Four Generations of Skinnies

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Sunday morning text from Jeff, “Wanna join us for virtual church and skinnies?”

For the uninitiated, this was not about praying for a trim waistline. Jeff was offering to continue a tradition begun by his grandma more than fifty years ago. Skinnies meant pancakes that were as large as a dinner plate, but thinner than the fork used to eat them. At least once a week, Grandma Hazel served them to whoever came to the table. After only one taste I never missed a day.

As Hazel got on in years, I realized that at some point, we would lose our master cook. So I asked for her recipe. She happily obliged: A saucer of flour, several eggs, a teacup of milk, a spoonful of sugar, a pinch of salt, a splash of vanilla and then add something or other to taste. 

Watching closely completely cleared up absolutely nothing. But what did register was lotsa eggs and lotsa milk. Turns out that a basic pancake recipe with lotsa eggs and lotsa milk produced a tolerable imitation of Hazel’s recipe. 

The real story was in the making. Coat the pan with butter. Coat the pan with batter. Wait a little bit. And here’s tricky part – flip it over. Ever tried to flip a hot wet ten inch circle of tissue with a spatula? It takes practice. After several hundred I was getting closer. Especially humbling having watched Hazel do it with ease using nothing more than a table knife.

Cooking was only the first step in a breakfast of skinnies. In our family simply diving in and eating the skinny that arrived on your plate will have you booed from the table. You must pour a single line of syrup exactly across the widest part, then roll it up. Rolling techniques vary. Beginners just use their fingers. Veterans are able to catch one corner with the little finger tine of the fork and roll the entire skinny so perfectly that it looks like a manicotti tube.

Once started, the cook delivers them from one or more pans at an awesome pace. Service is simple. First come first served. Once you joined the rotation, they keep showing up on your plate until you announce, “This is my last one.” Failure to do so meant another would arrive in sequence – and woe be unto you if you didn’t eat it. 

In Park Ridge, skinnies were a regular Saturday morning feast. One morning unbeknownst to Ed, Jeff was carefully counting. At the count of eleven, Ed announced his last. Jeff quietly held off until he had snarfed down one more – at which time he jumped for joy. He had out eaten his older brother. There was no peace until the rematch the next week. It would be decades before Eddie again ate less than Jeff.

One Saturday, we had an unusually large group. We hadn’t noticed, but when Jeff ate his last, it was 16 – a new record. We could hardly believe it! The record lasted about an hour – a friend came by and learning of the record topped it by one. It’s fun cooking for teenage boys.

Moving to Arkansas hasn’t changed our family’s love of skinnies, and we now have a new generation of eaters. Alice started at the age of two. Her mommy let one cool a bit then tore it into two-year-old size pieces. Before we could blink, Alice was signing, “More.” She didn’t stop until she had eaten the better part of four.

The beat goes on. I’ve learned to measure the ingredients so I could share my imitation of Hazel’s skinnies. And on Sunday morning, Jeff did just that. 

Over the years we’ve discovered that blueberries, strawberries, whipped cream and maybe peanut butter are all wonderful additions. And Gria now replaces the single line of syrup with a carefully drawn letter of her grandchild’s choosing.

However they’re served, the party is always joyful. I look forward to the day Alice tosses skinnies on my plate and doesn’t stop until she hears, “This is my last one.”

Shamu and Scott

Scott in my arms in Urbana, Illinois

Nearly 57 years ago on the eve of my 23rd birthday, I was blessed with my first child, John Scott Clapper – to be called Scotty. One of my favorite pictures is of me dressed for graduation in cap and gown and holding this marvelous creature in my arms.

As he grew up, we became fond of our joint birthday celebrations. When possible, it would involve a journey somewhere leaving the rest of the world behind for those precious two days.

Following is Scott’s recollection of one of those special weekends. We weren’t always this crazy … but we tried as best we could. -GrandpaLyle

By Scott Clapper, 19640423

Years ago when I was in college, Dad suggested that we take a father-son bonding trip. We settled on a long weekend in San Diego. I seem to recall that we stayed at a Shoney’s Inn which was basically a motel attached to a Shoney’s restaurant so at least we had a great breakfast buffet every day. One day it rained so hard, we didn’t even leave the hotel room. And this was in the days before smartphones and the internet. As I recall, we played cards and talked and read books.

Then the next day, when the sun came back out, we went to Sea World. We had seen most of the attractions and then went to the Shamu the Killer Whale Show. I’m sure you’ve seen it. They have trained whales that do tricks and splash water (we made sure to not sit in the splash-zone seats). When the show was over, we walked down by the tank to get one last look at Shamu underwater. As he was swimming by, a surge of water spilled over the top edge of the tank like a wave. Dad had anticipated the water and ducked in next to the tank, but in doing so, he kind of nudged me outward directly into the path of the tsunami. Needless to say, I was drenched, which normally would be all in good fun, but we had reservations to have dinner at the park’s upscale seafood restaurant.

Shemu – big enough for its own seat on the redeye flight home.

Needing a new shirt, I suggested we go to the park’s gift shop. As I was looking for a dry shirt, Dad was talking with the sales clerk nearby. I overheard him asking if they had stuffed Shamu’s which he wanted to bring home for my youngest brother Jeff who would have been 3-4 at the time. The shop clerk showed Dad a group of progressively larger and larger stuffed toys. And then I heard him ask, “Do you have anything larger?” And jokingly, the woman pointed to the stuffed Shamu hanging from the ceiling. which was roughly three feet in diameter and six feet in length. Dad said, “I’ll take it!” Stunned, the clerk stuttered, “But you don’t even know how much it is!” It didn’t seem to matter to Dad. As no one had ever bought this sized toy before, the clerk called the park’s General Manager who came right over. And we had our pictures taken with the staff and our new killer whale. 

We were booked on the redeye flight back to Chicago which thankfully because of the late hour was lightly booked. As we walked through the San Diego airport, Dad and I got some rather curious looks. Dad had offered to carry the luggage which left me struggling to carry our new friend. I can only imagine what the other people were thinking looking at a college kid carrying a six-foot stuffed whale.

As we were in the gate area, the agents began the pre-boarding process for the flight. And over the loudspeaker, I heard the announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we will now board any families traveling with small children or killer whales!” This, of course, elicited some laughter from the other passengers. Again, we were lucky to get a row to ourselves. So there we sat with Dad on the aisle, me in the window seat and Shamu in the middle between us. Mind you, this was long before the days of emotional support animals, but that’s pretty much what it looked like.

When we got home, Mom was annoyed at Dad for spending so much on a stuffed whale for Jeff. Jeff, for his part, was initially excited, but that lasted maybe a day or so. Pictures were taken and Jeff had his friends over to “ride” on Shamu’s back. Then for the next maybe three years Shamu and I shared a bunkbed (Jeff had his own room). I slept in the top bunk and Shamu resided downstairs. Years later, as Shamu had gotten a little ragtag and started leaking stuffing, he ended up in the trash bin. A sad parting for such a majestic creature!

New Office for GrandpaLyle

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Ever since we moved here nearly four years ago, Marie and I have shared an office. It wasn’t much – a  table from Ikea about six feet long and a couple chairs along one wall in the guest room. Marie’s days were spent at the offices of 8th & Walton, Jeff’s company. I occasionally needed a place to pay some bills and handle minor correspondence. It was perfect.

But that all changed last March. At the first hint of the pandemic, Jeff sent everyone home to continue operations via Zoom. A good decision – the horror stories that abound wherein entire offices succumb to the Covid virus never touched his staff. So for who knows how long, Marie would be working from a home office.

About the same time I returned home from a road trip in GrandpaLyle’s Ark. And, after seven years of joy and heartache, sold the Ark – another story for another time. With a newfound abundance of time, I opted to expand the blog ontheroadagainagain.com and include those stories here in GrandpaLyle’s Notebook. Now I needed a place to write – an office.

Working as a couple from home is interesting. For twenty-five years, Marie and I were together 24/7 running our publishing company and raising six kids. But we each had our own office. Against all odds, it worked just fine.

But now, not only did we no longer have private offices – we shared a desk. We were now truly together 24/7. The only time I was more than five away from Marie was when she took a shower. The Ikea office was wearing thin.

Marie’s office – no longer shared

Marie and I live in a modest home, but it does have three closets. I realized that for a hundred bucks one of them could become a private office. So I moved. Marie now uses the entire six-foot desk as a base for extensive Zoom, computer and phone interaction with colleagues and customers.

Open the doors and – voila – my own private office

And the closet in our media room has become the Murphy bed of offices. All I have to do is open the doors and I’m set to crank out the next posts to GrandpaLyle’s Notebook. Life can be good … even in the times of Covid.

Christmas in the Time of Covid

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Gria and Grandpa in jammies from The Elf on the Shelf

Christmas season began with a bang. Or should I say a doorbell. When we opened the door, what to our wondering eyes should appear but an elf and two pair of jammies. It was The Elf on the Shelf. And he was especially exciting for us, having previously met his mates Noggin and Wooden Christmas Tree – the elves that came to the Clappers and Nelsons every year.

Our elf’s name is MaxMax and the jammies with him matched the ones Noggin and Wooden Christmas Tree brought the Clappers and Nelsons. Now everyone in our pod had them.

Were the Clappers and Nelsons excited?

For reasons that baffle me, Marie and I feel especially blessed this year. So for the first time in years we put a scene celebrating the first Christmas in our yard. Although we did this for ourselves, we were delighted when a neighbor stopped and thanked us. She loved that she could point out each of the pieces to her daughter and share its part in the real Christmas of two thousand years ago.

The real Christmas

This past fall all of our Arkansas grandkids attended virtual school, putting a heavy burden on their working parents. So every Wednesday, the kids came by after lunch for Gria and Grandpa Day. Marie prepared a written schedule of activities starting with a snack and including lessons, crafts, outdoor recess and dinner. Our objective was to give the adults a few hours of their own. But often we’d get a surprise payoff when pickup time arrived and moms and pops stuck around for a great time while the kids were off playing by themselves.

As Christmas approached, we added a special activity – set up and decorate the Christmas tree. Fully expecting to find a few spots with dozens of ornaments dangling precariously in a few spots and a whole bunch of bare branches, I was surprised and delighted to see a tree decorated as beautifully as any we’d ever had. Even three-year-old Robbie had found a step stool so he could put his favorites exactly where he wanted them.

HIgh spirits following setting up and decorating the tree.

As a new practice this year, the kids each chose an ornament to take home and keep. It would be theirs for the rest of their lives. That they might treasure these seemed unlikely. But then I remembered seeing my adult kids’ trees with ornaments I made more than sixty years ago. They had picked them when they were little and still hung them every year.

This week we reversed the process and untrimmed the tree. When all the ornaments were stowed and the tree taken out, I was amazed again – not a single ornament had broken and no tears had been shed.

Not all surprises were joyful. Three days before Christmas, Brenda stunned herself and the rest of our pod with the discovery that she had been inadvertently exposed to Covid. Pod interaction was suspended and Christmas plans were adjusted. This was especially disconcerting because it was Brenda who had taken the lead in protecting us all. Way back in March, she insisted that Gria and Grandpa stay home and she’d leave whatever groceries we needed by our front door.

With six kids, Marie and I had long since quit being locked into the calendar for celebrating holidays. But although celebrating Clapsgiving on the fourth Saturday in November might feel perfectly natural, Christmas was a different kind of poser. So each family sent its elf back to the North Pole with a request that Santa avoid their house until it was certain that he wouldn’t risk exposure to Covid. We were all delighted when he promised to come the following week.

Our new schedule: On Christmas day, Gria and Grandpa had a quiet weekend that included sweet Zoom visits with Lainie, the Petersens and the Kashmiers. Scott would have to come later – he was on layover in Jamaica. December 30 the entire pod celebrated Clapmas Eve at Nelsons. That night Santa came as he promised. Clapmas we all gathered at Clappers to see what Santa brought and to eat, laugh and play.

January 1st, the day after Clapmas, Marie and I celebrated the first day of a new year and 41 years of our marriage. Everyone in our family – now numbering twenty – is healthy and in good spirits. We are indeed blessed with peace and good will.

Marie’s appearance on The Phil Donahue Show

For 55 years Clapper Publishing has provided America with low-cost ideas for every season and every reason. This was widely recognized and often as Christmas neared, shows sought to share our expertise with their viewers. This clip from the Phil Donahue Show was one of our favorites:

Phil Donahue invites Marie to share Pack-O-Fun Christmas ideas with his viewers.

Pack-O-Fun on TV

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In the 80s and 90s Clapper Publishing ventured into television – with shows on both PBS and cable stations. Although the shows were well received and had a substantial following the costs were extremely high. About that time, the internet was blossoming and we concluded that our resources were best devoted to this exciting new media.

TV, however, was exciting and seductive … and just plain fun. Here is an appearance Marie and I made on one of the PBS of the time:

Pack-O-Fun magazine – the debut

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Build-A Products paid for groceries but little else. Mom and Dad, now in their early thirties, wanted to create something with a future. Mom had proven to be a guru full of ideas for turning empty boxes, egg cartons and plastic bottles into gifts, games and toys. Could they make a living from that?

Yes. A magazine. Full of low-cost or no-cost things to make and do. A mimeograph, a few reams of paper, silk screen printing for color, a sewing machine to sew the pages together and they were in business … sort of.

Edna Clapper gathering pages of Pack-O-Fun for binding

Their first issue was twenty pages – four pages on each sheet. The agonizing process of pulling this together is described in the post, Pack-O-Fun at 25 years.

John Clapper binding copies of Pack-O-Fun and Edie Marks (nee Clapper) cutting them apart

When the pages were all printed, they had to be stitched together on Mom’s sewing machine, then folded in half. Ever tried folding five pieces of paper at once? The first time is tough. By the fourth, there’s no skin left on your fingers. The manufacturing solution from engineer Dad – a teaspoon. It protects the thumb and puts a nice crease in the wad of paper.

But simply creating the magazine wasn’t a business. They had to have subscribers. Remember, this was the product of an engineer and a nurse. Neither one had ever heard of Marketing 101, much less taken the course. So they tackled this the same way they did everything else – get creative:

  • Borrow a few out of town phone books from neighbors.
  • Randomly select 300 names.
  • Hand address envelopes and mail sample copies.
  • Include a subscription order form: Send one dollar for a year’s subscription to Pack-O-Fun, the only scrapcraft magazine, filled with low-cost or no-cost things for kids to make and do.

They hoped recipients would like the magazines.

And Tommy Chumly from Jacksonville, Illinois did. As well as a few others. But they still needed to feed us kids and fill the coal bin every once in a while, so some income was essential. Fortunately, losing our home wasn’t likely – Grandpa held the mortgage. My brother Larry and I each had paper routes – our earnings kept us all well fed.

Every day Mom or Dad would go to the post office and check the box for more mail. On the last day of November of that year, a Cubmaster ordered a subscription for each of his five den mothers. It put them over $100 for the month. It still wasn’t a thriving business … but enough to keep them going.

The following summer, they received a curious inquiry from someone who had seen an article in Scouting Magazine*. At the bottom of the page, in type smaller than a lawyer’s fine print, it read “Get more ideas in Pack-O-Fun, send $1.00 for one year or 10 cents for a sample to P.O. Box 185, Park Ridge, Ill.” The response was staggering – 100 subscription plus 100 samples. And the 100 samples produced an additional 100 subscriptions.

Hearing this, a friend in advertising exclaimed, “You’re in business!” And they were. In the second year, circulation grew to 4,000; the third 10,000.

Larry and I continued with our paper routes, but the money was no longer needed for groceries.

Next: Explosive growth in the fifties.

*Quirky aside. Eight years later, as freshman in college do, I was chatting about home, family and what our parents did. “Has anyone ever heard of Pack-O-Fun?” I asked. I had only one response. Jim Lueck from Rochester, NY remembered seeing it at home. When I mentioned his name to my parents, it triggered an itch that begged to be scratched. Of course they immediately looked it up … and a light bulb flashed. Jim’s father wrote the story that put Pack-O-Fun in business.

The Pack-O-Fun Backstory

I was only ten years old when my parents, Edna and John Clapper, published the first issue of Pack-O-Fun magazine, but I can still recall some of their adventure. That they knew nothing of publishing is an understatement.

* * *

Dad’s family lived in Minnesota and had been hard hit by the depression. His father and uncles were all civil engineers so naturally he followed suit taking advantage of low instate tuition at the University of Minnesota.

Mom on the other hand grew up in a family of means in Park Ridge, Illinois. The only mother she ever knew was her father’s second wife whom he married while Mom was still in diapers. Although her new mom was very caring, she took frugality to new heights. Despite her father’s wealth, Mom grew up knowing the importance of every penny. And although the University of Minnesota was pricey for out of state students, it had an excellent nursing program and her aunt was a professor. So after high school graduation it was off to the Twin Cities for her.

Their meeting must have been predestined. Even though the engineering and nursing campuses were in different cities, a church picnic brought them together … never to be parted again. Like many young couples in those war and post war years, they had kids and moved a lot. Ultimately Park Ridge became home.

Our new home built right after the war was 1,200 square feet. It had two bedrooms and one bath. By we, I mean Mom and Dad, me, my two siblings, Dad’s younger brother Leland, and our collie Pepsi.

* * *

Mom was the Martha Stewart of homemakers. Our birthday parties and neighborhood events were always exciting with loads of games and fun things to do and had the neatest party favors and decorations. And cost little or nothing. At seven or eight years old, I thought this was perfectly normal.

Gifts from us kids to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were always handmade. And made from things that would usually be thrown away.

When I was eight and joined Cub Scouts, Mom became our den mother. Each week Cubs brought ten cents – half for the den mother’s supplies and half for organization. Mom’s frugal upbringing came to the fore, and our den’s projects and skits were bangup successes at pack meetings.

One of the projects for us boys was puppets made of parts cut from cardboard and connected with star fasteners. Of course Mom also wrote a script so we could show off our newly created puppets for the entire pack. Kids and parents alike loved it.

* * *

After the war, our family moved to Park Ridge and Dad started working in his father-in-law’s office. A few years later, Grandpa decided to retire, leaving Dad without a job. About this same time Uncle Leland came to live with us. An award winning builder of model airplanes, he spent a ton of time hanging out at the local hobby shop – a hotbed of enthusiasts dreaming of turning a hobby into a business.

Both Dad and Leland were hard workers and entrepreneurial. They began a manufacturing business: Build-A Products, birdhouse kits to be sold at local hobby shops. Designing the jigs for parts was simple enough for the engineer. And fabrication was all done in our weensy basement tool shop.

Almost as soon as they had the birdhouse business going, they felt a need to expand their product line. Puppets were a natural. After all, they already had the design from Mom’s work as a den mother.

Build-A Products was doomed from the start. They were limited to what they could make in the basement and growing out of the house would eat up any profit. Accepting this, Leland went on to work for an aircraft manufacturer pursuing his love of airplanes. That left Dad itching to create something new.

* * *

Mom’s puppets were a big hit as were a host of other things she was doing. At first other den mothers asked her for ideas. Then word spread and Girl Scout leaders and Sunday school teachers turned to her for help. She had written perfectly clear instructions, but the only way she could share them was making carbon copies. Unfortunately the most she could make at one time was five – and then only if she pounded the keys really hard.

Schools and churches had Ditto machines that could make a hundred of the purple copies, but the machines were expensive. Dad, the engineer, and Mom, the homemaker, teamed up to make a poor man’s printer. They filled a cookie sheet with plain gelatin and transferred the waxy image from a Ditto master to it. Then, one sheet at a time, they peeled a copy from their homemade Ditto copier.

Pack-O-Fun magazine was the next chapter in the adventure. Stay tuned.

Real life priorities

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Chester (Chet) and Hazel Reinke

In many ways, Marie grew up in a model traditional family. Her father Chet Reinke spent his days bringing home the bacon and his evenings reading the paper or perhaps grabbing a beer with friends. Hazel managed the household – taking care of Marie, cooking all the meals and keeping things in perfect order – often sweetly singing as she bustled about. Saturday evenings were special. Chet and Hazel would visit friends or maybe get a sitter, gussy up and enjoy a nice dinner out.

Life was good. Each of them knew his or her role and was free to live it, knowing that all was well in their family.

Well, that is, until Hazel began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Initially the symptoms were mild and caused little more than an occasional “I’ll get that, honey,” from Chet. But as she worsened, he found his life upended. Not only did he have to learn to cook and keep house, he had to become a full-time care-giver.

Traditional family at play

Hazel’s needs continued to increase. At one point she began leaving the house in the middle of the night. Not only was she losing sleep, so was he. And that began taking a toll on his health.

Painful as it was, he had to find full-time care for her. Having ensured that she was safe and healthy, he was free to take care of himself. And because he stayed healthy, he could visit her every day.

Chet understood that truly loving Hazel required that he make his well-being a higher priority than hers. What might have seemed like a noble sacrifice to care for her would likely have left her with less.

Priorities are funny things. They’re not about what comes first, they’re what must come first if needed.

They often require decisions that don’t feel right. But they can’t be ignored.

Like air, water and food, we really have no choice. We can live with out breathing momentarily and, in fact, we must to take a drink or eat something. But no matter how thirsty or hungry we may be at some point we either come up for air or we cease to exist.

In the same way we’re subject to life priorities: god, self, partner, family, work. In that order. Most of the time we get to choose what we do in our lives, but if a higher priority need arises, no matter how difficult, we have to stop and take care of it. Chet knew this. Because he put himself first, he was able give loving attention to Hazel for the remainder of her years.

Alice Mae

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by Marie Clapper

Alison Mae Clapper

Minutes after she was born, her father told us her name and her mother declared, “Her name is Alison Mae, but all her friends call her Alice Mae.”

We are birthday twins, Alice Mae and I. She was born on my 70th birthday. My hope is that I will dance with her on her wedding day.

From the first time I held her and dozens of times since, I have touched her hand, looked into her eyes, and said, “Gria’s hand is 70 years older than your hand, Alice Mae. Gria’s ear is 70 years older than your ear,” and so on. Now, as she approaches four, she shows glimmers of understanding.

Birthday twins, Gria and Alice Mae

Last night, we two had a sleep-over. Our second girls-night-in. We planned it for days.

First –dinner out.

I gave Alice Mae three choices. Really, I could think of only two places in town that she’d like – The Station Grill and Flying Fish. I threw in a third option simply because I like things in three – Table Mesa, an upscale, trendy, darkish place for young couples. Alice Mae picked Table Mesa. Although we did walk in hand-in-hand as many patrons did, we were an unusual Friday night twosome.

Take-away #1: Only the crowns of broccolis are good for you; the stems must be cut away and hidden out of sight, never again to be mentioned.

Next, an experiment.  A taste test.

When we got back to my house, we set up the kitchen counter as a make-shift science lab. The research was simple: Determine which graham cracker combination we each preferred. Together, we prepared the contenders for each of us to sample:

Graham cracker square – peanut butter – craisins.

Graham cracker square – cream cheese – craisins.

Graham cracker square – jelly– craisins.

Take-away #2: I’m apparently not as smart as I think I am, because before we each announced our favorite, Alice Mae said, “ You should go first, Gria, since I’m a little smarter than you.”

We each favored the peanut butter combination. Apparently, taste has nothing to do with intelligence.

Last, snuggling in bed and stories.

After I read a chapter in Beezus and Ramona, Alice Mae asked me to tell the story of Cincerella. I did my best, but we were both asleep before the clock struck twelve in the story itself.


Take-away #3: A 4-year-old can take up an entire queen-sized bed with no effort whatsoever.

One of the things I love best about life is that you never know what’s going to happen. There I was many years ago. I had four wonderful kids – two steps and two I’d adopted. Then, out of the blue, I discovered I was pregnant with Alice Mae’s father. I was close to forty. Her dad was my fifth child and my first delivery. He was my first progeny and she is my first granddaughter. Who would have written a tale like that?

So maybe my hope – my prayer –that I will dance with Alice Mae at her wedding isn’t so outlandish after all. Life is full of twists and turns. Maybe I will live long enough and be mobile enough to dance with this darling on her big day. It‘s even possible that the jitterbug will be back in style by then.

And won’t I be way cool.