Olan Suddeth

Dad. Computer geek.
Homebrewer. Disney nut.
Would-be crafty guy.

HomeBrew Dad


a blog about making all sorts of things while raising a large family

Indoor S'mores, or, Chaos Lurks in Every Corner

The record is very clear - we are all about big events in our house. As has been documented here before, we believe in big birthdays, in big Christmases, in big Disney World trips, and so on and so forth. However, life can't just be floating along until the next big event. You have to build those connections every day, you have to find the small pieces of magic to sprinkle into everyday life.

Last week, Donna got the idea of doing s'mores inside over our fireplace. The weather has cooled off quite a bit; a fire is now an attractive thing, and she thought that it would be fun to take a traditional summertime activity and put a little spin on it for the kids. So last week's grocery trip included me picking up graham crackers, Hershey bars, marshmallows, and metal skewers (so as to not have to scavenge sticks from the yard).

As an aside... I'm a fan of new and improved products, of products designed to fit little niches... but the fact that they now sell square-shaped marshmallows - which cost twice as much as normal ones - and market them as "s'more marshmallows" is just absurd. A well toasted marshmallow with a near liquid center spreads out perfectly fine on a graham cracker. Come on, marshmallow magnates!

At any rate, I wordlessly placed these ingredients on the dining room table, but refused to answer any questions about them aside from "they are for a surprise". Now, Noah and Jonah (ages eleven and nine) figured out right away what the ingredients were for, but hadn't put together exactly what the plan might be. On the other hand, Silas, Wynter, and Elowyn were in the dark (and excited to various degrees) - in particular, Wynter could barely contain her enthusiasm. She must have asked me a couple of dozen times what we were going to do,... Read More
Tags for this post: Parenting, Family Life

Rockets and Drones, oh My!

My middle son, Jonah, is an inquisitive guy with quite a few interests; one of these interests happens to be the space program.  Since he turned nine this year, I felt like he would be very interested in model rockets, and after being chilly to the idea to start with, he asked for one for his birthday.

The past Saturday, I helped him put it together.  Now, Estes model rockets have been around for some time; I built several as a child, and I helped my oldest son, Caleb, build one some years ago.  I will say that these have improved over the years, at least when it comes to the ease of construction.  He and I put together this Taser rocket kit (which comes with the reusable launch pad and controller) in less than an hour. 

The box claimed that the rocket could fly to a thousand feet up, but the fine print indicated that this depended on the model of engine that you chose; this time around, Donna and I went with the B6-4 engines, which were the mid range selection (and still supposedly yielded around 550 feet of altitude).  The kit did also require some recovery wadding - aka fire retardant tissue designed to protect the parachute from being burned up. 

The concept is pretty simple.  You build this cardboard and plastic rocket, which includes a parachute.  The solid fuel engine goes in the bottom, which you ignite electronically.  It flies...

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Tags for this post: Family Life

Olan's Spicy Spaghetti

Spicy spaghetti!Olan's spicy spaghetti, served with a slice of garlic bread.


I have mentioned before that my wife, Donna, does almost all of the cooking in our house. And with good reason, mind you; the woman is a genius. She regularly tries new recipes (and often adapts or creates her own), and it's extremely rare for the result to not be something we want to repeat - typically, the reactions range from "that's really good" to "that's better than the majority of restaurants I have ever eaten at".

However, a few dishes fall under my domain; chief among them is spaghetti. This is one of the very few meals that every single person in my family (including picky Silas) enjoys in some form. While it does require both some prep work and a not insignificant amount of cooking time, it's not what I would consider to be a "difficult" meal, per se... and the results are perfect for anything from a romantic candlelit dinner to a full "feed the entire family" spread.

When I was a child, my mother stressed the importance of everyone being able to cook to some degree, as you can't always count on your mother (or wife) to do it for you, there are situations where you want to be the one providing the meal, etc. My spaghetti recipe is based on hers; indeed, for some time, I basically cooked it exactly like she did.

Over...

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Tags for this post: Recipes

Feeling Special in a Large Family

The fun of opening birthday presentsSlightly controlled birthday chaos.


Real talk time: our family is quite large. While we don't yet command our own TLC reality series, my wife and I do instigate double takes almost any time we mention how many kids we have (eight total, six aged ten down to infant).

Now, it may come as a complete shock to you, but for whatever reason, a fair number of people seem to feel obligated to comment as to why they personally disapprove of large families. Don't get me wrong - I personally think that these people can take their opinions on a long walk off of a short pier - but one that sticks out is a take we hear with surprising frequency where the windbag in question shares how they "could never have that many kids, as it isn't fair to them, that you just can't make things special for so many children."

Go ahead, imagine the expression of "I'm not going to bother hiding my contempt" on my face. I'm sure that you can picture it.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that we can dote on each and every one of the six younger kids like some single kid parents do with their one child. But to suggest that it isn't fair to them, that we can't make things special? This sentiment is not only deeply insulting, but is patently false.
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Tags for this post: Parenting

Yes, I am Their Father. No Thanks, We're Just Fine.

A week ago, my wife went out for a girls' day with her mother and sister. That left dad in charge of all six of the kids aged ten and under - including Gideon, our five month old baby. Believe it or not, mom made it home some seven hours later to discover a clean house, the children unharmed (as well as dressed and fed), and the baby in a good mood after his nap.

So I must be looking for a pat on the back, if not an actual medal for my efforts... right?

Give me a break. I'm a father, not some bumbling sitcom caricature of a dad that does well to figure out which end of the baby that the diaper goes on. I'm a full partner in raising these kids - not some every now and then babysitter.

While I will absolutely bow to my wife's superior organizational skills - seriously, kudos to that woman for managing to not only cook, clean the house, do laundry, and raise these kids... but to also homeschool them and to set aside "us time" every day - and will freely admit that she is superior to me in a lot of the little touches, the fact remains that I am also a qualified parent. I know all of the kids' favorite foods. I am capable of dressing them in more or less matching clothing. I am qualified to organize trips to the store, or to...

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Tags for this post: Parenting

Building New Front Porch Stairs - a DIY Home Improvement Job

When you own a house, you can pretty much guarantee that there will always be projects that need your attention. Our home is no different; for some time now, I've really needed to rebuild our front stairs due to age and some rotting issues thanks to water from the roof. The task had been put off more than it should have, due to various reasons; financial concerns, Gideon's birth and NICU stay, baseball season, my character flaw of procrastination. But with my income tax refund in hand and a break in the baseball season, it was time to get this project done.

To be fair, I've always enjoyed rough carpentry. Lumber is fairly forgiving to work on; if you're off by a fraction of an inch, it's seldom the end of the world, and the end result of your labor tends to be quite satisfying. Building porch stairs is a DIY home improvement project that should be well within the ability of most able bodied adults; with a weekend and a helper, you can probably wrap things completely. I did drag things out a little longer than that, but it still was a relatively simple project with a big payoff.

Materials List

All lumber was pressure treated pine
  • 3 - 2x12x12 (stringers)
  • 4 - 2x12x12 (stair treads)
  • 1 - 2x6x8 (toe board)
  • 2 - 80 lb sack concrete mix
  • 2 - 4x4x8 (posts)
  • 4 - 2x4x8 (handrails)
  • 4 - 5/4x6x8 (handrails)
  • 26 - decorative spindles
  • 2 1/2 inch...
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Tags for this post: DIY, Home Improvement

Making Mickey Mouse Waffles at Home

If you've ever been to Walt Disney World and eaten breakfast at any of their on-site restaurants, odds are that you have eaten - or at least seen - one of their famous waffles in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head. If you haven't enjoyed this treat... well, I'm sorry. Now, I am certain that the environment adds a little magic to the enjoyment of these, but the objective fact is that Mickey waffles are simply quite tasty.

To my knowledge, there is no mix available for sale to recreate this breakfast magic at home; fortunately, Disney is not at all secretive about their recipe. Odds are, you have all of the ingredients in your pantry right now... you just need to put a little effort in, and you'll be able to recreate a slice of that Disney magic in your own kitchen!

Mickey Mouse Waffles Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup of butter, melted, then cooled to room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

If you compare the above recipe to other sources for the "official" Disney World recipe, you'll notice that I'm a tad heavy on both sugar and vanilla. The reason for this is simple - Magic Kingdom is known to prepare their waffles just a bit stronger on these two ingredients, resulting in a slightly sweeter waffle. I prefer this, and so, my recipe reflects that. If...

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Tags for this post: Cooking, Recipes

Putting a Price on Memories

I'm forty-two years old, have done reasonably well with my career earnings, and yet I drive a twenty year old pickup truck. I'm notorious for wearing shoes until I get literal holes in the soles, and work clothes until they are threadbare. Donna drove her last car until it died at a hair under a quarter of a million miles on the odometer. There have been far too many special occasions in our marriage - birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases - where my wife and I exchanged token gifts or the like, or put off something for ourselves for seemingly unreasonable amounts of time.

And yet, we will spend butterfly-inducing sums on family vacations. At Christmas, our kids have literal piles of gifts. Birthdays are always major productions, with my wife putting together incredibly themed parties or organizing major events around them. We will skimp and scrape to take an overnight trip to an out of state aquarium, or to maintain a zoo membership (that is used multiple times per year), or to simply ensure that the kids get special outings to see their highly anticipated movies in the theatre - which is no small undertaking in a family of ten, with six kids ages ten and under.

There are those that question this approach. Family members, friends, co workers, people at the store. Why would you spend enough on a Disney World trip to purchase a nice used car, when what you drive doesn't count as that? Why would...

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Tags for this post: Parenting

Review: Whoowasit, a Board Game from Ravensburger

The Suddeth boys playing Whoowasit
The Suddeth boys playing Whoowasit.


Over a year ago, Jonah (my eight year old) received the Whoowasit Board Game from Ravensburger as a Christmas present from his Mimi. The box looked really neat, but it also looked like it could be complicated... so it actually sat, unopened, in a closet for months. Once we eventually got around to playing it, the boys and I had a blast - and I felt silly for waiting so long to open it. This past weekend, we played it again, and Donna pointed out to me that this is exactly the sort of thing that my readership might be interested in.

Whoowasit Board Game box
Like I said, the box looks really neat.


So, here's the nitty gritty. The box says that the game is for ages seven and up, though Silas (my six year old) has had no problem whatsoever playing it. The basic premise of the game is that an evil wizard is coming to attack the kingdom, and he has enspelled one of the king's servants to steal the magic ring that the king would use to stop the invasion. The castle animals witnessed the theft, but only children can speak with them to learn the thief's identity. You have a limited amount of time to search the castle and speak...

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Tags for this post: Product Reviews

Sewing Sleeping Bags for Barbie Dolls

A couple of days ago, I posted on the HomeBrew Dad Facebook page about how I was making some Barbie doll sized sleeping bag/pillow combos for my daughters, and mentioned how I would probably make a full post about these. The first two have turned out really well; I fully expect that I'll be making more of these in the very near future. As promised, here is that full write up!

Now, the girls have really enjoyed the blankets I sewed for their stuffed animals, and Donna had suggested that they would really like some sleeping bags for their Barbie dolls. When I asked them about it, the response was enthusiastic - to say the least. Originally, I had planned to make these as ultra simple as possible; basically, I was thinking of making a simple "pocket" out of some scrap fabric and calling it a day. But I made the mistake of going online to look at other people's Barbie sleeping bags, and felt like just folding over a piece of fabric and running a couple of seams would be lame. Most of the projects I found featured pillows for the dolls, and Wynter was quite adamant that yes, pillows were a "must have" accessory.

The thing was... I couldn't find a project that felt exactly like what I wanted to do. I wasn't really interested in fully quilting these, or in attaching bias tape or ribbon, or in adding...

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Tags for this post: Sewing
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