Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stupid Smarts

These are things that make me feel smart and stupid at the same time:

My Clark Kent glasses.
They're big and nerdy and - duh! - Superman wore them when he just wanted to relax and be someone he was not.  But my eyes are fine; I don't need glasses to see.


My 8 year old is putting a lot of things together on her own.
"Mom, is britches a bad word?"
"No. It's just a slightly old fashioned word for pants."
"Then why does it sound like a bad word? It sounds a lot like... bitch."
[Thank you, big brothers.]

I pulled a muscle during an exercise class and walked out.
Ok, this one only makes me feel stupid stupid stupid.  And weak.  And owie.  And more stupid.
I still secretly think it is probably a hernia. But that's impossible, because a hernia is an old man injury and - for once - I was not in the 65 and better class.

I went to type up my notes for something I'm trying to learn and - loandbehold! - they were already typed. And saved. From several months ago.
Obviously, I've mastered this material so well I've forgotten it already.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Champ of Cherries


Cherry pie in winter: a slice of summer on your plate.


If you've never even considered trying your hand at preserving your own food, I hope this example of deliciousness gets you thinking about it. For just a minute or so. You can go back to your 21st Century life after that.


During our recent match with the Polar Vortex (or, what our grandparents would have simply called "The Winter Season") I found myself perusing my collection of digital memories from last summer. You can imagine the draw they had for me.  I ran across these little gems from cherry picking time on Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan (or, what my grandmother called "The Most Beautiful Place on Earth." Actually, I don't know if she called it that, but I do know she loved Old Mission).  The pictures made me make a pie. The pie made me eat it. I do not regret one moment of the experience.


Here's a step-by-step. 
1. Find some cute kids. I happened to have some of my own sitting in the back seat, along with a handsome nephew with an extra dose of personality. 
2. Convince them that picking produce is fun. For children with an overly-enthusiastic gardener for a father, this may be a test of your powers of persuasion. Remind them that they have never tried picking these fruits before.


3. Set them loose in a grove of cherry trees. Do not give them axes. Do not tell them stories about George Washington.
4. Bring the cherries home. 
5. Wash them under running water. Do not use soap.
6. Eat as many as you'd like. Even though they're not "sweet" cherries, we think they're still pretty yummy.
7. Don't eat the pits. Alternatively, don't break your teeth on the pits.
8. Remove the pits from the cherries you don't plan on eating fresh. Say, "This is the pits!" loudly until someone in the room laughs. It may take several tries to get the correct response. Don't give up. For pitting purposes, I recommend that you use one of these: 
http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Grips-Cherry-Pitter-Black/dp/B000NQ925K
Or one of these:
http://www.amazon.com/Leifheit-37200-Cherrymat-Cherrystone-Remover/dp/B001MSYWQW/ref=sr_1_3?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1389663873&sr=1-3&keywords=cherry+pitter


The fancy-schmancy one comes with German instructions, so you can feel very frau-like.
9. Place pitted cherries in a plastic zipper-topped bag, gently squeezing to remove as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
10. Using a permanent marker, scribble the date on the bag. Toss it in the freezer and forget about it until January when you might need a reminder that Summer is for Real.
11. Come January (or earlier, if you like) grab the baggie from freezer, scratch off enough frost to determine that it contains cherries. Thaw a tiny bit on the counter or in the fridge. (This means just leave it alone while the relative warmth of your kitchen works its magic on the frozen fruit. In the deep throes of a polar vortex, you may wait a while for your kitchen to be "warm.")
12. Bake cherry-themed dessert of your choice. I recommend pie because it's from heaven. If you think you don't like cherry pie, it's probably because you've never had it made from cherries you picked yourself in the height of summer. It's the real stuff.

 Why aren't you eating real stuff?

P.S. - I don't usually make my own pie crust because I'm not as good at it as the people at Pillsbury. I still feel like a champ; A Pie Eating Champ.
P.P.S. - Leftover fruit pie for breakfast is practically health food. I promise.
P.P.P.S. - My husband thought he didn't like cherry pie, but that's because he doesn't like that stuff that comes in a can. He changed his mind and helped me eat the leftovers for breakfast. It was worth getting up before the kids.



Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Uncivilized Tundra

It's been Happy New Year for nine days now.
And Happy Snowed In for nearly that long, I think. That part of my mind that records the regular passage of time has sort of slipped off its track a bit.


Who was it that wasn't ready for Christmas break to be over?
Oh yes, that was me.
For the most part, I have enjoyed this little house-bound spell with the aftermath of a blizzard.  The first couple of days I ventured out to the barn to do the kids' chores because it was my chance to play Arctic Explorer meets Dr. Zhivago. Plus, I found a ski mask that made me feel like a hot criminal. Not really. I mean, yes, I found a ski mask, but no, I didn't feel hot. Just regular criminal.

Poor frozen Norah holds a poor frozen bird.  Willa thought we should save it for decoration.
Somewhere along the way, we discovered that we had a formerly frozen pipe. It was easy to pinpoint the location as we had a mini waterfall wake us in the middle of the night.



After we had sopped up the flood and reburied ourselves beneath a pile of scratchy wool blankets and heavy comforters, the Man of the House remarked, "I guess I'll call [the plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] tomorrow."
I didn't respond verbally. Lack of communication usually means I'm dead, as I have a genetic ability to carry on my half of a conversation (and a portion of your share too) in my sleep. But this time my words were simply frozen with shock.
"Someone else in our house? An outsider? A non-relative? A repair man?!?" [These are my un-voiced thoughts. You can tell because they're in italics.]
"So maybe you could clean up the basement a little. So he can get to the things he needs to," my escaping-from-the-house-returning-to-work-the-next-day-husband continued.

"The basement? That part of our house that I pretend doesn't exist?" 
Hesitantly, I cleared my throat. 
"Well, why would he have to go to the basement?  The leak is up here, in our bedroom." 
"In fact, the leak is behind our bed. The other part of our house that I have intentionally forgotten." 
"Because he has to get to the [element of household equipment whose name I can't remember because it lives in the basement.] So maybe just clear a path to that."



 Now this [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] is a very nice man. Middle-bordering-old aged, small, quiet, unassuming, extremely nice. He's so nice that I feel uncomfortable with my personality when I'm around him. I feel uncomfortable with my personality when I just think about him from a safe distance.
I also get the feeling that he probably lives in a very clean house, with a basement that could be mistaken for living space.


I do not live in a very clean house. I live with five children, all of whom seem decidedly anti-clean.  During this period of snowed-innishness, my facebook friends  (those true sources of encouragement and fellowship) have been neatly divided into two categories:
1. All [hashtag] snowed-in so we'll make snow-related crafts, create food out of snow, play snowman charades, bake snowman shaped cookies and cinnamon rolls, and in many other ways entertain our children with meaningful, engaging activities.
2. All [hashtag] snowed-in so I'm cleaning my house from top-to-bottom.


 In other words, I need new facebook friends. Ones that fit into my category:
1. [no hashtag] Snowed-in with five children so I'm compulsively eating. And hiding.

I gave my children siblings so that I wouldn't have to entertain them myself. And I don't clean so much as pick up messes, which is usually the precursor to cleaning. In my case, it's just the precursor to picking up more messes.  But threatened by the "sometime this afternoon" arrival of the painfully nice [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets], I cleaned. And then I entertained my children all by myself.
I didn't exactly clean as if I were expecting guests, because guests come to the civilized places: living room, dining room, kitchen and (when no one is looking) bathroom.  Repair persons seek out the uncivilized places: basements and behind bedroom furniture. It's not that I wouldn't like to bring civilization to those places, but I feel as though we must provide a habitat for spiders and dust bunnies. They were here before we were. We're visitors in their environment.

With total lack of compassion for the spider and [dust] bunny ecology, I dusted out the space behind our bed and sorted out the things hiding beneath. The sorting was a bonus, because I'm fairly sure none of the heating pipes tunnel under the floorboards.  The bonus sorting revealed that I have a lot of shoes.  I wouldn't say I have a shoe buying problem, just a shoe throwing away problem.
With similar regardless-ness, I cleared a path to where I think the [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] will have to visit in the basement. Of course, I didn't do anything about the stored toys that the snowed-in children had discovered and strewn about the cellar. I just concentrated my efforts on the room where the furnace and its friends live.  Which means I found myself sorting mason jars in the middle of the afternoon.


Once I had brought a small semblence of order to these hidden places of our house, the children and I ventured out on the frozen pond so they could play Arctic explorer (no Dr. Zhivago yet) and not make more messes.  I am a teensy bit nervous around frozen ponds, not just for the slip-and-slide factor, but for the break-through-the-ice-and-drown factor.  But it turns out that prolonged periods of well-below freezing temperatures freezes more than birds.  Willa was a little concerned about the "freeze bite" she'd heard about on the radio, but everyone returned inside with all their fingers and toes intact.
I like to think those frozen bubbles are from the fishes' New Years Eve celebrations.
After all that effort, plus some more that I don't remember, Mr. [plumber who I hope doesn't have the Internets] never showed up. So unless I provide further non-sibling entertainment, or introduce them to Dr. Zhivago, my snowed-in children will find these new places to scatter puzzle pieces, Lego sets and baby doll paraphernalia: around the furnace and behind my bed.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Letter 2013

Dear Family and Friends,
You may have noticed that we don't normally send out year-end letters with our Christmas cards.  That's because if it happens to be a year we randomly choose to create Christmas cards, we don't get started on them until December, and we rarely get them mailed until the week between Christmas and the New Year. In other words, our belated cards should be enough to let you know that we're alive and still kicking.
Even though I have mailed most of my cards, (I still have a stack of cards waiting for their addresses to be tracked down and scrawled in green pen across their sealed envelopes) tonight I'm writing a little year end letter.
Because I don't want to.
Because my heart is thudding heavily and that's usually the sign that I need to speak.
Or type.

Yesterday amidst all the Merry Christmas greetings that packed my Facebook feed, on friend asked, "What was your favorite gift this year?"
I tried several times to type a response, but I couldn't bear the cheesiness of my truest response.
My favorite gift this year is my children's safety.
It is a gift. No matter how hard I try, it is not something I can guarantee. I can put the household cleaners out of reach, keep the Hunter's guns unloaded and locked away, secure those car seats properly and... whatever else, but sometime I might will slip up. Many times I am going to slip up and my protective mom self will fall asleep or be distracted or just run out of capability.  I cannot ensure my children's safety; it is a gift, an act of mercy.
I never fully realized this until Christmas Eve 2013.
We were enjoying a stay at the Potawanomi Inn at Pokagen State Park in Indiana with some of our extended Ruffers.  When the phone rang at 2:45 in the morning (barely Christmas Eve) I knew it couldn't be good news. Probably someone among our group vomiting. My husband answered the phone.  I could quickly tell he was upset beyond vomit.  He fumbled for the light as he said, "Are we missing one of the girls?"
Ginger's blanket was empty.
My stomach twisted in a knot that has yet to be untangled.
I ran out of the room, heedless of my pajama-clad body and bare feet.
I sprinted down the carpeted halls that I'd spent the weekend telling my children were not for running.
To the front desk.
To my baby.
My precious, safe, sobbing baby.
She had wandered out of our room while the rest of us slept, pulling a door handle we thought out of her reach. Once in the hall, she couldn't reopen the door.
And we (four people who love her best) slept. A fan for which we couldn't find the switch muffled her cries.
Someone else heard.
Someone else took her by the hand to the hotel lobby where they deciphered her toddler gibberish into enough information to figure out who we were.
She calmed down much sooner than I did.
I curled my body around hers and agonized over what could have happened, over what we nearly lost.
Honestly, the inside part of me isn't all that calm yet.
Do you know what an auger is? It's kind of like a giant screw. I felt as if someone had begun twisting one right into my middle, below my heart and lungs, just north of my abdomen.

What kind of mother am I? How could I have slept through that? Why didn't I check to make sure the door was locked properly? How am I going to protect her in the future if I can't even hear when she wakes up?
For better than two hours, long after everyone else had returned to one form of sleep or another, my fearful imagination kept me awake and in pain.
Someone heard me.
Quite simply, He reminded me that my children's safety was an act of His mercy.  That was the very word that soothed my anxieties and stopped the auger screwing though my belly.  MERCY.
But...
What about the mothers who wake to find their children gone and there is no reassuring phone call?
What about the mothers who are enduring their first Christmas beside their child's headstone?
What about the mothers who weren't even able to kiss those darling faces before life was snatched from their womb?
What about the toddlers whose crying is unanswered?
What about those broken hearts? Where is the mercy for them?
I don't have an easy answer.  But as I snuggle my children a little more, I ask the Source of mercy to hear them, to find them. I have seen a little glimpse of their pain.

And so, dear friends and family, as I close out this letter, please join with me in gratitude for the many ways we've seen mercy in our lives. 2013 is nearly done. Let us use the remaining five days to hug our beloved ones a few extra times.  Relish the luxury of staring at their faces, young or old, for a bit each morning.  Give the dog a bonus scratch behind the ears. Send a message to your old highschool or college buddies.  Call your cousin (especially if your cousin is me). Let's savor the living peices of sunshine in our lives, finishing the year basking in mercy.
But... if you can't bask in mercy, if your heart is heavy and broken, give me a call. Let's have coffee. I don't claim to know all the answers, but I am trying to listen for them in the middle of tears.

Love,
Honour


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lessons from Mom and Dad

We just had our first snowfall last night.
Naturally, I'm fishing a post out of last summer. I wrote this one June afternoon and never published it.  But since I'm feeling risky and lazy tonight, (two motivations that are actually very difficult to pull off simultaneously) I'm clicking the publish button now.  Revisiting early summer to warm up my dark winter night.
*  *  *  *  *  *

I just finished a ham salad sandwich, so naturally I'm thinking about my dad. My dad was the first to introduce me to ham salad and we have been good friends ever since. I must confess: when I first saw the sandwich he expected me to eat, I balked. Acceptable sandwiches included peanut butter and were made with white or wheat bread. This creation was pink mortar thickly spread between black slices of - well, could it be bread? Bread is not black unless it burned. What was this sub-standard fare my father was trying to entice me to consume? 
Honestly, if I wasn't so desperate to impress my dad, I very much doubt that I would have ever tasted that ham salad on pumpernickel sandwich or ever learned to how to check the oil in my car.  I am pretty sure my relationship with ham salad is on better footing than my relationship with oil gauges.  Thankfully, I get along with dear old Dad even better than ham salad.  In fact, I would give up both pumpernickel AND ham salad if he needed such sacrifice from me.  That's a lot of love.

Today I put two slices of lettuce on there too, not because I particularly love lettuce, but because we have a plethora [Would you say I have a plethora...? Oh, yes. You have a plethora.] of it growing right now and I cannot find people to come take it, no matter how much I beg!
I'll be back in a few hours, when this-just-finished statement is expired, because right now one child is asking (twice) "When am I going to get my goldfish?" and three more children are waiting to be picked up from piano lessons... Wait! Maybe the piano teacher would take some lettuce.  Maybe I won't ask her, just show up with a plastic shopping bag full.

And that strategy actually worked! One less meal of salad in our garden!
Do I sound ungrateful?
I am not. Really.
But unless I stock a salad bar for 100 people, there is no way our little-big family will consume all of our lettuce before it is overripe and has gone to seed.  It actually does go to seed. So that expression works in this situation.  It does not go to pot, as that is a drug reference, I believe.
I could be wrong.  I am not a big expert on the drug culture.  My marijuana education didn't expand much beyond Nancy Reagan's Just say No and my mother's knowing looks as I complained about a strange, sickly-sweet odor as we drove through some ramshackle areas of Appalachia.

My mother may not have taught me much about drugs, but she did show me how to dash Worcestershire with a liberal hand.  Have you ever noticed "Worcestershire" is almost as hard to write out as it is to pronounce? I'm in love with the English Language, but not so much so that I don't see its faults.  Through an extensive exhaustive Google search, I just discovered that I've been saying it wrong my whole life.  At least the portion of my life in which Lea & Perrins played a major condiment role, which would be only the last 30 years or so.  In correct British tones it sounds like "Wooster-shir," exactly as it is spelled, yes? No? I've been saying "Wer-stir-sheer," which also doesn't look like the spelling, but sounds like my mother.  A lot of what I've been saying lately sounds like my mother: "Unload the dishwasher" and "Feed the cats and dog" and "Put away your laundry" and "I said unload the dishwasher!"

After years of soul-searching, I have determined what my love language is: DISHES.  If anyone needs to express love for me in a way I will quickly understand, washing the dishes (especially after dinner) might just move me to tears. Is it wrong that I occasionally force my children to love me?  I know that they want to love, but the emotions are buried under the crusted-on food and the still-to-be-unloaded dishwasher.  Helping them is helping me.  It's all good.

Another way I willingly express love is doing laundry. A whole lot of this has been going on around here lately.
You may not recognize it, but this takes more careful planning than one might think. While it is not necessary to wear your t-shirts in ROYGBIV order, it is important to make sure that you don't leave a particular color out of the line up  So if it's Thursday and you have yet to wear an orange shirt because that color doesn't really look good on anyone, it's time to evaluate your commitment to this rainbow laundry project. Maybe you need to go for a run jog  walk, or clean the bathroom, or engage in some sort of sweat-raising activity.  These provide the perfect opportunities to wear the t-shirts that you'd rather no one see you in.  If you find yourself grabbing whatever shirt is on the top of the stack, you are probably not the person doing the laundry in this house. If you find that you've worn too many blue shirts this week (this is a problem I often have) just find yourself a slab of pumpernickel, smother it with ham salad (if possible) and consider what my father would say in this situation: actually, he probably would never find himself in this situation, and he's a man of few words so he probably wouldn't say anything.  Just eat the sandwich, offer a shrug and move on.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Playthings

I have spent an inordinate amount of my adult life sorting children's toys.  I am grateful that I haven't kept track of time spent in such pursuit, as the actual number of hours might be depressing.  And also, my mother might wonder why the toy room of my childhood was always a disastrous mess.
Let me share an extremely well-kept secret: I like organizing stuff. I like organizing best when I start with an incredibly tangled muddle and end with inspirational order.  If someone were to stop by my house right now, there would be no visual clues that I like to categorize and catalog. That is because I'm letting certain messes marinate in order to bring the optimal joy when they are finally dealt with.
What did I organize today?
Baby Dolls. Each one has had her face washed, is clothed and is now sleeping in either the doll bed (most important) or the toy chest downstairs (those selected for upcoming playtime with cousins) or in the closet (least loved dollies). One extremely special doll is sitting in the doll highchair where she will be allowed to binge on plastic food all night long.  It may be wrong to teach dolls to be emotional eaters, but this poor thing must find some way to deal with the purple ink that Mr. Clean Magic Eraser failed to clear off her wee little face.
Plastic Kitchen Toys and Play Food. One of the special perks of the organizing job is the authority to reduce the stock of pretend play wares when no one is looking.  For me, it's not emotional eating (because it's plastic, right?) but perhaps an emotional purging. I'm saying this like it's a dysfunction, but really, it's healthy. I only threw away the stuff that had black spots, was impossibly dented or had passed it's expiration date. Just kidding. There's no expiration date on toy food, right? Because we've had this certain tomato flung around our house for a long time...
Dress Up Clothes.  The old bridesmaid dresses went back to the attic like a bunch of satin Cinderellas. The child-sized "princess" dresses aren't nearly as pretty as the former-wedding wear and were feeling rather jealous.
Reusable and Paper Grocery Bags.  I have 18 paper grocery bags folded neatly and stacked beneath the respectable collection of reusable grocery bags.  Obviously, if I'd remember the latter the numbers of the former would cease multiplying. I can't really untangle that last sentence, and I am doing well to remember my list when I procure groceries, so we need not fear a shortage of paper sacks in the near future.
I'm really glad I spent the time organizing the grocery bags, as everything else should be undone in about 14 hours, just after I have finished lining up eleven years' worth of story books by height, publisher, author and subject matter.  The books should last until my school children get home and find the beautifully shelved books irresistibly readable.

Should I spend time on tasks so easily reversed? Should I be bothered by the impermanence of my works? Somehow I feel good. Accomplishments, even if they are only celebrated by a party of one and demolished by a party of five, are mildly addictive. A checked off list, even one scrawled on the food-stained backside of old homework, is a reward in itself. My world is small, but growing larger each day. Someday the baby dolls will be organized for good and lonely. I myself may have to play with them and taste the plastic food alone.  [I wonder if the bridesmaid dresses will still fit?]

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Matter of Ancestory

Today became other than I planned; my to-do list is largely unchecked, but I watched loads of British Period Drama and held my three-month-old niece for hours. I would say these were changes for the better.
Babies & BBC > Housework. Everyday.

Today also included a few minutes of definite hausfrau-ness. I'm all for feeling my UK heritage every chance I get, especially when those chances involve shortbread. But when you're out striding through fallen leaves in a pair of rubber boots, breathing deep lung-fulls of crisp air, headed to the late-producing vegetable patch to harvest some carrots and greens... well, that isn't a time for dainty dreams of English tea parties. That, my dear friends, is when you pretend your name is Marta Frieda Berta and you hike up your imaginary skirts with your work-worn hands and attack vork vit many vigors.

It's great to be German on a fall morning.
Just ask these Ruffer girls.

You have never seen a prim little Anglo-Saxon girl tackle a spread of leaves with the enthusiasm mustered by these daughters of the Deutschland.  
I know it looks like the girl in the polka-dots was about to assail her cousin and sister with that rake, but please accept my assurances that I would never have merely taken pictures while that happened. I know the powerful swing of which this Germanic kinder is capable.  She looks like she was turning her plowshare rake into a sword club, but I do not think that was the case...


Of course, I'm not too sure, as immediately after snapping these photos I was reminded by the infant cradled in my [non-camera] arm that we had an appointment with some rather stuffy characters in long skirts and veiled hats. And there was also some shortbread hidden in the cupboard...
One can only handle so much hausfrau in one's life. Eventually, one must stop play-acting.  One must listen to the British accented voice in one's head. In the end, one does have roots beyond the sort in the vegetable patch, and afternoons (of any season) are made better by ancestors of the British Isles.


Let us not lose sight of who was on the winning and losing sides of both World Wars.