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.
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.


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


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.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A PinterPessimist

I fear that I may have a bit of a divided self.
But it's not entirely my fault.  It all started with Pinterest and it's pervasive culture of glossy DIY perfection.

After stating yesterday that I was thinking about the upcoming Holidays, I ventured over to my long abandoned Pinterest account and started searching out ideas for "handmade Christmas c..." I didn't even need to fill in the rest of the word before Pinterest knew what I wanted. It filled my brain with visions of mason jars and cranberries and their endless possibilities. I saw crafts and cookies of impossible adorableness. I "pinned" with wild abandon, knowing full well that I will make few or none of these suggested delicacies.  I am convinced that these pictures are brought to the world wide webs by Professional Martha Stewart Mothers seeking to bolster their own papier mâché self esteem.  "Look what I can do, with only 5 minutes of "me" time and 5 nickels' worth of supplies!" They don't tell you that it took 20 times practicing for that one perfect result. You don't expect failure, but that's what you get. Be warned, parents and teachers everywhere. The shiny, hazy or brilliantly white background-ed  pictures are not the stuff of everyday goodness. They are the stuff of failed dreams and hot glue burns.

I know this failure.  This failure and I are long-acquainted. We have coffee together maybe a little too much.
And even though I felt that I was treading softly, oh-so-carefully picking my way through the mine field of over-ambitious ideas and ideals, I still was sucked in. My (perceived) ability was amplified.
Later that morning, I went to the local resale shop, because every single pinner knows that the new basic craft supplies are actually someone else's old junk. 

First I hit up the house ware (how is that not all one word?) section of our little town's little thrifty store, Care & Share.  I found old lady fabric, old lady buttons, an old gallon-sized glass jar (not quite mason, but we'll pretend), an old little old pitcher, and - my favorite - old crocheted Christmas ornaments that are way cooler than they sound.  
I felt pretty nifty and hipster-like to have obtained all that project-ready vintage stuff, so I decided to check out the clothing section.  Have you seen the things people make out of felted sweaters? With this idea in mind, I browsed the round rack of sweaters.  And then somehow, I found myself trying on pants. As in, I was putting my body in trousers that once belonged to someone else.  My Pinterest-Optimistic self found herself arguing with the Realistic Pessimist in my head.
Pinterest-Optimist: "Hey, these fit pretty nice, and I don't see anything wrong with them." 
Realistic Pessimist: "Well then, why someone would be throwing them out? Are they possibly out of style? Am I so out of style that I don't know what is "in" anymore?"  
Pinterest-Optimist:  "Surely not.  Maybe whoever owned these simply didn't fit into them anymore. Maybe they'd gained so much weight that they couldn't fasten the buttons any longer." 
Realistic Pessimist: "Or maybe they'd lost so much weight that the garment just fell right off of them.  Does that make me the fatty?"
Pinterest-Optimist: "Why does food look so good?
Realistic Pessimist: "Darn Pinterest."
Pinterest-Optimist: "Let's just accept that I have a maturing body."
Realistic Pessimist: "Sure. But could I ever wear those pants in public? Their former owner will probably recognize them. This is a pretty small town." 
Pinterest-Optimist: "Shut up. They're three dollars." 
Realistic Pessimist: "You know you're going to end up wearing those sweaters too. They'll never be re-purposed into cute little animals."
Pinterest-Optimist: "This is hysterical. You should write a blog post about my second-hand finds."
Realistic Pessimist: "Good thing you have such low blog readership, otherwise all our friends will be checking out my every outfit to see if you've been buying up their old junk."
Pinterest-Optimist: "Shut up. This is what hipsters do."
Realistic Pessimist: "Wear clothes from someone else's closet? No. That's what little sisters do."

At this point the optimist and pessimist merged back into the mother whose two year old had escaped under the dressing room door and the pointless bantering within came to an abrupt end as we I went to find her. 

Did I buy the trousers? The PinterPessimist has decided not to answer that. And she's made her current board, Christmas Ideas 2013, a "secret board." She will most definitely find a spot on her undersized tiny live Christmas tree for the crocheted ornaments that are still way cooler than they sound.  And if she finds herself putting any other second-hand purchases to Pinterest-inspired purposes, she will try to let her readership (hi, mom and dad!) know every detail of the project, fumbles and all. 
But, let's be realistic: I'm really lousy at keeping up with my good in[ternet]tentions, be they blogging or crafting.  
And I'm really OK with that.
I think.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Happy November! In an effort to write more consistently, I sit before my giant computer screen. It's early, earlier than it feels thanks to our Daylight Savings Time system.
I love early, in the same way that most of us are attracted to the antithesis of ourselves.
[Wow. I just worked the word "antithesis" into my day and the sun isn't even up! It is going to be a stellar day already, I know it!]
So my thinker is full of ideas and ideals about the upcoming Holiday Season.
Don't worry, I'm not skipping Thanksgiving. I couldn't do that; it's my favorite. I love the gathering together over food without gift stress.
But Thanksgiving is followed quickly by gift stress.
And baking stress.
And decorating stress.
And party stress.
But still stress.
And so I'm trying to spread it out a little by thinking about it early.
Well, early for me.
It feels Holiday Seasonally earlier in than it is.
Which is the antithesis of how today feels.
Which is why I like it.

My thinker may be malfunctioning.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gone and Back

I hate strongly dislike feeling obligated to provide excuses, so I am not going to give one for my long blog absence.

Glad we got that out of the way.

It wasn't really a pleasant start to our conversation here, was it?

I will try again.

Hi. My name is Honour and...
In a world of over-abundant housework....
Fresh off a plane from the 12 hours in the future, I have decided to tackle my declining blog.

This is much harder than I thought it would be.  Rather like swimming in less-than-warm water, it is probably best to just plunge in without preamble. So pretend this ambling didn't occur.

I was gone.
I very recently returned from two weeks spent volunteering in a foster home for special needs children. Before we left, members of our team were asked to list our "skills" that might be of greatest use in serving these children.  Guess what I discovered about myself? I have few no exceptional skills. I am not the doctor, teacher, nurse or physical therapist that these children need. I'm just a mom, but not theirs.
What could I do in two weeks' time?
I played with blocks, read books, hugged, rocked, sang, danced, made silly faces, wiped hands and noses, cajoled, giggled... and I prayed silent prayers over each child that plopped themselves in my lap and wound themselves tightly around my heart. Prayers for long life, for health, for broken hearts to be restored, for homes and families to find these waiting treasures.  For two weeks I loved these little ones, these remarkable ones, these precious children.
At times it seems this world wants "special needs" people to be tucked away and kept out of sight.  But they are not out of God's sight. He rejoices over them, I know it.  He keeps them "tucked away" - not out of his sight - but close to his heart, protected and treasured.

Now I'm back.
Plunged right back into the not-exceptional-but-oh-so-privileged role of motherhood. I really like it: hugging, reading books, singing, silly faces, shuttling to and from school, fixing breakfast, washing up, hunting down the socks wadded up under furniture... even scrubbing out showers.  While I was away, my husband discovered that my "job" was easier than I made it look. Maybe it was all the spreadsheets I left around the house, detailing who was caring for what and when.  Maybe it was the freezer full of casseroles I prepared ahead of time.  Or maybe my job is simple, just like my skill set.  I see that we are perfectly matched, this life and I.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Dozen Years

Twelve years ago I was an entry-level receptionist, glad to not be a bank teller any more.  I smiled greetings at faces and cheerily answered the phone.  In our "starter" home, Corey and I had just marked our first anniversary.  Although we hadn't figured it yet, our oldest child was due to make an appearance in eight long months.  Life was sunny, easy and filled-to-bursting with promise.

Midway through an bright September morning, planes began to rip through buildings some 600 miles away, and we felt the rattles in our little Midwestern office.  I spent my lunch hour standing in our living room [I can't recall if we actually owned furniture at that point; surely we did, because our house seemed always filled with people] staring at the television. "This is the beginning of an end," I thought as that horrific video footage was endlessly repeated. "Life will never be the same."
That evening, I didn't want to leave the house, but my husband had band practice [he would like me to point out that it was a rock band, not a marching band] planned in a town 45 minutes distant and I wasn't going to stay home alone. I recall driving past gas stations with lines of cars waiting to pay $4 per gallon for fuel.  The day before it had cost around $1.60 per gallon.  What did they know that I didn't? Should we fill up now? Would there be stations open later? 
We were scared. 
We believed everything and nothing. 
We were young. 
We were all so very young.

It has been twelve years; an even dozen chunks of a dozen months of a thousand changes.
Our clumsy cell phones have given way to smart devices - tiny computers faster than the one I used as a bubbly receptionist.  Mine sports a calendar filled with soccer schedules and field trip reminders instead of jam sessions and concert dates.  Our house is still always filled with people, but now we have couches and chairs. We need at least a minivan when no one wants to stay at home alone.

Gasoline is still nearly $4 a gallon, and no one seems appalled by that. I think maybe we should be appalled that we're still using fossil fuels. Shouldn't we have found something else to exploit from the earth another form of energy by now?
No one thinks anything of opening your purse for strangers to rummage through when you're trying to enter a stadium. 
No one expects to say goodbye at the boarding gate.
No one sends their loved ones away with a guarantee that they'll be home in one piece at the end of the day.
No one really knows how to bring about an end to the strife that shreds humanity.
I feel old.
This world feels old.
This world feels groaning old.

Really, life is the same as it always has been.
We humans have long excelled at injustice and hatred. A violent way of life is not a new way of life; we have always wrestled among ourselves in this world.  Scour the pages of history and tell me of one civilization that endured in lasting peace. There is no holy nation upon this earth.


Even in the face of injustice, there are some who do what is right.  For every violent news story I read, I can find gentle soul living in everyday kindness. There are still hearts filled with love, even in the face of hatred. I believe that in the darkest places on earth one can yet find hopeful glimmers of goodness.  Maybe the hatred is bigger than it was twelve years ago, maybe it screams louder.  Or, maybe we pay it more attention than we did before.
The world after September 11, 2001 is broken; but the world was broken long before that bright cloudless morning in Manhattan.
Now, as before, there is
hope, but it is not found in the regimes of the nations. This hope soars beyond boarders, and unites our hearts in a stronger bond than mere patriotism. 

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. [Hebrews 11:14b-16, ESV]

It is true that in the last dozen years I have become less patriotic, less trusting of the world's leaders.  I simply do not think that {collectively} people are good enough to solve the problems that {collectively} they create. But I have great aspirations for individuals.  One person at a time; that is how change is most effectively wrought.
I cannot transform the world, I can only be one seeking justice, loving mercy and walking in humility, shining as best I can on this dark and broken planet. Hoping. Trusting in Something better.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Girl and Her Cake

I was working on a post about "letting go" but it was boring.

I would much rather talk about cake. Specifically, the Birthday variety.  I have always been a great believer in Birthday cakes, and I believe that really influenced our decision to have so many children.  Just kidding. There was no decision or action taken on our part; the kids just happened. I promise, mom.
Anyway, having a houseful of children tends to ensure that there will always be plenty of birthday cake. Or at least, plenty of anticipation of birthday cake.
That's the problem: anticipation.
I get ideas about birthday cake that are way beyond my skill set, but just under my fluctuating levels of self-confidence.  To make things better, I often involve my children (you know, those Birthday people) in the cake idea session.  Pre-celebration, I don't seem to think anything is out of reach. Yes! I can make a princess-dragon-pirate-rocket birthday cake! Can't everyone?
Post-celebration, I remember why I hate Pinterest and internet moms everywhere.
Post-post-celebration, I just laugh at myself.
A couple of years ago, inspired by the movie Tangled my oldest daughter asked for a "Rapunzel's Tower" cake. Accepting the challenge, I Googled out this idea. Please, by all means, click on the link. What you'll see bears very little resemblance to what we had going on. Homemade frosting doesn't like late summer, I guess.

Yes, I spray-painted a kool-whip container for my base. No, it didn't prevent my tower from collapsing.
 The following year, with greatly lowered expectations, she asked for a simple "pretty cake."  Even that, apparently, is beyond my abilities.  What we had was more than edible, but a bit on the ugly side.

Either my homemade frosting recipe needs some improvement, or I need to make more of it. I feel if I made improvements, I would naturally want to make more of it and thus the spread on the cake wouldn't be so thin.

This year she just made her own cake.  It wouldn't come out of the pan in one piece, so that really simplified the frosting effort. I think we were both happier.  I mean, what eight-year-old doesn't want to make their own birthday cake and get chocolate batter all over the kitchen and repeatedly lick the frosting spatula and decorate with paper umbrellas?  We're talking paradise, people. Childhood paradise, that's what we have going on around here.

 We're not professionals; we're just having fun.  That doesn't require much anticipation or skill.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Good Summer Storm

A good summer storm
Without undue anger
Yet force enough to drive the rain
Should shake the branches
But not tear apart,
Not rip from the limbs their clothing
Scattering leaves as
If raping the trees.

OK. That got weird really fast.  I sat down to write an excuse for eating ice cream - without once bit of guilt on top - at ten o'clock in the evening. And then suddenly I'm sexualizing a storm.
That might not be a legitimate term; all the better since no one should sit down to write about ice cream and end up here.

Nice, easy storm. Thunder, yes. Lightning, plentiful. Wind? Perfect: musical without moaning.
Listening, enjoying, cooling off in the mellow little storm - yes, it was just strong enough to be called a storm - I was reminded of rainy nights on family vacation.

Chased from the dark beach by the wind and rain, we sat around the table and played Gin Rummy [house rules], Hearts or Stratego (before Risk was invented, this is what brothers and sisters played when they wanted to alienate themselves from one another).

Even if one of our number didn't actively participate in the game [ahem! Dad!] they didn't isolate themselves in a quieter corner, but read a book somewhere nearby. Since it was vacation, we rarely had a bedtime, but usually had ice cream or popcorn.

When this nice not-quite-a-grown-up storm chased me from my porch seat, I realized I needed ice cream. Really. The best way to experience a good thunder shower is with a bowl of vanilla ice cream, regardless of what time of day it is. Consider it a moment of vacation.

Just don't try to write any free-verse poetry about it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Buzzards Circling

I was driving between baseball practice schedules this morning, a bit caught up in some melancholic thoughts.  Really, I was trying to keep these thoughts from mastering me. A little self-pity usually leads to a lot of self-pity which either spins off into Angry Mom mode or Chocolate-laden Self Loathing.Who wants to scream, binge or loathe?
Not me.
Up ahead, I saw some buzzards circling in the field.
Lovely. Just what everyone needs to get out of a slump: reminders of death and decay.
But these birds weren't just circling; they seemed to be effortlessly floating higher and higher. It really looked like they had caught an updraft and were being pulled to elevations beyond their own strength.
Grasping for inspiration, I tried to think "soaring above" thoughts.
"This stumbling block can become a stepping stone."
"Things always look better tomorrow."
"I will not feel sorry for myself." 
"My mother loves me." [Hey, sometimes that's the best I can muster.]

But you know what?
It didn't work.  I couldn't get past the fact that they were buzzards.
'Buzzards' is a pretty funny word whether you say it, spell it, or just think it.
I have to say, Disney has helped shape this image for me.

Thank you, Walt. Thank you so very much.
I may not have felt a great Inspirational Moment, but I did get a small chuckle. Sometimes that's all you need.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Strange Musings

I have always pictured the "narrow" road as a tiny, yet paved, street stretching arrow straight into the horizon.  But today I wondered if it could be more like a hiking trail through the woods. Because that would not only be more difficult to follow, but it would be much more lovely with all the trees.  If I can put a request in for my own personal Biblical analogy, I would like the forest version of the narrow path.

An additional benefit would be avoiding sunburn.
Although there would probably be a lot more mosquitoes, but I'm sure they would have a Spiritual comparison.

I think I will stop now and take the narrow path to the kitchen and breakfast.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Even On the Way to Church

This was a typical Sunday morning around here: anything but peaceful and contemplative as we scurried around readying ourselves for church.  Untangling hair, "discussing" clothing options, and repeating - at least 3 times - where the kids can find the yogurt are not activities that lend themselves to restfulness.  I am not the first parent to recognize that hypocrisy paves our way to worship service after an hour of yelling.
But - oh thank you! - grace follows along too.
Grace = favor that I do not deserve, blessings that I cannot earn.
It was grace, I believe, that snapped me out of my on-the-way-to-church-distraction and opened my ears to the song coming from the seat directly behind me.
Happy girl with crazy, breezy hair
Like many a four-year-old, this little girl of mine sings a lot made-up songs. This morning's musical creation was mostly made up of common phrases from "church" choruses:
I shout to God. 
He is so great. 
I love you, God. 
He knows what I'm feeling.
It wasn't particularly melodious and it didn't rhyme. However, it was the most beautiful sound of the morning:  a hymn of spontaneous worship from a child who can't make it through a Sunday service in just one seat.
Did you notice? He knows what I'm feeling. 
I have no idea what was going through her little head that would prompt those words.  But I needed them.  He knows...
Our Sunday morning frazzle-rock doesn't surprise the great God.  I think He can handle this tattered mom and her rambunctious offspring that fidget and whisper through prayers.  His grace means that He still likes us, even when our company manners collapse and we behave like those people you shake your head at in the grocery store.
He knows...
When I feel tired, or fabulous, or overwhelmed, or in control, or just plain lazy, or like a failure  These feelings do not take Him off guard. My varied and shifting emotions do not change His love for me.  He loves me because of who He is, not because of anything I've done. I cannot earn grace. It follows me in the giddiness of a "good" day and even on the way to church.

Aren't you proud of this trick I taught my songbird?  Who needs plastic surgery when scotch tape is available?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Lovely Interruption of Spring

We had a beautiful spring here in Northwest Ohio. It was last week, in case you missed it.

We had some lovely moments together, Spring and I.

Those moments were usually interrupted by children, or laundry or a dog that has discovered the newly plowed field behind our house.

You shake your head. You roll your eyes a little. What is Honour's problem?  Doesn't she know that the loveliest moments of life are found in those interrupting children? In serving her family? In yelling her dog back into her own yard?

Well, yes, Honour knows all that.
Honour even tries to embrace those lovely interruptions.
Don't go packing Honour's case for a guilt trip she doesn't need.

Some botanical specimen outside Honour's dining room window, May 2, 2013
Spring ends quickly. On the calendar, Spring lasts from March 21 until June 21.  But most of that isn't spring.  The first six weeks of that time is merely Winter winding down.  It is muddy,windy, rainy (but only if we don't need precipitation; brown and bare if we do).  Balmy one day, freezing the next.  Too cold for a jacket, too warm for a coat.  Those first six weeks of calendar "Spring" are like the last 30 minutes before a toddler's nap: nothing pleases her; she needs a drink, she needs a snack; she feels hot, she wants a blanket; she's tired but wired; whiny and whimsical in turns, but since she doesn't like taking turns, she's mostly whiny.
Nap time eventually comes, and so does Spring.
For a WHOLE beautiful week - two if you're really special - everything is blossoms and buds.

Exact same specimen, outside the exact same window, May 5.
What do you like better - promising buds or full-blown blossoms?  The anticipation is exhilarating, but the realization of their potential is quite heady too.  It's rather like a theater production, don't you think?

 In all honesty, of the four springs we've lived here, I have never seen this tree quite so luxuriant in blooms.  As you can see by the arrangement of the patio furniture, we just sat around and stared at the pinkness.

Just kidding. Maybe someone sat around the fire-pit in the pre-Spring coolness.  Maybe the dog had a party while we slept. Maybe the tree did a little Shakespeare for the varmints.  Maybe...

It is precisely because she knows the season is fleeting that Honour didn't mind ignoring her children, laundry and dog for a few minutes to just stare at the pretty flowers. Yes, she was contemplating the ephemeral season, but it also took a few minutes for the caffeine to fully awaken her brain to the commotions around her.  [And if you're going to ask how laundry creates a commotion, you're obviously lacking in imagination.] She doesn't mind much of anything in those first few sluggish moments of the morning.

Spring has had her week of loveliness.  The tulips are wrinkled old ladies, well past their prime and missing most of their petals, although none of us have the heart to tell them that.  The daffodils seemed aware of their own decline and, shriveling upon themselves, quietly faded, without the fight of their sisters.  The ornamental and fruit trees exhausted themselves in performance and scattered their own flowers at their feet.  Maybe someone clapped, but none of us heard.
Now it is Summer. 
We our wait for thunder storms and the calender to catch up.