, after all). In fact, although I don’t think now is quite the time to go into all the details of my infamous Blinker Fluid story right now, the existence of said story should indicated how much I know about cars.

I think it’s part of my charm.

Here’s another unusual fixture of Clan winters. We have a big icicle that forms out behind the house where the exhaust from the furnace vents out. During the winter, the moist air venting from there forms a giant icy stalagmite. Currently, that stalagmite is about six feet tall, but time goes on and it continues to build up, it will eventually get too tall and top-heavy and finally fall over.

Our current reverse icicle was, at last measurement, six feet and two inches tall.

Of course, once it falls over another will quickly form and given the temperatures we’ve been seeing lately, I expect we’ll see three or four of these before winter is over.

Here’s a whopper from a couple years ago.

But despite these various and wacky things we associate with Minnesota, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Even though our winters can be intense, one of the perks of suffering through weeks of below zero temperatures is that I don’t have to worry about poisonous bugs or reptiles.

To me, that seems like a pretty good trade-off.

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Speech contests, black belts, puppies: Momentous moments of 2017

When a new year arrives, many people choose to start it off in style, equipped with a long list of resolutions and plans for what they’ll do or accomplish in the next 365 days.

I’ve never been good at this process, partly because I always have big plans and those ambitions rarely manage to fit into the calendar year nicely. I’m also really bad at keeping resolutions. It’s hard to hold onto the same resolve I had on January 1 all the way to the end of the year.

Instead, what I prefer to do on New Year’s Day is take a look back at what happened in the previous year and give the triumphs (and trials) of the past 365 days a moment to sink in.

With that in mind, here are a few of the highlights of 2017, as seen by the Clan.

2017 was a year of big achievements

  • I served this past year as managing editor and then editor-in-chief of Rochester Community and Technical College’s student newspaper, which this year has gone on to beat 4-year colleges to place for general excellence in the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s 2016-2017 Better Newspaper Contest. Even if you’re not an aspiring journalist like me, that’s a pretty amazing achievement.
  • I competed in my first speech contests this fall through Toastmasters International, an organization dedicated to teaching people the principles of leadership and public speaking. I came out of it with two trophies, one for impromptu speaking and the other for a speech called “A Nontraditional Float Princess” — it was inspired, by the way, by a post I wrote back in August. What these trophies mean is that there is no way my family is getting me to shut up now.
  • I was accepted to Hamline University, where I will be transferring this fall to complete a bachelors in creative writing and journalism.
  • On the home front, four of my family members are now black belts in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do. That means Skinny, M, Jo and Mom have finally gotten what they’ve worked 3+ years to accomplish. I, on the other hand, remain a black belt in underwater basket weaving, which comes with much less bragging rights.

2017 was a year of first-ever experiences

  • I had a summer journalism internship with a local newspaper. One can only hope I’ll find something equally interesting to keep me busy this coming summer—knowing me, I shouldn’t have a problem finding not one, but several somethings to keep me occupied.
  • Several of my siblings had their first taste of the stage this year. M, who has been active in our local community theaters for a couple years now, had her first taste of directing at a Christmas show this year—which happened to also featured Fuzz in her first acting role. Eli is also having his theater-firsts this year (though he may not appreciate me saying it) by playing the leading role in a local production of The Robber Bridegroom. This is his first time on the stage, too, not to mention in a starring role. There will also be singing, dancing, and a Southern accent thrown in for extra hilarity. (At least on our part. We’ll see what he makes of it.)
  • Skinny bought his first car, which means I had to carve out my own designated parking spot in the Clan’s parking garage (aka: the yard). Not because he would compete for my spot, but because I might otherwise find myself competing for his. And speaking of buying cars…

2017 was a year of big (unexpected) purchases

  • Skinny wasn’t the only one who bought a vehicle—after one of our old rust bucket pickups finally gave up the ghost, Mom and Dad has to add two new vehicles to the Clan’s fleet, bringing it up to a current total of six.
  • Mom and Dad also “bought” a new knee, which means Mom had to undergo surgery to fix torn meniscus from an old snowmobile accident and 20 years of repeated dislocations. Notably, despite the surgery, Mom still aced her black belt test later in the year, further proof that she’s always been a black belt even if she lacked the appropriate accessories.
  • Another fun medical purchase this year was getting my wisdom teeth removed. While the world may have missed a hilarious moment of “not-quite-lucid commentary by Lydia” because I chose to have my teeth pulled while awake, I think the half hour of incomprehensibility as I tried to talk around gigantic wads of gauze was funny enough.

    Wisdom teeth selfie!

  • A final big purchase of note is the new black lab puppy Jo bought. This is the same Jo who made two trips to Guatemala for church-building and village improvement projects over the past two years. Apparently she’s decided that wasn’t enough, because her new big plan is to breed and sell lab puppies. Given how she took the Guatemala idea and ran with it, I’m sure she’ll do just fine with this new idea, as long as she doesn’t decided to go back to Guatemala this summer and leave me to babysit a litter of puppies. I have to draw the line somewhere, guys.

As if all that weren’t enough, 2017 topped out with 49 new installments of hickness and Clan life. I’d call that a year well-filled!

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