Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Do you know what ruffing is?  Neither did I until a couple of days ago.  The first time I heard someone refer to "ruffing" I thought it might be a new term for rough-housing, that is, the action of children (or even sometimes adult) wrestling and playing rough in the house.  It seemed very odd to me, though, to think that a man who is very ill with stage 4 cancer would be at his home rough-housing with his family.  At least, that was the first context in which I heard the term "ruffing."

I've lived in Indiana for a year and a half now and the language variations between here and my eastern Pennsylvania hometown are becoming less noticeable.  I don't think twice when someone offers my son a "sucker," nor am I as shocked when someone says the "floor needs swept."  The term "ruffing," however, took me by surprise.

After many moments of puzzlement, I finally realized that "ruffing" was the term used to describe fixing the roof of a know, "ROOFing....."  Ruff, roof, what's the big difference, right?  Clearly, it was just too much for my close-minded brain to recognize.  In my mind, it still sounds like people are mimicking a dog's bark, or talking about a wrestling match.  People working on top of a house definitely isn't the first thing I think.

It's easy when we travel to a foreign country to accept any language differences.  But moving just a couple of states over is another thing entirely.  It's like we're in the Matrix and there's a glitch in the system that catches us off guard.  We're walking around, thinking everything is normal and then suddenly someone pulls out the term "ruffing" and our minds are spinning....  is this real?  Are we in the Matrix?  This just isn't normal.  Like the repeat black cat.

Okay, alright, it's not that bad.  But it definitely does catch me off guard.  Obviously I still have much to learn about about Hoosiers.  I wonder how long it will take me to fully understand the local dialect...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Message Transmission

Just the other day I was walking down my street with the kids, and we were about ten feet away from a four-way intersection.  A red car, presumably driven by one of the local college students, was coming up to the intersection as well.  The driver, a young woman, put on her left turn signal, and slowed down just enough to make the turn without squealing the tires.

As a mother, my temper boiled.  My three year-old son was walking beside me and usually runs right up to the intersection, if not directly into it.  And while the stop signs are not there solely for my child's safety, they do help keep him out of harm's way when car and pedestrian approach the intersection at the same time.  This, of course, only works when the driver actually stops like the sign commands.

Thankfully, my son didn't run towards the intersection that time, and we were all kept scotch-free.  As she was speeding away, I mentioned to my son that some people obviously couldn't read English, and that some people simply don't understand how to stop their cars.  (To which he replied, "Do I know English?")

It just so happened that the full-speed driver was headed to the same place we were.  We were off to the college mail room to send a package, and just as we got there, she was on her way out the door.

It's times like these that I think of a parent's ability to send and receive messages through our children....  I was very tempted to say to my son, "yes, some people don't know how to stop at stop signs."  This message would then get relayed to the non-law-abiding driver as we walked passed her on our way inside the mail room.  At his age, my son does not simply listen to what I tell him, but he often repeats it.  And, he is also apt to stare at people walking by us.  So, based on the knowledge that I have of my son's habits, I was sure that with a well-timed comment to him about bad driver's, he could transfer the message directly to the person who recently almost ran us over.

And I was sure she'd get the point.

But, instead I just mumbled my frustrated thoughts as my son repeated over and over, "What? What did you say mom??"  Finally I told him what I had said, and, as expected, he loudly repeated my comment.  Crazy driver was out of ear-shot by that point.  I did still gain some sense of satisfaction at the thought of her going red at my son's comments about her bad driving....even if it was only in my imagination.

Maybe if we're lucky, she felt some sense of guilt at just seeing us there at the mailroom--perhaps a reminder that we were still alive, no thanks to her...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

O Christmas tree....your leaves are so unchanging...

Imagine you buy a live, pre-cut Christmas tree from a tree farm near your house.  You put the tree up for a couple of weeks.  You are in a hurry to get it out of the house, and instead of taking the tree out of its base, you quickly put the entire decoration on your outside deck to save time.  The tree sits, in its stand, in the elements, unwatered by you.  How long will the tree last?

According to one website I found, a well-maintained live tree could last up to five weeks (  I wonder whether one would consider a tree, already cut, out in the natural elements, "well-maintained?"

I would like you to take a look at two pictures.  While you are looking at these pictures, I'd like you to ponder this question:  Do these branches belong to a tree that is dead or alive?

Indeed, these look like live branches, do they not?  Perplexing.  

This tree was purchased in early December, already cut, to use as our Christmas tree.  We placed it in a stand and it sat decorating our family room for about three weeks until some family arrived.  We needed the space where the tree was, so I quickly took the decorations down.  The tree had been sitting in front of the patio doors to the deck.  My brother-in-law opened the door and swung the whole thing just outside.  As it snowed throughout the winter, it was lovely to see the branches covered in white.

Now, our Midwest weather is starting to warm.  Spring has just arrived.  And our Christmas tree sits, still in its stand on our deck, more alive and green than it ever was at Christmastime.  Strange?  I think so.

I wonder if it will continue to thrive without our help.  It certainly seems to be a resilient tree.  My husband plans to use it for next Christmas.  I'm not sure I truly believe it will last that long.  For now, though, it will continue to sit on our porch.  I wonder what the passersby think of our deck decoration.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Riddler

My husband loves riddles.  For Valentine's Day, he couldn't just give me my card, he had to give me a riddle instead.  The answer to the riddle would lead to the card.  I remember the first birthday I celebrated after we were married: he left clues, from one to the next, all around the house that I had to follow in order to finally discover my gift.  Sometimes these riddles are fun; sometimes they are extremely frustrating.

My husband's family was visiting this past weekend and much of their time was spent puzzling over his riddles.  His younger brothers love to stretch their minds, and my husband was happy to give them the opportunity to do just that.  Hour after hour was spent challenging, stretching, and frustrating their minds.

The last night they were here, the two brothers were still trying to figure out one last puzzle.  They had been trying for nearly half the day.  They decided to give it one last attempt before going to bed and heading back home in the morning.  Try as they might, they still couldn't get it.  The youngest brother pleaded with me to tell him the answer.  One of the rules of the game, though, is that no one who knows the answer is allowed to share that information.  I, in my empathy towards my brother-in-law, felt no reason why I couldn't give him clues--albeit, clues that closely resembled the actual answer.  My husband was furious; my actions were against the rules.  I was not so bothered.  Why couldn't his brother know?  He would be plagued for the night, if not subsequent days, without the answer.  What could it hurt to tell him?  At least he could get a good night sleep.

Perhaps it's best that my brother-in-law couldn't seem to grasp my well-informing hints.  He never got the answer.  This was an easy resolution to the debate over whether it was appropriate to give away the solution.  I had never realized how much more of a law-abider my husband is than I.  Now I am revealed for the rule-breaker that I am.  And I am not ashamed.

So, on that note, here are some of the riddles that my husband used to disarm his brothers on their visit.  And, like I said, I am not held by any law of riddle-ology.  If you want the answers, feel free to ask.  I willingly give that information to any who request it.

Riddle 1:
Petals Around the Rose

Riddle 2:
(taken from this site: physics forum)
30 Prisoners are on death-row. The prison warder doesn't view their crimes with much seriousness,and decides to give them a chance to escape.  He offers the following:
Tomorrow all of you (the prisoners) will be blindfolded, and either a black or a white hat will be placed on your heads. You will then be placed in a row, all facing the same direction, all in a straight line (so all but one is facing someone elses back). Then your blindfolds will be removed. You cannot see your own hat, or those on the people behind you. But you can see all the hats of the people in front of you.
The offer is escape from execution, if you can guess what color hat you are wearing. You have the opportunity to say one word: "black" or "white."  Nothing else.  If you guess correctly, they you be freed. Otherwise, death.
What strategy can be used to maximize the number of prisoners freed, assuming they get a chance to discuss a plan that same night (ie:prior to being lined up)?  What is this strategy, and how many prisoners will be guaranteed their freedom? 

Riddle 3:
(taken from a fantastic comic for silly smart people: xkcd)
A group of people with assorted eye colors live on an island. They are all perfect logicians -- if a conclusion can be logically deduced, they will do it instantly. No one knows the color of their eyes. Every night at midnight, a ferry stops at the island. Any islanders who have figured out the color of their own eyes then leave the island, and the rest stay. Everyone can see everyone else at all times and keeps a count of the number of people they see with each eye color (excluding themselves), but they cannot otherwise communicate. Everyone on the island knows all the rules in this paragraph.

On this island there are 100 blue-eyed people, 100 brown-eyed people, and the Guru (she happens to have green eyes). So any given blue-eyed person can see 100 people with brown eyes and 99 people with blue eyes (and one with green), but that does not tell him his own eye color; as far as he knows the totals could be 101 brown and 99 blue. Or 100 brown, 99 blue, and he could have red eyes.

The Guru is allowed to speak once (let's say at noon), on one day in all their endless years on the island. Standing before the islanders, she says the following:

"I can see someone who has blue eyes."

Who leaves the island, and on what night?

[There are no mirrors or reflecting surfaces, nothing dumb. It is not a trick question, and the answer is logical. It doesn't depend on tricky wording or anyone lying or guessing, and it doesn't involve people doing something silly like creating a sign language or doing genetics. The Guru is not making eye contact with anyone in particular; she's simply saying "I count at least one blue-eyed person on this island who isn't me."

And lastly, the answer is not "no one leaves."]

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nothing but the Whole Story

Have you ever had someone say something to you that you had never heard before?  Particularly about yourself?  I distinctly remember one such conversation in my own life.  The insight came from a coworker at the time, Nate, and I have never forgotten it.

I had just moved to Cambridge, MA after getting married and had started working at Ten Thousand Villages in Central Square.  It was a dark night with no customers, and Nate and I were spending our last hour chatting together.  I had mentioned to him that I made homemade pizza the night before.  He asked if I had put oil on the edges of the crust.

Stop here:  Simple enough question, right??  The answers are either 1) yes or 2) no.  Simple.  Concise.

Instead of giving him a yes or no answer, though, I started telling him about my whole pizza-making experience, starting from, of course, the beginning.  He stopped me mid-sentence and said something like, "Why do you always do that?!  Why don't you just answer my question instead of giving me the entire story start to finish??"

Hold on.  Woah.  What's going on?  It was like getting a cartoon anvil dropped on my head.  Are you saying I can't answer a simple question; I only ever tell stories?

I took a mental step back. Wow.  He was absolutely right.  It had never before occurred to me that I was a failure at simple conversation.

As the years have gone on and I've continued to recognize this about myself, I've started to think it's something of a disease.  I often wonder what kind of treatment there is for CST..... Compulsive Story-Telling....  I've tried to train myself to recognize the symptoms, and yet, so often the beast cannot be tamed. Even mid-story I'll recognize what's going on and start an inward battle--  Stop, stop, STOP!  This person didn't ask for a story!  They didn't ask for an account of all your waking hours yesterday!  Look, even now they are becoming disinterested!  Quick!  Fall back!  Regroup!  Get yourself together!!  But then there's my loquaciousness giving its best fight--No!  I will not stop!  I will just go on and on until my story is done!  It can't be done any other way!  I will not give up!

And when the conversation is over, I see a vision of Nate in my mind, standing behind the register counter, pointing out my social inabilities.  Perhaps it would be better for me if I made a career of story-telling.  Since I can't shake this habit, maybe it's the only suitable response.  I can't help but think, though, that my family and friends would much prefer another option.  One where my CST can be put in check so that interactions with me aren't quite so grueling.  If only I could have a CST dial....  turn it down for daily interactions....then turn it up when someone's in need of a great story.  My own personal Personality Dial.

Coming Soon to stores near you.....  "The Personality Dial" for all those times you need to do a little adjusting.....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nature Vs. Nurture: Female Stress Eating

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband has been stuck at home recently while he recovers from his appendectomy.  This had provided he and I with ample time to discuss the particulars of life.  One of our most recent topics of discussion, and subsequently our most recent topic of disagreement, has been on the matter of female stress eating.

Much to my worry, my eleven month old daughter began tripling her food consumption last week amidst the family drama.  She had started eating more in the weeks prior, but last week in particular, her eating skyrocketed.  She rarely slept and wanted to eat every hour or so.  It seemed she was consuming more than would be possible for a child her size.

My husband was not worried, nor was he surprised.  Of course she's gorging, he says.  She is anxious.  And when females are anxious, they eat.

No, no, no, I said.  She's 11 months old.  Stress eating doesn't start that young.  It's a cultural thing, not a biological one.

This can't be true, he replies, or else what you've told me in the past isn't true.  You've told me before that you can't help but stress eat because you're a female.

At first I thought he was just playing me so that I would finally admit that I was making excuses for my frequent gorging when I'm stressed.  Alright, I thought to myself, you win.  But truly, he was being serious.  He has decided that it is a perfectly female thing to do and that it is most certainly a biological trait.  No matter how much I love the idea that I would have a solid excuse to eat ice cream on a bad day, it just doesn't seem like my genetic code is also encouraging me to do so.

These are the times when my interest in anthropology kicks in and I'm wondering if this is as typical an event in other areas of the world as it is here in America.  And, please do note that I'm not saying every woman has this response to stress.  And certainly my husband isn't either.  But at this point, it does bring up some intriguing questions....  Is this as common in other countries as it is in America?  If so, is it because there is a biological element to it that to a degree cannot be avoided?  And if so, does this speak to present "dieting" fads and practices....??

Well, there's your question for the day.  Interesting to think about, no?  What do you think?