Booby Traps, Sparklers and Ten New Year’s Countdowns

Nothing says “welcome, make yourselves at home” like a loud explosion in your face when you need to use the bathroom.  

Now that we’re a good halfway into January, I feel like I’m finally ready for the new year.  The round of sickness that plagued our house over Christmas vacation seems to be done.  (Although I hesitate to say things like that, because it sometimes comes back to haunt me.)

It turns out I won the game of “It Strep or Is It a Virus.”  My mommy senses predicted correctly and we got a lovely bottle of pink amoxicillin for my six-year-old as our prize.  A few days after starting antibiotics she finally started perking up.  Now she’s back to her normal self, dancing around the house while singing random songs and correcting her younger siblings about the proper way to do things.

We rang in the New Year at our house with several of my brothers and sisters and their families.  It was sort of an impromptu affair.  My sister from Rochester helped make the night with a heroic last-minute venture to three stores to find noise makers and shiny hats for the occasion.

Kids and even a few adults helped decorate our dining room by coloring "2013" signs.

Kids and even a few adults helped decorate our dining room by coloring “2013” signs.

Something about the New Year festivities sparked a memory in my husband that he had a box of fireworks out in his shop.  Two years ago, in Montana, we sold fireworks at our gas station.  What remained of those were the relatively safe (or boring, depending on your perspective) sparklers and exploding booby traps.  Yep, we had a hundred sparklers and approximately 800 (not a typo) of those exploding things on strings.  You know the kind.  Pull on each end of the string, and in the middle, the little skinny tube of something slightly explosive suddenly goes BANG!

Hearing an exploding booby trap again brought back a flood of memories (or maybe I should say “flashbacks”) from childhood.  Thanks to my brother, we grew up with booby traps tied on the bathroom and bedroom doors, hooked onto the old-fashioned hook and eye latches.  The door opened a few inches, just enough to make you think all is normal, and then POW!  An explosion, right at eye level, right when you need to pee.

And coincidentally, just before most guests arrived, my husband installed a new hook and eye latch on the door of our downstairs bathroom.  Then he quietly rigged up the bathroom with a booby trap.  We forgot about it until my niece opened the bathroom door.  BANG!  It was a total surprise, so mission accomplished, sort of.  I was hoping it would’ve been one of my brothers, but booby traps aren’t selective.

That’s our level of skill as hosts–a little hospitality mixed with a little juvenile delinquency.  While we did finally install a lock so people could comfortably use the bathroom without fear of someone accidentally walking in on them, I believe we negated the comfort level with booby traps.  Nothing says “welcome, make yourselves at home” like a loud explosion in your face when you need to use the bathroom.

We made up for it, though, with repeated New Year’s countdowns.

With lots of younger kids that can’t make it to midnight, we opted to do our own countdown around 8:00.  Through the magic of Youtube, we found the London 2013 New Year’s countdown on the internet.  We turned it on, and watched an enormous countdown clock next to Big Ben counting down the seconds, and then saw fabulous blasts of pyrotechnics for another five or ten minutes.  Regardless of the actual time here in MN, it looked like a New Year’s celebration, and that’s all that mattered.

Once we got to zero, 15 people in silly hats filled the house with the sound of those annoying noisemakers.  It was wonderful.

Noisemakers (1)

These noisemakers got a good workout with round after round of New Year countdowns.

In fact, the countdown was enough fun that we did it again about three minutes later.  You can do that if your New Year’s comes from the internet.  And then we did it again.  And again.  Why do that very best part of New Year’s only once a year?

Around 10:00, the “late partyers” had another round of New Year’s countdowns.  Turns out, even the sixth time around it’s still fun to obnoxiously blow noisemakers in your brother’s face.  It really doesn’t matter if you’re six or thirty-four, that sort of thing just reverts everyone to their kid state for a few minutes.  And hey, isn’t that what the New Year is for?  Starting over new and fresh and excited for a new year?

That night was pretty darn frigid, but we had several packages of sparklers to burn up, so we threw on our coats and headed out to the porch for some good old-fashioned “might poke someone’s eye with a glowing hot burning, sparking stick” fun.  Sparklers don’t improve with age, and some of them literally lost their spark, but we lit them off just the same, and it was very festive.

In the smoky haze that encircled us in the freezing air, my sister joked, “Well, at least it will keep the mosquitoes away.”  A few minutes later, my brother came outside and walked into the smoky cloud and made the same joke.  Obviously, great minds think alike.

Post sparklers, some people headed home and the rest went inside.  Back in the house I discovered, much to my dismay, that the auto-play of endless “Auld Lang Syne” songs had now switched to the Korean version of the song.  Terrible.  I switched it to Meatloaf, always a family crowd-pleaser.

At 11:00 as the New Year rang in over on the east coast, the last of us watched the ball drop in New York.  We hoped to see our sister, who made the trip to NYC with her husband for her “bucket list” New Year’s Eve moment.  An hour or so earlier, we all stood in the kitchen talking to her on speaker phone, as she stood in Times Square.  The wonders of modern life are pretty cool sometimes.

At our crazy New Year’s bash, all of our party-goers left our house before midnight.

When midnight rolled around, my husband and I laughed at hosting a New Year’s party, but celebrating the true New Year with just the two of us.  We stood amid a delightful mess of forgotten noisemakers and empty cups, and flipped through channels looking for one last countdown.  Thank goodness La Crosse had a wimpy fireworks display on live feed, along with some local commentators, “Oh ya, folks, and here we are, in da new year! You betcha”.  After celebrating about ten New Year’s countdowns in the evening, I felt properly ready to welcome in 2013.

The final highlight of the evening?  My brother took 144 booby traps, planning to rig up Mom’s house before she got home from her New Year’s celebration that night.  Yep, that guy that’s married and has a toddler is still my brother.  That made my night.  We’re awful sometimes.

I’m guessing it didn’t happen, because my mother never told horrific stories of nearly having a heart attack time and time again upon arriving home that night.  And now, I blew his cover.  But maybe not.

You never know when the explosions are coming, Mom.  You just have to continually open every door with caution.  And as everyone knows, it’s not the actual explosion that’s the big deal, it’s the worry that you might be next.  It’s the never knowing.  Is this the day?  That’s the real beauty of those things, the mental torture.  No, wait.  Maybe it’s not Mom.  Maybe someone else in the family will get the booby traps.  Open that cabinet door and…BANG!  Happy New Year, indeed.


Burning Shrapnel and Fourth of July Strawberry Pie

Last year I was truly touched by the Fourth of July fireworks display. Literally. Bits of burning plastic and cardboard shrapnel rained down on my mosquito repellant-covered arms and fine black powder floated into my eyes.

In Montana, massive fireworks are completely legal and accessible to the average citizen. My husband, who is, of course, above average, procured a Montana wholesale fireworks dealer license. He brought home a package containing a full arsenal of the biggest shells available. You can imagine the kind. It’s the package of fireworks the size of a five-year-old, but twice as wide. It’s the one that makes guys involuntarily gather ’round in a driveway, admire, and reverently utter, “Whoa.”

The fireworks display that this massive package produced (plus one more 500 gram maximum-legal-load for good measure) was equivalent to the fireworks display shown in St. Charles each year. So right there, in our friends’ yard in little old Broadview, Montana, we had a professional quality display. Well, professional, except for the part where we sat in the driveway, and they lit off the massive explosions directly over us from the side yard.

My husband, Jarred, was the ring leader of pyrotechnics and bordering on euphoria at the end of the night. With a trigger-ignited MAPP gas torch in his hand, happy as a little boy with a firecracker, he lined up and fired off explosives in rapid succession in the all-too-near side yard of our friends’ house. Welding and its sparks are just in a day’s work for my husband, so sparks and ashes flying all around him on the 4th felt both festive and rather ordinary.

As for me, I can’t say I enjoyed fireworks last year. Somehow, it just isn’t as fun when you fear for the safety of yourself and your children. When I see movies at the theater, I hate being in the front row. It’s just too close. Multiply that feeling by 100 when the closeness is explosive devices mass-produced in China.

The phrase “so close you can touch it” should never apply to pyrotechnics.

About 20 little kids scurried around during the party, and a long line of them gathered in little camping chairs to watch the fireworks. By the end of the night, tired of sparks flying their way, the kids began taking cover with a baby blanket every time a shell was fired off.

The next day, my friend threw the baby blanket away because it had too many burn holes in it.

Yes, last year, everyone had plenty of hands-on learning with fireworks. The “rockets red glare” and “bombs bursting in air” that night felt a lot like a war time lesson in “duck and cover.” The “oohs” and “ahs” usually came from “Oooh! Watch out!” and “Ah! One landed on me.”

I’m excited, though, to see fireworks this year. I’m even more excited to not feel them landing on me.

This year, we will head to St. Charles for fireworks and take our place on the best spot in the grass, the very same spot that’s been a tradition in my family for some 50 years now. If I told you the exact spot, then you’d all want to sit there. And you just can’t. It’s ours.

While it may look like open grass, free for public use, I assure you that 200 square feet is permanently reserved. The city of St. Charles may beg to differ, but I don’t care. Land of the free, except for that spot of grass.

Keep all of your fingers intact on the Fourth so you can fully enjoy this red, white, and blue pie.

I do love America, land of the free, home of the brave. I also love pie. In honor of America’s birthday, then, I now present to you my very favorite pie. If it wasn’t for the guilt and shame involved, I could easily consume an entire pie by myself. That is why this recipe makes two: one for you, one for your family.

This delicious recipe came from my mom, something she cut out of a newspaper, probably this very one, years ago. The whipped cream and blueberries, however, are my very own Independence Day touch.

May I substitute Cool Whip, you ask? Ick, and NO. June is Dairy Month. Support our Minnesotan dairy farmers and eat that delicious product that came from cows. And please do not EVER call that abomination in the blue tub “whipped cream.” That stuff is not cream, it’s corn syrup and oil, folks.

Anyway… If making whipped cream sounds terrifying, you can use Redi Whip, which is real cream in a can. If you completely run out of time to make this pie, just squirt Redi Whip directly into your guests’ mouths. Delicious and fun.

So, for some fabulously festive fourth fare, make this here strawberry pie. Your tummy and your friends will thank you.

4th of July Strawberry Pie
Red, white, blue, and delicious!

1 ½ lbs. fresh strawberries
2 c. flour
¾ c. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
dash salt
1 ½ c. sugar
1 ½ c. water
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 pkg. (3 oz. size) strawberry Jello
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
red food coloring (optional)
whipped cream
1. Wash and slice strawberries, set aside.

2. Prepare crust: Cut together flour, ¾ c. butter, 2 T. sugar, and salt. Press into two pie pans or one 9 x 13 cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min. Let cool.

3. Prepare glaze: In saucepan, mix 1 ½ c. sugar, water, and cornstarch. Simmer until thick and clear, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add jello, butter, and vanilla. Add food coloring as desired. Stir until glaze is well mixed and cooler.

4. Assemble pie: Divide strawberries into cooled pie crusts, arranging as desired. Pour glaze over berries. Refrigerate until cool. Works well as a make-ahead dessert.

5. Just before serving, top with a very large dollop of whipped cream and a generous handful of blueberries. (If you need help with making whipped cream, Google it or call your mother.)

Now, eat some pie, watch some fireworks, and let freedom ring! Happy Independence Day!

© 2012

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