The Family Language



What are some of the words your children used, either made-up or mispronounced, that have made it into your family language? I know a lot of families who eat Ba-skeddi and meatballs pretty often. We have a couple in our house: noo-doos, because my youngest son loved noodles. And there's okie-meals, because my older son liked oatmeal. The years go by and the children aren't children anymore, but once in a while my son will still ask for parmesan noodoos with dinner.

If your family speaks English as a second language, you probably get a lot of first-language words sprinkling your English conversations. I noticed as my Holland Grandma aged, more and more Dutch crept into her speech. And she never did use the English pronoun, "I". She always referred to herself as "ik". There was something very charming about it. My Mom has a problem with migraine heddecks. She gets them often, and takes what she calls a "silly pill" for her heddecks. Silly pills render her unavailable for conversation for a few hours at least.

Then you get the family members who mispronounce words well into adulthood. My hubby's Grandpa once visited Hawallayah. You know? The place with the white sands and palm trees and flower leis? Hawallayah. A beloved aunt is very good at this business of making up words that are similar to real words. Flustrated, orienated, and Meeyanite are all her words. There are quite a few Meeyanites in the community where they have a summer house. Meeyanites have some things in common with the Amish, but are a bit less strict, I think?

We also have a dear family member who does not believe in silent letters. Sword is pronounced using all five letters. Some people leave letters out of one word, only to save it and add it to another word. Like those folks back east, who pahk the cah in the garage because it's a good idea-r.

I read somewhere recently that the sounds we use to pause, ah, um, er....are cultural. Other languages have different audible pauses. I never thought of that! How interesting. I thought "um" was universal. Then there is the nonsense word that means "nothing". I might say, thingamabob or whatchamacallit. My Mom's word for that is .... hold on to yourself.... "dingus". Yes. Dingus.

Since I am the youngest child, my distracted mother has actually introduced me to people as "Dingus". Larry McMurtry used that same word in a very different way in his book "Lonesome Dove." A stampede started just as one of the cowboys had stepped off his horse to pee. He didn't even have time to button up before he had to be back in the saddle. The trail crew was teasing him for having to ride with his dingus flopping. And this is the word my Mother uses, to this day, to mean a fleegiemawhatzus. Or whatsername, the youngest of her brood, whose name escapes her.

Words are such interesting things. I well remember an English class I had in high school. This is a true story. The teacher was lecturing about word connotation, and how the same words used by a different person or at a different time can impart a very different meaning. At that moment, our school principal Mr. B walked in the door and said in his powerful voice, "What are you talking about in here? Makin' it in the bathtub?"

No surprise that the class exploded in laughter. So the principal dropped off the book he was bringing to our teacher, and left, wondering what was so dang funny. The teacher, also laughing, told us how that was a perfect example of connotation. "Making it in the bathtub" in Mr. B's generation referred to making bootleg gin in the bathtub. It had nothing to do with the "making it" anywhere(!) that we had in mind. He also said that the phrase "making it in the bathtub" had become a catchall in that generation for doing anything you ought not. I suppose that part worked for both interpretations of the phrase?

In later years, I was neighbors and friends with a kind woman who had lost her hearing when she was two years old. I knew a little American Sign Language, and was taking a class at the college to learn more. We would walk and talk and she helped me learn much faster than signing to myself in the mirror would have done. She was constantly amazed by American English idioms. Amazed enough that she bought a book about them.

I had never stopped to think about our idioms before, but thanks to her, I had my eyes opened. A couple times a week she would ask me what some phrase meant. I'll be there with bells on. Do that again and I'll give you what-for. Over a barrel, under wraps, a smile for an umbrella and a dog day afternoon. You can think of a bazillion, too. Most of her questions for me were about the idioms and slang words that they don't print in those books. Some of them, I had to go home and ask my husband, and then try not to blush when I explained as best I could. Thank God I don't blush.

One interesting thing about learning sign language was about signing what you mean, and not the words exactly. Like the word "turn". You can turn around, turn up, turn over, turn over a new leaf, turn red and turn someone down, all before you turn in for the night. I didn't retain much of the language, but I did retain the habit of looking at my own words from that point of view.

It's a more interesting world because of the flavor of our words. The words we use tell others so very much about us. I have always contended, especially with my children, that the use of profanity decreases the perceived intelligence of the user by several points for each vulgar word used. I am not so foolish as to think that my young men don't cuss, but they know when to turn it off.

I like to hear someone speak when they use words which convey their thoughts clearly, colorfully, and creatively. I enjoy accents, all types, as long as they are not so thick that I can not understand the person. I was once a stickler for grammar and punctuation, but years pass and when I'm writing for pleasure, I get lazy about such things. Spelling still matters to me, though.

My children have good vocabularies. They use language well. They include a few foreign words in their speech, but mostly just names of foods. My son's letters home are wonderful. He tells a story very well. It's all because we have a national language with a rich heritage and family language with an equally rich heritage. Expressed in words....our words.

Grandma's Advice

My Grandma was the wisest person in the world. She lived through trials and tribulations that would leave most people broken, and came out of them smiling. She knew more about building joy in her life than most of us will ever learn. She knew about love, strength, tenacity, tenderness and tolerance. Some of her wisdom was passed on her little sayings, but most of it came by her example.

No one in our family would ever dream of getting married until we had Grandma's approval on the fiance. Not that she would pitch a fit--just the opposite, in fact. We all valued her insight and wisdom, though and every one of us made the trip to have our intendeds meet Grandma. I don't believe Grandma ever said much out loud, but her eyes and her smile told us. If Grandma liked you, you were alright.

One of her sayings was that marriage is like two stones rubbing together. Gradually, you wear eachother smooth. The little bumps that once caused friction would, in time, fade away. She also said that marriage is not a 50-50 deal. Her math worked this way: each spouse was to give 100%, and each received 100% in return. What constituted 100% would be more at some times and less at others. Each person's needs would wax and wane, too. She promised that if we each gave 100%, it would work out even in the end.

My Grandmother stayed very present in her life, through difficult times and calm seas alike. She was always learning, always interested and curious about the world around her. I believe that is one reason that she stayed sharp until the end. Even when she was confined to her chair or her bed, she somehow never became a couch potato. Her body didn't work very well, but her mind was as agile as could be.

I think that her ability to stay present in her life, living fully invested in every day, was a key to all good things. I am sure that is part of why her marriage was such a success. I think it is how she overcame the tragedies in her life, and how she stayed so amazingly "with it". She was never bitter and never dwelled on the past. She was more interested in the moment.

She was not what you might call a typical old granny. At 6 feet tall, she was no dainty lady. As a younger woman she had been strong, capable, a little stubborn with an amazingly undaunted will. She worked hard, loved deeply, laughed a lot and enjoyed everything.

Her ability to weather the storm, keep a positive attitude, and live according to her own lights is an inspiration to me every day. She's been gone for many years now. Whenever I feel like my patience is running low, or like my life is too complicated, I think of Grandma. I visit her in my thoughts and in my heart often. In some inexplicable way, she is still teaching me.

Envy vs. Admiration

Yesterday, a dear friend said that she wanted to be just like me when she grows up. I, on the other hand, find myself striving to be more like her in a lot of ways.

Her sweet compliment was prompted by a batch of bagels. I had never made bagels before and thought I would try my hand at it. They aren't as pretty as the ones in the bakery, but they aren't half bad. My friend seems to really like my cooking and admires it often. To me, it's no big deal.

This is the same friend I wrote about previously, the one who knows how to give. I admire her sweet demeanor--I tend to be a little too salty sometimes. Most of the time. She is patient and understanding where I get in a hurry and far too opinionated. Now how does a bagel compare to that?

It's interesting to me how we admire in others those traits they aren't even aware of. And how the things we take for granted in ourselves can be a wonder to our loved ones. I guess it isn't all that different from how all the curly-haired girls wish their hair were straight and all the straight-haired girls wish for curls.

I don't think that admiring special qualities in others means I don't like myself. When I go shopping with my husband I might point out a great dress or a cute pair of shoes. That doesn't mean I hate the clothes I have... And if he turns his head at a pretty woman, it doesn't mean he's ready to kick me to the curb. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about my friends is that they DO have qualities I admire and respect. Part of the reason I love my husband, aside from him being so dang lovable, is that he has some wonderful traits I appreciate in him.

My dear ones have some amazing assets and I wish I could absorb all those assets for myself. Intelligence, a sweet disposition, high energy, organization, beautiful long hair, patience, diplomacy, great penmanship, charm, artistic talent, a fine singing voice, great skin, social grace, perfect teeth, an aptitude for math.......it's a long list.

Maybe, just maybe, being close to such wonderful people will improve me by osmosis?

Napoleonic Dreams

We had a dozen or so laying hens in a coop. These were all standard-size laying hens…several Aracaunas, a few Plymouth Barred Rocks, one Buff Orpington and a couple of Rhode Island Reds. The chicken coop was situated in such a way as to allow our vigilant Australian Cattle Dog to patrol all the way around the chicken yard.

One morning, a rooster showed up. He was the smallest bantam rooster I’ve ever seen. I don’t think he was much more than a quarter of the size of the hens. We called him Napoleon. The poor little guy ran laps around the chicken yard, looking for a way in.

It reminded of an old movie I had seen, where the explorer peers into the valley and sees a tribe of Amazon women. Half the movie was about this explorer guy trying to get to the women. He was certain that a man would be very welcome.

Napoleon spent several days anxiously trying to get to the Amazon Chickens. Back and forth in front of the fence he ran, only to roost in a tree each night, alone and unloved.

And then one day, he was inside the fence. Oh, what a happy rooster was he. He focused his attention on the Buff Orpington. She stood out in that crowd. She was a blonde, don’t you know.
He was on top of her back, riding her around the yard. She was feeding and scratching as hens will do. Napoleon was on her back having a mighty fine time, tail wiggling, as roosters will do.

Except he was nowhere near where he needed to be to accomplish anything. He was just getting a piggy-back ride and taking care of himself at the same time. Buff couldn’t have cared less.

Being a normal rooster, he visited all the hens this way. If he ever …ah… succeeded, we never saw it. He just hopped on and did his thing without interrupting what the hen was doing at all.

I’m pretty sure there is a lesson of some profundity in this story. I can’t figure out what it is, though. I think it has something to do with not being equal to the task at hand? Rising to the level of one’s incompetence? Or just that if you’re going to dream, dream big? I don’t know.

Happily, one day several weeks later, a bantam hen showed up. She was still larger than our little Napoleon, but a much more manageable size. Their chicks were adorable. There’s a lesson in that somewhere, too.

Bits + Pieces = Happiness

My Grandmother's words (in the header of this blog) have been very much on my mind this week. I've been thinking about the ingredients in my own happiness; the variety is pretty profound.

Happiness, joy and contentment for me are very nearly like my cooking: different every time I make it. I don't cook with recipes often. Usually, I just cook from inspiration. Same deal on building my own happiness. I use what I have lying around and see what I get. So let's talk about today....what did I throw in the pot today to cook up a batch of happiness?

I received an email from our soldier boy yesterday. He's well, and so far he's safe. That makes up a lot of this particular batch of happiness. Our younger son is in California with a friend and his family. He's having a ball, I'm sure. I like to see my kids enjoying themselves, so that adds something to the pot, too. Plus my honey is home safe and sound from an adventure trip up north.

I really like my job. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal, but if you ever had a job you detested, you would understand. I've had jobs that made me want to call in sick every day. I never could do that, but it was tempting. I am grateful for a challenging job with terrific colleagues and an awesome boss. I am fortunate to have a job that is never monotonous. And the pay ain't half bad, either.

Every morning, I get out of bed without any assistance. I don't need help to take care of myself, my family or my home. I feel terrific. I'm not underweight anymore, neither am I overweight. I can eat pretty much anything I want without worry. That's a biggie. My vision isn't remarkably good, but it isn't remarkably bad, either. I have a comfortable home, a fun car, a healthy family, a reasonably good dog, a pantry full of food (and a freezer full, too). We aren't wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we aren't poor, either.

God gave me the gift of ability. No, I'm not one of those disgusting people who is good at everything I try. But I can learn, and I enjoy learning, so whatever I need to accomplish in life, I can usually find a way. It may take me many attempts, but I get there.

I can read. Thank God, and thanks to my big sister for teaching me. I often wonder how people with literacy problems get through this complicated life. How do they go anyplace new, order off a menu, buy anything, deal with the government or help their children with their homework? How do they get a better job, know they're being paid fairly, or enjoy a trashy magazine? And since I only read and speak English, I'll thank all the men and women who kept that safe for me and you: the American military.

My beloved Grandmothers lived long enough that I got to know them well, and they had the time to have an impact on my life. My Dad lived long enough to get close enough to my oldest son, at least, and have an impact on his life.

I found the warm fuzzy blanket of exactly the right weight to put on my bed. It's the best sleeping weather we get all year, and a heavy, cozy blanket makes that perfect.

Not only do my husband and I love each other, we like each other, too. It's amazing how important that is, and how much more fun life is because of it.

Autumn Mornings

Early this morning my dog let me know that we had company. She's an outside dog, and she wasn't barking, but she is very vocal even without barking. And she was obviously agitated. So I dragged my bottom out of bed and went to look.

A herd of javelina were milling around under the pinon pine tree in the front yard. If you've ever seen javelina just being javelina, you know how amusing they are. They have very poor vision, I am told, but a keen sense of smell. And they have 'don't give a damn' attitude. They didn't care one little bit that I was standing there in my fuzzy robe watching them. They didn't care that my dog was in the back yard having quiet fits.

People have started using their wood stoves and fireplaces again in the mornings, so there's a smell of wood smoke in the air. The sun was not up yet, but the sky was a pretty pink.

I love the cool of autumn. Even though it's such an effort to make myself get out of bed, I love being awake early. The bull elk are done bugling around here, but you can still hear the cow elk calling to each other. Watching the sky pink up while I sip coffee is a treat.

Since I was up early, and since my work buddies are all coming over for dinner tonight, I made a buttermilk pie. The smell in my kitchen this early morning was pure heaven: coffee brewing, pie baking, and the bit of cool smoky air that came in as I stood with the door open watching the javelina.

Of course, then my usual day started. Shower and dress....try to pry a sleepy-headed teenager out of bed. Hurry out the door, feeling like I'm running late even when I'm on time. But for a little while this morning, I had the time to really enjoy an autumn morning.

My Mom's Belgian Endive


Do you know what Belgian endive is? Most of the time when I see them in a recipe, they're used in a salad, or as a base for a hors d'ouevres. Well, foodies, take note! If you like veggies in general, and cabbage or brussels sprouts in particular, you ought to try endive my Momma's way. And remember I made no promises about fat or calories or....
(allow two endive per person as a side-dish) Choose similarly-sized endive, as white and crisp as you can find.
Preheat oven to 400. Trim the brown ends and any discolored leaves from the endive. Steam or parboil the whole endives for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Roll each endive in heavy cream (melted butter works, too) and then in a mixture of seasoned dry breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and pepper. Lay coated endive in a baking dish. Sprinkle more of the crumb mixture over the top and drizzle with left over cream or butter. Bake at 400 until brown and fragrant and tender. They keep their shape very well, and look beautiful as a side dish for a fancy dinner.
I can eat myself absolutely sick on these things, and have. I hope you'll try them; maybe you'll enjoy them, too. They're also good sprinkled with a few crispy bacon bits on top. By the way, if I'm in a hurry, jonesing for endive, sometimes I cheat. Slice them into pieces, crosswise. Saute in melted butter (start the solid bits of the ends a while before you throw in the leaf pieces) When they're almost finished, sprinkle them with the bread crumb mixture right in the pan and crisp it up that way. Not as pretty by mighty tasty.

What Ever Happened to Time Out?

I think we need to reinstitute the practice of time-outs and tantrum corners...except now they should be for adults. Time out never worked all that well for my children. But I bet it would be very effective for some of the adults I know.

A tantrum corner would wonderful, too. Do you remember these? A corner of the classroom where you could go if you just HAD to have a tantrum? I want one of those for adults and I get to be the first one to use it. It should be soft and padded, sound-proof and without windows. If someone needs to melt down, they should be able to do it in private.

Ah, think of the uses of a tantrum corner! Mothers working both inside and outside the home could use one. Sometimes, a good old-fashioned tantrum would make you feel so much better! There are days when if I could just go into a quiet corner and throw myself on the floor, I could face the rest of the day with a happier disposition.

Now that I think about it, nap time would be nice, too. Imagine having an hour every afternoon where you are REQUIRED to rest. Maybe we could hire sweet grandmotherly ladies to come in and pat our backs gently while we rested? They might even sing softly to us.

I especially want to revisit the ideas of our formative years: be polite, use indoor voices, play well together (ahhhh......remember recess?), share, say your prayers, try your hardest. Yes, I just told you how old I must be, because we sang Christmas songs in my school and said our prayers and the pledge of allegiance, too.

How much better we would all behave if there was a chance that our Momma might be waiting at home, and she would know what we'd been up to all day. If Daddy still could make us go out and cut a willow switch and wait for him at the wood shed, would we "straighten up and act right?"

More than anything else, would it make a bad day a little brighter if we knew that Mom or Grandma would have cookies and milk on the table for us, at the end of the day? She'd be there to ask us how our day went, and she'd listen like she really cared?