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.
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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.