Harrison Farm

for now, the only thing we're growing on this farm is kids - not the goat variety

Viola Ruffner Wanna-Be

My kids won’t appreciate it — at least not for a while. But my aim is to become a Viola Ruffner to them.

Booker T. Washington credits Viola Ruffner for instilling in him the work ethic for which he is famous. Upon being freed from slavery, Washington held a few different manual labor jobs, primarily working in mines. Determined to do something better, he was hired as the houseboy of Viola Ruffner who was known for being able to keep only temporary help because of her high demands and expectations.

Washington lived with the Ruffners and worked for Viola for a year and a half, and in that time was instilled with a deep appreciation for hard work, a job well done, and honesty. He claims that after being in her charge, whenever he saw a broken gate, he wanted to mend it. When he saw trash, he wanted to pick it up. When he saw weeds, he wanted to pull them. (Now, I’m not really after that result with my kids – just some thoroughness in tasks around the house.)

Mrs. Ruffner encouraged Washington to further his education, was one of his benefactors, and he held her in extreme respect, calling her “one of the best friends I ever had.”

I want to be a Viola Ruffner for my kids. (They’ll cringe when they read this post, but they know I love them.) I’m terrible with follow-through on chores I give them to do, and I fear I’m letting them get away with half-baked work. My becoming a Viola Ruffner would be good for all of us.

But how am I going to become a Viola Ruffner? I think I should start with one task and hone it, hone it. I’m thinking of going for the jugular: kitchen clean-up. I have this rule in the house — whoever makes a meal shouldn’t have to clean up. (There is a lot of gray here, because in truth, many meals are partially prepared days in advance – bread, lacto-fermented items, etc. But the person assembling the meal doesn’t have to clean the dishes or put left-overs away.)

While it’s true that the kids are in the mode of handling clean up in the kitchen, it is almost never up to my standards, but I say nothing. Nothing. Isn’t that they’re doing it enough? Well, for a while that was enough. But now that the work routine is in place, the mechanics are lacking. Sorely lacking.

So now I’m thinking about inspections, checklists, points, etc. What incentive to give for them to get it right the first time. Speak to me, Viola!

What about you? Do you have a system for follow-up of daily chores? Do you spot check? Have a check list? Is it working for you?

I’m off to make a checklist of frequently neglected jobs associated with kitchen clean-up.


  1. I’ve been thinking about the very same thing!! I mean I haven’t read about Viola Ruffner until this post, but I’ve been thinking about requiring excellence around here. To me, I always want to start with the first thing of the day which is making beds, getting ready for school. I wanted to do inspections boot-camp style.

    But for that to get done I have to start with me and my morning habits and being consistent.

    I hope it goes well for you and I look forward to hearing the outcome!

  2. Hi there!
    Thanks for stopping by our blog and I realized I found a kindred spirit when I clicked over to your blog! I have never heard of Vioila Ruffner, but I will look her up now. I loved this post. My grandmother instilled in us the importance of thorough work you are proud of. My mom also reinforced that and I need to pass it on to my kids. Even though my oldest is three, she still does little chores and I need to follow through in helping her learn and love a job well done.

    On another note, I LOVE Ralph Moody’s books. I scrolled down a bit to see your enthusiasm for Little Britches as well. I haven’t read three of the autobiographical series, but I cherish the ones I have read. My uncle gave me Little Britches when I was eight and the lessons Ralph learned about honesty and character really had an impact on me then. I worked at a girls horse camp on near Lookout Mtn during college and I read that book everynight to each session of campers. They loved it and I know those lessons will stick with them. Love me some Moody. =)

    Anyway, good luck to you on your chore mission!

  3. Milkmaid

    October 12, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Thanks for the encouragement, ladies. Like Jonesey said, doing this is shedding light on my own shortcomings. We all need growth – especially me. So here’s to growth and change. And to dragging the kids along for the ride. 🙂

    I’ll keep you posted on how things progress. It will probably be good accountability for me.

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