Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Some Feverish Thoughts

I think Ben capitulated to this virus first but kept pushing himself to go to college.  Then Paul got it.  "How are you feeling?" I'd say, and he would go through a disturbing little routine of looking at me with watery eyes and saying Uhhhh? and wiggling his fingers over his head while putting his chin in the air and waving his head from side to side.

And now that's exactly how I feel.  Very Uhhhhh and very much like something is wrong in my head, besides the usual.

So I am lying in bed with a teacup and a thermometer beside me and my head anointed with mint oil, which is supposed to stop headaches, and since I have lots of time to think, I am thinking that it's too bad we only live one lifetime.

Because there are so many things you could dedicate a whole lifetime to, and you have only one go.

You could buy one of those empty stores in Harrisburg and have a little fabric/paper/tea/thrift shop.

Or you could get medical training and work in some underserved part of the world.

Or you could design and sew clothes.

Or you could have a little farm and grow produce and sheep and chickens and flowers.

Or you could be a full-time writer.

Or you could have a big family and do lots of cooking and listening.

I chose the last one, obviously, and I do bits and pieces of the others, such as writing a little bit and taking out the stitches from someone who didn't feel like going back to the doctor to have his stitches out, except I don't really do the store in Harrisburg, but I sort of scratch that itch by selling a few things on ebay, such as the sewing pattern from 1939 that I bought for 25 cents and that is going for $12.50 with one day left [she bragged humbly].

Lately I've had this misguided grandma craving to make little dresses, so I sewed two of them with no particular little girl in mind.  But in between seams I made cheeseburger soup for James H. who had surgery, and washed kitchen counters, and also took two cats in to get fixed, which didn't go so well, because we had signed up Beatrice and Peppermint Patty, but Beatrice the Dumbest Cat Ever disappeared, and the cat carrier wasn't latched right and broke apart halfway out to the car, and there was a blur as a cat disappeared around the camellia bush,and I ended up taking in two cats who were not Beatrice and PP, so I kind of lied, since the vet people were very big on specific names, but this was a program to fix low-income cats and my voucher was going to expire the next day.

Emily had just learned in one of her classes that pretty much everyone tells white lies as a way to make society run kindly and smoothly, and she was insistent that she is an exception to this, and so is her whole family.

The others in the class felt that if you didn't tell white lies you were blunt and unkind, but Emily says she knows plenty of people who are kind and diplomatic but don't lie.

"How does this skirt look on me?"
[skirt emphasizes belly and is higher in back than in front]
"Well, I think it would look good with that long gray sweater you have."

We also note that Smuckers are utterly honest and direct, wandering into "blunt" territory now and then*, but you always know where you stand with them, which I like.  

*see QOTD below

I am scrupulously honest most of the time, but I wanted those cats fixed without any more drama or babies.

So maybe having a big family is the way to go, because you get at least a taste of all the other lives you'd like to live.

I read this cool article the other day about this guy who dressed up for a day in different costumes.  He was a security guard for a day, and a mechanic, and a doctor, and a priest.  The priest part was especially interesting.

You can read it here.

I am so used to being in identifiably-religious garb [long skirts, hair in a bun, veil] that I don't give it much thought. But it made me think about the identity and responsibility that a person takes on by looking distinctly religious.  There's an expectation of behavior, and honesty, and trustworthiness.

And, in the case of the priest, of helpfulness.

There's a very American belief that what you wear is your business and yours alone--whatever expresses Who You Are and is comfortable.  Other cultures are much more context-oriented (I think that's the word) where clothing carries a message and tells how you fit into society and whether or not you respect yourself and others and the situation you're in.

Mennonites are big on clothes and the messages they convey.

Like I said, I don't mind the connotations of my clothes, as long as they don't make people nervous and distant.  I want them to feel safe, but maybe that's more a matter of the expression in my face than my clothes.

I want people to feel that they can ask me for help.

I have a feeling we choose our clothes and then our clothes make us take on an identity without us realizing it.

My mom always had a manner and voice that she used on "Englisch" people, and another one for Amish and Mennonites, and another for her family.

Last Halloween I wrote about how Margaret and I dressed up and went trick-or-treating, and I said it was the only time we did.  Well, there was one more time, sort of.  I put on a pair of brown corduroy boys' pants--not my brothers'; probably something Mom picked up at the Catholic rummage sale to make comforters--and I think a paper bag over my head, and I went out the back door and over to the front, and knocked.

Mom came to the door.  "Now who could this be?" she said in her most Englisch-people voice, and it was the strangest experience to be addressed thus.  So I pulled off my bag and laughed and laughed.

This subject sparked a discussion on Facebook, and Rhonda Strite from Georgia said, 

My older sisters, who were in their upper teens at the time, had a friend from a distance come and stay a few days. My brother Jeff and I were, I suppose, about 12 and 13 respectively.
We children and this friend went shopping one day and found this curly, chestnut brown lady's wig at a thrift shop which someone in the party gaily purchased. When we got home, Mother was gone and the house was empty, and we decided to dress Jeff up and put the wig on him and all be sitting primly in the front room conversing politely with this "stranger" when Mother walked in.
So they had Jeff put on one of my dresses, and they put this wig on him and we were all splitting laughing because he looked for all the world like a girl, or a lady...it was sort of hard to place exactly what he looked like.
And then Mother drove in the lane, and fast and furiously, we straightened up and took our places demurely, and began to act like "company", which was utterly unnatural altogether..
And she walked into the front room from the entrance hall of that old farmhouse and there we were all sitting properly, and here was this stranger....but no one offered any introduction or explanation. She looked around, trying briefly to assess the situation, when suddenly the stranger rolled onto the rug into the middle of the room in a wild giggling fit, and all the rest of us just sat there and watched her giggle.
Mother had the blankest, lost-est look on her face. She had no idea who this person was or what was the proper thing to do, or how to analyze ANYTHING...
Till we all just lost it and he snatched the wig off..
Afterward Mother said it was the oddest feeling ever, because there were these curiously familiar aspects, (Jeff was famously giggly at that specific point in his life) and yet there were not any other pieces to the puzzle that fit in anywhere..

I said her mom must have felt like she fell into a time warp or something, with this stranger laughing on her carpet.  Rhonda said, "She laughed heartily and VERY SATISFYINGLY when the truth came out so it was all worth it."

It is approaching suppertime and I am going to let the family fend for themselves, seeing as how there is baked chicken in the fridge, and leftover cheeseburger soup, and quesadilla materials, because everyone in the family is capable of fixing themselves a plate of decent food from materials on hand.

I am not nostalgic at all for the days when I didn't get to just go be sick when I was sick, and if I didn't fix them something they pretty much didn't eat, and hungry little Amy scattered a bag of chips like snow all over the bedroom floor and I lay desolate and vomitous on the bed in the middle of the mess.

I don't miss that part of those days at all.

But I do miss the little people.

Quote of the Day:
Paul: [comes in the door with pink roses for me 'for no reason']
Jenny: I like it when Dad buys you flowers. It shows that you love each other. Not that I don't already know you love each other! And it's not loud like kissing.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Thoughts on Jonas the Storm and the Nest News

The blizzard is over in the East. In Washington, DC, Matt made a few forays out from his apartment to photograph and film Jonas, the big storm, mostly for my sake, I think.

I've been clicking through friends' posts full of snowdrifts and buried cars, and instead of feeling grateful for the fact that I can go outside and drive away any time I want, without sliding or shoveling, I am filled with jealousy.

Two years ago we had a (relatively) big snow and the girls and I went on a walk and it was too wonderful for words.  And Amy said, "Snow just makes you happy, doesn't it?"

Yes.  Yes, it does.

So this evening I asked Paul if he thinks this is God's way of calling me back to mission work in Canada.  He said feeling called because of weather somewhere isn't really valid, he doesn't think. Otherwise we'd all feel "called" to mission work in Hawaii every winter.

He also didn't remind me that I used to get so sick and tired of snow and cold that I would just about despair by March.

However.  If I went to Canada now, I could go out the door without starting half an hour ahead of time by making piles on the floor of everyone's gear, taking everyone potty, and then pulling on sweaters, ski pants, extra socks, coats, hats, scarves, mitts, and boots before we ventured forth.

It would just be me.

I'm not even sure they need us in Canada.  Siberia, maybe?  Or maybe Mongolia.  A missions recruiter once spoke at my folks' church in Minnesota and said they need Minnesotans in Mongolia because people from everywhere else are too freaked out by the Mongolian winters.  But Minnesotans would feel right at home.

*     *     *

Here is an update on the Sparrow Nest, my future writing cabin by the creek.

Paul had gotten permission from the county land-use department, was making good progress with building, and had started constructing a walkway when someone from the county road department saw it and stopped in.

He was not happy.  He was also someone who delighted in saying "No!"  No, he said, taking me across the road to point at things and emphasize his emphatic No's--  No! This isn't safe!  What if a car would slide off the road and hit that concrete pad?  No!  It's not safe for me to cross the road here, with those curves, and what if our grandchildren want to go to and from the cabin? It's certainly not safe for them!  [I wondered what grandchildren he saw hiding in the bushes, as I sure haven't met any yet.]

I said But! Everything will be built on the other side of the fence, so what is it to you?

Oh my!  It was very much to him.  The road has a right-of-way!  For 30 feet from the center of the road!  The fence was put there before the laws were in place! [This bothered him, I could tell. Also that the trees had the audacity to grow that close to the road.]  But now? No! No walkway! No cabin! No anything!

You know, in the halls of government and bureaucracy, where permits are issued and permissions granted or not, and licenses renewed, and taxes paid, there are many people whose job it is to say No, but they divide into two categories.

1. The kind who say No! Nuh-uh! No how!  And who take a nasty delight in doing so.
2. The kind who say No, but let's see how we can work it out so your goals are met and our requirements are met as well.

Mr. Road Guy was of the first category.

He also wrote a letter to the land use people saying, essentially, You can't let this happen!!!

By this time I was recalling the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall, and then those two nasty dudes, Sanballat and Tobiah, came by and shrieked NO! and did all they could to intimidate everyone and stop the project.

So I recruited a handful of friends and asked them to pray.

And Paul went back to talk to the county land-use people.

They were of the let's-work-it-out sort.  Which meant that they thought it would be do-able but they cranked up the requirements.

First we had to apply for a variance, which involved them writing to the neighbors and asking if this was ok with them.

We have nice neighbors who said it was ok.  Mr. Coffey from next door told Aunt Susie that it's ok with him as long as we let him sit in the back door and fish.

Any time, Max.

They gave us the variance.  I was grateful and happy.  But there's one more hoop to jump through, that I know of, and that's the engineering study.  They want to make sure the cabin is designed not to fall into the creek during a windstorm, or something.

Now Paul is drawing up careful blueprints because he wants to save the fee an engineer would charge.

So if you want to feel invested in this project, you can pray for all the proper permissions to be granted.

I'm told there are places in America where you can just build stuff.  You own the property, you put whatever buildings you want on it. In fact, Chris the niece's husband from Holmes County, Ohio, said he could build a skyscraper in the middle of Berlin, Ohio, and there would not be any regulations in place to stop him.

In contrast, I'd say Oregon is a weensy bit over-regulated.

What with waiting for all the permissions to be granted, and with cold, wet weather, Paul hasn't made much real progress on the Nest.

But Nehemiah's wall got built, and I have faith the Nest will be built as well.

Quote of the Day:
"Do you ever get that feeling that no matter what situation you're in, you're the most dramatic person there?"
"Yes.  All the time." [sigh]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On Fear and Perfectionism

We weren't married long before my observant husband told me that every time I have a big project, I dance around and around it, and plan and prepare and think and make lists, but I don't just dig in and DO it.

He, who attacks projects like our 8 cats launch toward their dish after clawing 3 feet up the glass patio door, when Jenny feeds them in the morning, he was understandably mystified.

While I have progressed a few miles on this in 31 years, I still fight that barrier.  Which is why the upstairs hall hasn't been painted in years.

If you don't mind spending a little time in my head, I'll explain something I learned about myself recently. Then you can play Life Coach and tell me what to do.

The catalyst for this self-discovery was, of all things, a bookmark I was trying to color.

You know how adult coloring books are all the rage now.  I'll bet half the women in America got one for Christmas.  I did--from Jenny--and it's wonderful.

But I haven't started coloring in it yet.

This is significant.

A few months ago I decided to take a ride on this wagon and downloaded and printed a document with four bookmarks all doodled and swirled and lined with cool black ink lines.

I cut out the bookmarks and tried to start coloring the first one. And I felt paralyzed by fear.

Fear of beginning, fear of choosing colors, fear of getting it irretrievably wrong.

Yes.  Just that afraid.  Of starting to color a 3-cent bookmark that could easily be tossed and reprinted.

I realized I felt that same paralyzing fear with the following projects:
1. Painting a room.
2. Cutting out a dress.
3. Writing a novel.

My friends on Pinterest who know me in real life can attest that I pin pictures of cute dresses by the hundred but actually sew them in far smaller quantities.  Ideas are easy to come by, wild, exciting, energizing.  But choosing a fabric and pattern and making that first cut--that's just overwhelming.

I think we might be discussing perfectionism here, that fear of beginning because it's such a big step and there's no turning back and WHAT IF I GET IT ALL WRONG??

I have danced around writing a novel for some ten years and am still both intrigued and utterly terrified by the idea.

How do you overcome fear and perfectionism, that's what I wonder.  If I came and asked myself for advice, I'd probably start with, "Just grab your markers and color that silly bookmark!"

Quote of the Day:
"The Bernie Sanders Society meets downtown every Saturday morning."
--a lady at a book sale in Eugene.  Somehow it struck me as a uniquely Eugene thing to say.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Letter from Harrisburg: Adventures in the New Year

In the new year, don’t be afraid to say yes to new adventures

For The Register-Guard
JAN. 10, 2016

We had a totally new experience on New Year’s Day.

I had had only a vague knowledge of what a quinceañera was. A party and a fancy dress on a girl’s 15th birthday and a rite of passage in Latin America — that was all I knew.

Then we got an invitation to our young friend Eunice’s quinceañera.

“What do we wear?” I asked Eunice’s mom, Aila. “Is there a meal? Do we bring a gift?”

Laughing, she explained that it was somewhat formal and yes, they would serve a meal, and gifts were nice but not required.

She also said this one would deviate from Mexican custom in that there would not be alcohol or dancing, and they would not announce that their daughter is now ready for marriage.

I didn’t realize that I also would learn about what happens behind the scenes to get ready. My sister-in-law, Bonnie, was asked to bake the “tres leches” cakes for Eunice’s party.

Bonnie called me. If she baked the cakes, would I be ­willing to decorate them — maybe in those swirled roses that are the latest thing?

I said yes, even though I had never made swirled roses. Then I looked up how to make them. “Hold the icing bag, push once, then swirl around,” the directions said.

All right then.

I took my supplies to church, where half a dozen Spanish-speaking ladies, tubs of tamales and unbelievable fragrances filled the kitchen.

Soon Bonnie and her daughter Stephanie arrived with six large sheet cakes, all made in a light, sponge-cake texture. Stephanie stabbed each cake numerous times with a fork and then, in a disturbing procedure, poured a sweet, milky mixture — the “tres leches” — all over each cake until it was soaked.

I like cakes fluffy and moist, not soggy. What a strange tradition.

Out came gallons of whipped cream frosting. Bonnie put a thin base coat on each cake, dabbing at the oozing milk at the edges with paper towels.

I mixed blue and green food color with a small bowl of ­icing to make a passable teal color, swiped two streaks of it down the inside of a parchment decorator bag, filled the bag with white ­frosting, and made my first swirled rose. Push once, swirl counterclockwise, and there it was, pretty, rose-like, and tipped in a touch of teal.

Stephanie whipped cream for more and more icing, Bonnie frosted and swabbed, I filled and refilled my ­icing bag and covered cake after cake with careful swirling rosettes.

We put the six cakes in the big refrigerator and went home.

The quinceañera was lovely, with Eunice in a long, fluffy, teal dress; attendants in brown satin; speeches from her pastor, mother and friends, all translated into Spanish; and symbolic gifts. First a Bible “to guide you through life,” a bouquet of flowers, an embroidered pillow, and a watch, “To remind you to use your time wisely and invest in worthwhile things.”

The tamales and beans were delicious, but I was nervous about my first bite of that soggy cake. I could have skipped it, but why miss an opportunity to try something new?

It was astonishingly good. Cold, just sweet enough, and complemented perfectly with that whipped-cream ­icing. I ate more than I should have.

I’ve been thinking: Maybe my word for 2016 should be “yes.”

For the sake of my teenage and 20-something children, I try to keep up with the trends that blow through their lives.

Choosing a Word for the Year is one of them, mulled and decided upon by dozens of their generation. Some choose “joy,” or “pursue” or “contentment” or “conquer.”

I was not ­intending to join the fad, but the word “yes” bubbled to the surface, and I decided to pick it up and keep it.

A second trend is adventure, demonstrated on that public ­platform of Instagram by young people who wander the country or the world in VW vans or refurbished campers and hiking sandals. They post dreamy pictures of campfires, ocean sunsets and mountaintop views, all labeled with a dozen hashtags, known in my day as pound signs, along with words put together without spaces like #followthehorizon and #adventurecalls and #pursuethedream and #thewanderinglife.

These adventurers are followed by thousands of people who, we assume, live much less exciting lives and long for the wild and free living of dreamers and vagabonds. If these onlookers are anything like our kids, they go to work or school every day, have car trouble about once a week, can’t afford Starbucks ­coffee and feed the neighborhood cats when their owners go visit family in Seattle.

Thankfully, despite the occasional envious glance at yellow vans on Instagram highways, our kids have learned that you can have all kinds of new experiences, learn things you never knew, and even get a taste of wildness right where you are, in your daily dutiful life.

The key is in being willing to serve.

“These people seeking adventure want interesting things to happen,” says our 22-year-old son Ben. “But you don’t have to go to the corners of the world for ­interesting things to happen. Sometimes they’re right in front of you and you don’t realize it.”

He cites the guy on the bike as an example. Ben was driving home from church one Sunday when a young man on a bike waved him down on Highway 99 East. He wanted directions to the train station so he could go to Denver. He has friends there, he said. He seemed vague, troubled and incompetent to be on his own.

There on the shoulder of the road, Ben had a decision to make. He could point the guy in the general direction of Eugene, go home, eat Sunday dinner and read the paper. Or he could offer to take on this man and whatever problems and risk he brought with him.

They maneuvered the bike into the car, and Ben brought him home, gave him lunch, took him to the train station — where he couldn’t travel because he had no identification — took him to the bus ­station and bought him a ticket.

“You can keep my bike,” the man said. “It wasn’t stolen” — which made Ben guess it ­probably was, but he was never able to track down an owner.

And he never heard from the young man again.

It wasn’t a hike up an Alaskan peak or a swim across a flooded river, yet it had all the elements of adventure: a choice to make, a yes instead of a no, an element of risk, a few surprises, and a good story to tell afterwards.

If you open your life to opportunities to serve, you never stop learning, and you never know what will happen next.

Our daughter, Jenny, agreed to help her cousin by babysitting her two children for an evening. Jenny sent me a text: “I never told ­Annette that I’ve never changed a diaper, so I had to wing it. It worked out OK, though.”

Emily, now 25, recalled how, when she was living in Colorado six years ago, she would bike past a fascinating old mansion and wish she could see the inside. Then she offered to help backstage at a community theater production of “Annie,” leading to a lot of hard work and a whole new world of experiences and friends. Afterward, the man who played President Roosevelt invited everyone to a cast party at his house, which turned out to be the fascinating old mansion, which he invited them to explore from attic to wine cellar.

The year ahead holds opportunity for adventure, I’m sure of it. There will be new experiences and new skills to learn. But they won’t come in green-tinted ­nature photos shared on an iPhone screen. Instead, they will involve people who need something from me, they’ll look like hard work, and they’ll take time. But I want to open my heart to the need, the moment, the Yes, remembering the fun of that Mexican-flavored party and the satisfaction of seeing 150 guests enjoy their beautiful slices of swirled and teal-tinted cake.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Travel, Tears, and Going Home

Our children scattered to the winds over the holidays, making for a strange Christmas, with only Steven at home. He wandered the house, quiet and bewildered.

I told him this is a taste of coming to visit us when we're old.  It's the strangest thing how you're always surrounded by siblings while you're growing up, and it's almost never just YOU AND MOM AND DAD--how weird!--unless you've been really really bad, or there's some kind of emergency--and then you're 45 and you fly home to see the folks and it's just you and them.  Morning.  Noon. Night. Meals. Church. Family devotions.  Everything.

Steven smiled a little and said, "Hmmm."

But then Emily and Ben came home from Thailand, after the most bizarre glitches, all involving China.  You can read more at emilysmucker.com.

Which made it especially propitious that Emily is taking a class on Chinese Anthropology this term.  Today, she said, a speaker from China talked about how much the country has changed in one generation.  In 1990, the speaker's father was going to college, living in a tiny, crowded house in a village of small, crowded houses, and hoping to save up enough money for a bicycle.

Today, the village is a city with new high-rises under construction and a huge spacious high school.  The speaker's dad has two cars and lives in a large, lovely home.  And his trajectory has been repeated millions of times all over China.

But...contrary to how we think things work, the economic explosion has not led to a similar explosion in freedoms.

I hope she blogs about this because she can say it much better than I can.

Meanwhile, Jenny came home last evening after an adventuresome trip to the east coast, where she and her big brother Matt gallivanted south to my sister Margaret's and north to my niece Annette's, with a bit of Washington, DC, in between.

Yesterday Jenny took the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia by herself, and between discovering that the train didn't go right to the airport as Matt had thought, and getting off at the wrong terminal, she had some frightening and frustrating moments.

Twice, she says, she found someone to ask for help, and promptly burst into tears, even though she's not the weepy sort.

This prompted a discussion on the way home from the airport.  Emily and Jenny say they can hold it together, in these situations, until they start talking.  Then they start crying.  I said I keep it down until someone acts sympathetic, then I lose it.

So I'm hoping Jenny has discovered these profound truths:
1. It's normal to feel lost and frightened when you're traveling and can't find the Delta terminal.
2. You can always ask for help.
3. It's normal to burst into tears at such moments, especially if your suitcase handle broke and you've hauled it in the cold for half a mile.
4. Things have a way of working out.
5. If all else fails, you can call Dad.  Unless you're in China.
6. Each terrifying new experience gives you confidence for bigger things.
7. Sometimes you just want Mom.

Steven plans to come home Saturday, and then we'll finally have our traditional Christmas Eve Kenyan meal and our gift exchange.

I'm glad I have kids who travel the globe, but I sure do like to have them come home again.

Quote of the Day:
"I never told Annette that I’ve never changed a diaper, so I had to wing it.  It worked out ok, though.
--text from Jenny while she was babysitting Annette's two children
Last night she added:
"I had a YouTube diaper-changing tutorial ready, just in case."

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Why I Hate Table Games

The only table game I really like is Boggle.

You know, that game where you shake up 16 little cubes and they all fall into place in the tray and then someone starts the timer at the same time as you lift the cover off the tray and then it's a mad 2-minute scramble to find all the words you can and write them down and you see who got words that no one else did and you get points for all the unique words you found.

I love to play Boggle.  It has all the elements that make a fun game.
It involves words.
It is fast mentally but not physically.
It is not confusing.
No one talks.
There's a little bit of strategy but not too much.
I usually win.
There's a little bit of luck and a lot of skill.
It doesn't take that long.
You can quit any time.

There are many, many people in my life who love to play games, and there are many, many games that can be played.

Ticket to Ride and Phase Ten and Mad Gab and Monopoly and Mexican Train and Chess and Risk and Rook and Dutch Blitz and Settlers of Catan and many many more.

My anxiety level is increasing just doing this exercise of trying to think of names of games.

I hate most table games.

I know that's a strong word, that hate stuff, but my feelings are in a category far beyond indifference and well into outright hostility.

And yet, sometimes I join the game, because I am polite and I shouldn't make a fuss and I do like to be included in the group and it's rude to sit and read when someone organized a game for the enjoyment of all.

This is why I don't enjoy games:

People talk while you're trying to think.
Luck is always always against me. I always draw a run of 8 when we're looking for two sets of four. [Phase Ten]
I am all confused and going HUH?? while all around me people snatch cards from their hands or the piles before them and SLAP them on the stacks in the middle of the table. [Dutch Blitz]
The people who know all about strategy [Smuckers and men] chuckle indulgently when I make stupid moves [pretty much every game ever].
And the games go on and on.  Oh, People, the tortures I have endured in various and sundry cozy gatherings in living rooms and around dining tables at rented houses at the coast and family gatherings.  I sit and wait for my turn, wondering in confusion what I should do next, or I sit and wait knowing full well what to do next but it looks like Jesus will come back before my turn ever comes around again.  And I have gotten up and made popcorn and hot chocolate before my turn came around again, and texted my sisters, and used the bathroom, and filled the dishwasher.
And I have endured games where people were all about FINISHING this game, round after endless round.
The clocks ticked, the sun set, stores closed, ships came into port and unloaded their cargo and sailed away again, hair turned gray, children grew up and went to college, kingdoms rose and fell, and still these games went on and on and on.

Today Paul's mom was here and she and I and Paul played Scrabble.  Scrabble's one redeeming factor is that it involves words.  But it also involves tons of luck, which is always against me, and strategy, which I am terrible at.  And people talking while I'm trying to think, mostly about whether or not that word is really a word, and what about chemical abbreviations like Fe for iron or Fi the music term, and oh dear you took my spot, and give me the dictionary.

So I had no hopes of doing well but I wanted to be a good hostess so I played.

But this time I got the Q and the U at the same time, miracle of miracles.  If I had had an I, I could have made QUINOA.

But I didn't have an I.  Of course.

However, I was able to make OPAQUE, which was a very good beginning but not one I expected to sustain.

Then I got a J and put it on a triple word block to make JET.

I put long words out into empty spaces, but Paul and his mom found ways to cluster letters into solid blocks, so they made 4 or 5 words at one go, up and down and sideways, and got lots of points.

But I stayed within sight of them, so I played with a little sense of hope, which was a new experience.

"Von" was in the dictionary, yea, even that dictionary that Anne was sure was old and inaccurate because it didn't have nearly all the words that are in her Scrabble dictionary or the paper of 2-letter words she got from Esther Wolfer's mom.

Paul had an obvious lack of respect for any dictionary or list that was not there with us, explaining itself.

As the tiles in the bag ran out I was sure I would lose because in the end we all subtract the value of any letters on our boards and give them to the winner.

I won the game.
I am serious.
I had the most points in the end.
Unbelievable, but Paul will back up the verity of this.

Maybe the wind is shifting and a new era is dawning with the new year.

All the cool bloggers have been looking deep and meditating long to find a Word for the Year.  I have not done this, but suddenly I think my word might be CONQUER.  Or BELIEVE.  Or POSSIBILITIES!

But do not expect me to play Risk or enjoy table games any time soon.  It is not THAT radical of a new era dawning.

Maybe when Jesus comes back I will enjoy Phase Ten.

Quote of the Day:
"I don't like to follow recipes.  A recipe is like a big sister telling you what to do.  And you think, 'Humph. YNTM*.'"
--A Smucker daughter

*You're Not The Mom

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What I Recall From My Week

"You haven't been posting, Mom." 

When a 16-year-old notices and mentions this, I take it seriously. It means she reads my blog and takes note of a pause in posts.  That age is hard to impress and unfailingly honest about what they think.

So, definitely time to type.

"But," I said, "I don't know what's been happening in my life."

She thought that was silly.  "You're LIVING your life.  You know what's happening!"

Oh Sweetie, you have no idea.

I can be busy all day and that evening I have a hard time recalling anything I did.

But let me try to recall a few incidents in the last week.

1. I had half an hour of heart-in-my-throat fear.

Last Sunday Ben and Emily took off for Thailand to visit Amy.  But first I packed a suitcase and a half with stuff for Amy such as peanut butter, vitamins, Party Mix ingredients, and gifts.  Then Ben and Emily filled in the rest of it with their things, so the final proportions for the two big bags were approximately:
75% stuff for Amy
20% Ben's clothes
5%  Emily's clothes

Emily is a minimalist.

Paul had found tickets for them that were quite reasonable, as overseas tickets go, if they took off from Vancouver, BC, and flew China Eastern Airways.

So the plan was to drive to Vancouver--about 8 hours I think--fly to Shanghai, China, then to Kunming, China, then to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I checked my email a few times, hoping they'd drop me a line en route, but nothing showed up.  Oh well.

On Tuesday morning I was gradually awakened to the sound of a phone ringing.

It was Amy.

She had gone to the airport to pick up Ben and Emily, and they never showed up.  Their flight arrived just fine, but they weren't on it.

And she hadn't heard a word from them either.

Oh, Reader, there is no describing what flies through your mind in a very short time when you hear such news, and how very very far away China seems at such a moment, and how utterly silent the world seems when there is No Word and No Contact and No Explanation.

Our conversation roused Paul.  He decided to call China Eastern after I located a phone number and he found the kids' itinerary.

He was still on hold when I got a message from Amy to check Emily's blog.  Hallelujah!  Words!  From the kids!  There for us to see!!

One flight was delayed, making them miss the flight to Chiang Mai, and China has a nasty way of blocking all the normal Internet means of communication.

They got there a day later, and Emily wrote about the experience, and others that followed, which you can go read.  
Right here.
Nothing else here will be as exciting as that, so you don't have to come back here if you don't want to.

2.  I had an incident that made me think of my mom and wonder if she was sending sympathy vibes from Heaven.

Mom was a very hard worker but she wasn't the most tidy and organized housewife ever, and her family didn't make it any easier for her, and she had an absolute horror of visitors seeing our house in its normal state.

Company coming required a major onslaught of cleaning, putting away, and tidying.

She had an especial horror of a big vanload of Amish relatives showing up unannounced, as the Amish were wont to do back before anyone had cell phones and most Amish would at some point hire a driver and take a Western Trip which might take them through the Midwest and our house.

The Pa. Dutch term was "gonzy loat psooch," inadequately translated a "whole load of guests," and the idea was so fearful to Mom that she would have dreams about a gonzy loat psooch showing up when the house was a mess and she was in the middle of canning applesauce or something.

Well, let's just say that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Paul and I were gone for three days last week, (see #3) and as soon as we got back I focused on getting those suitcases all packed for Amy, so the new week dawned and things sort of stayed chaotic all week.

Jenny decided to decorate for Christmas, since I wasn't getting it done.  By Thursday evening there was a basket of laundry in the living room along with 3 big bins of Christmas stuff and also leaning stacks of files and papers all around Paul's recliner,  I was making Party Mix and Puppy Chow, I had half the table covered in Christmas cards in various piles, and I had just started the dishwasher but had many dishes left to wash.....
there was a knock on the door and there were our young friends Justin and Esta.  They came breezing in with a plate of cookies.
Oh.  They were out delivering Christmas cookies....??
I said, "Ummm, can you...stay a while?"
Esta said, "Oh! Did you forget that you said the missions committee can meet here tonight?"
I screamed.  I had typed up the notes for the meeting myself, and included that I had offered to host the meeting.
But I had totally forgotten, and here I was in unwashed hair and a flannel shirt with food smears, in a disastrous house.
Justin hauled bins upstairs and vacuumed.
I handed Esta a broom and went to comb my hair.
Justin put the supper leftovers in a Tupperware container.
I called Paul and said he should come home instead of visiting his mom.
Jenny said she'd watch the Party Mix in the oven.
We survived.

I asked Jesus to take away any lingering shame I felt from that Gonzy Loat Psooch moment straight out of Mom's nightmares, because He is good at that, and it really was a moment to make a Mennonite minister's wife feel like a Complete Failure.

3. I got to see and hear the Messiah.

I missed the only local performance because like Esau I chose the temporal over the eternal, in this case a Sunday afternoon nap rather than going with Ben and Jenny and our weekend guest Kayla to a concert, which I later learned included part of the Messiah, and, again like Esau, I "found no place of repentance, though [I] sought it carefully with tears."

My nice husband had been saying for some weeks that we needed to get away by ourselves for a few days, so we did some hunting online, found a Messiah performance that fit our schedule, and went to Portland for three days.

And on a rainy night we found the First Baptist Church in downtown Portland, found our seats, and took it all in.

There's nothing quite like Handel's Messiah, and to have it performed live, by an excellent orchestra and choir, and in the most beautiful old church you ever saw...well, I felt like Esau would have felt if he had received the blessing after all.

4. We went to various programs, concerts, and services locally.

Christmas isn't Christmas unless you see a pageant with little kids in it, all dressed up like sheep or angels or Mary or whatever.

And, this is the interesting thing about such things: you want choirs to be impeccable and professional.  You want big kids and adults to be polished and well-rehearsed.

But oh how you want little kids to mess up because little kids acting out the Christmas story and forgetting lines and losing their way and whispering cues to each other and pushing shepherd headpieces out of their eyes and dropping stuff and utterly messing up--that is JUST SO CUTE.

At one program, the littlest angel was all intrigued with her white robe, essentially one long piece of fabric with a hole for her head and a belt holding it together.  She grabbed the flap in front and pulled it up, laughed, flapped it around....and then her gold-tinsel halo slipped forward....so she yanked it back into place, and then while the teacher gestured and her parents telegraphed parentish looks and the other angels sang dutifully, she bent forward and deliberately let the halo fall off her head, and grinned with delight.

It was naughty and distracting and unprofessional, but it was the cutest thing I'd seen in a long time.

It made the Christmas season feel complete.

I hope your Christmas season is complete most of all with lots of Jesus and all of the grace and hope and mercy He brings.

Quote of the Day:
"I just love the Christmas season! Janane and I are doing so much stuff, it makes me feel like we almost have lives! Friday we went to the Fairview pageant, Saturday we went to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Sunday we went to Kaitlyn's concert, today we're caroling, Wednesday we're in our school play together, and Sunday we're doing something with our Sunday school class for the program! I mean, we're almost Sarah Bething!!"
--Jenny a.k.a. Miss Hyper Energy 2015
[Sarah Beth is a high-energy friend with more friends and ministry at age 18 than most of us have accumulated by age 50]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Letter from Harrisburg--Dec. 13

With time, life starts to make sense

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
DEC 13, 2015

Two of my sons stood in the kitchen the other day and discussed Christmas break, cooking, travel plans, guns, snowboarding and college.

They also talked enthusiastically about fire.

This isn’t surprising, considering their fascination with the subject when they were younger. I recall WD-40 sprayed and ignited in an upstairs bedroom, for instance, and, when I had my back turned, charcoal lighter fluid tossed onto a brush fire just to see what would happen.

But this conversation was different.

Ben, who is suddenly 22 years old and a senior in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University, talked about his interest in combustion and an OSU project studying forest fires.

Steven, age 21 and finishing his first year in Chemeketa Community College’s firefighter/EMT program, was immediately interested, even though most of his academic pursuits have been far removed from Ben’s math and engineering.

So their interest converged on the subject of fire, once again, only this time they weren’t scheming a new way to put the house and their lives in danger.

Instead, they discussed — could it be? — British thermal units! “The stupidest unit of energy,” they agreed, and went on to mention smoldering combustion, fire suppression and unit conversions.

I am quite sure I was awake and not dreaming. Since then, I’ve been wondering: Why couldn’t God have made me know back then what I know now? Wouldn’t I have freaked out a bit less and stayed calm a bit more?

Back when I was calling my husband, desperate and in tears, because I just found out about the WD-40 episode upstairs — the boys thought it was all a big joke, there were black smudges on the ceiling above the top bunk, the house could have burned down, I feared the whole family was doomed to a terrible end, and their dad just had to do something right now — back then, I didn’t see this day coming.

I couldn’t look ahead 10 years and see two handsome, responsible grownups leaning on the kitchen counter and having an easy conversation about technical things I barely understand.

I would have appreciated a glimpse of this.

Yet, I know well that not nearly everything turns out this nicely. That middle ground between decisions and results is soil where tenacious regrets can sprout and grow.

Missing a Christmas concert was a small regret, as regrets go, yet I felt an oversized sadness about it.

Every year, I hope to attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Nothing else quite elevates the Christmas season into its proper spiritual plane. I can never watch and listen objectively, detached or analytical. Instead, the music immerses me in sound and worship, the ancient words of hope and incarnation carried on voice and violin in an experience so beautiful that it feels irreverent to describe it.

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to find a local performance that fits our schedule.

Last week was an exhausting mix of attending our daughter’s children’s-choir performances, Christmas-outreach activities at church, and selling books at two of the biggest authors’ events of the year. I was vaguely aware of the kids’ plans to attend some kind of concert at OSU on Sunday after church, but by then I was desperate for a long nap.

“Hey, Mom, you can come along if you want,” they said.

I debated briefly, and flesh won over spirit. They took off soon after lunch. I stayed home and slept.

They returned that evening with reports of an orchestra and multiple choirs, of majestic Latin pieces and beautiful sacred music, and, yes, even of selections from the Messiah including the Hallelujah Chorus, my favorite.

Exactly what my soul needed, and the only local concert like it. I had chosen to miss it, for a nap. I felt so sad about this, and regretted it so deeply, that I actually mulled Scrooge’s words in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.”

I could and should have, but I didn’t. It was entirely my fault. If I had only known, I’d have chosen differently.

As a person of faith, I celebrate Christmas believing that all our questions find their answers in Jesus, in God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

Even Jesus, I am told in the book of Luke, “increased in wisdom,” which I don’t begin to understand if he was the all-knowing God in the flesh, but I find it comforting. It tells me there’s a cosmic design in this painful process of accumulating wisdom rather than knowing it all at once.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I don’t have life figured out, and I need to trust my story and all its unknowns to someone who does, so that even the mistakes and regrets can turn into eventual growth.

After years of dealing with it every fall, I recognized my oversized reaction to the missed concert as a symptom of seasonal affective disorder, and immediately spent more time outside and boosted my dosage of vitamin D. I know this now; 10 years ago, I didn’t.

To my delight, my sympathetic husband offered to take me to a Messiah performance in Portland. It would be held at the First Baptist Church — the same church, I am quite sure, where, long ago when I was pregnant with our first child, I attended a daylong seminar on mothering. I distinctly recall my lack of sympathy that day for a friend who ended up in tears at her own inadequacy. I knew how to do it right, and logically, that’s how I was going to do it.

Would I really have wanted to know then all that I thought I knew, or would I have chosen to be loved and guided through years of mistakes and hard-won insights to where I find myself today, somewhat wiser and vastly more compassionate?

The day of the flaring WD-40 upstairs, I did not see that I would learn to rank calamities and stay calm through all but the worst or that I was receiving a hope and perspective to offer to younger moms in the future. I had no premonition of these two sons, so different from each other, connecting as adults on the very subject that had given me so much anxiety.

A divine author is shaping this story, I believe. Even my ignorance and floundering, my mistakes and regrets have had a purpose, and I have always been shepherded and loved.

I did not see these coming — the responsible young men, the ballooning joy, the overwhelming gratitude, the second chances, the grace. They were all a glorious surprise, my frustrating human limitations divinely transformed into the most valuable and improbable gifts.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

You're Invited

I'd like to invite you to 3 events--2 sales and 1 concert.

1. The Register-Guard Columnists' Book Sale is tomorrow--Thursday, Dec. 3, from 4-6 pm. At the RG building on Chad Drive in Eugene.

2. Joyful Noise Choir will be presenting a concert at Eastside Christian Church, (1910 Grand Prairie Road SE, Albany) on Friday, Dec. 4. Prelude music at 6:45pm; concert at 7.

3. The annual Lane Library League Author & Artists' Fair is at the Lane County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Dec. 5, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lots of interesting books and amazing artwork available here, and a % of the profits go toward expanding library services to rural areas.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

On Giving Thanks

[There's a tradition of a poem appearing on Life in the Shoe on Thanksgiving.  This year, for the first time, it's free verse. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, all of you reader-blessings.]

"Give Thanks"

Sometimes the summer heat
Begins in June and then
For weeks and months forgets
As fuchsias die
And wells run dry
And grass turns brown
and all of us grow weary
and cows keep looking at the ground
for green that isn’t there—
that summer wasn’t meant to be like this.
A breeze at times
A summer shower
Is that too much to ask?

“Give thanks” the Father says
And so we do, or try,
And think “How long
This season lasts.
Do you not see?
The thirsty cow
And me?”
So “thanks” I say
And find again
The seed of hope
The surety
That change will come
This will not last forever.

“Give thanks,” He says
In those relentless times
Of silent suffering
And too much noise
And more than we can do
Or take
Or comprehend.
And people scraping hard
On that old wound
And all my faults exposed
like dangling dusty spiderwebs.
Those times of loss
Of how I wanted things to be.
The depths of helplessness.
The wounds,
The wondering
If this season ever ends and
If there is any chance He sees.
“Give thanks.”
And so I do
For life and grace
For change to come someday.

My helplessness to change
The heat the drought
The loss the pain
Also means I’m powerless
To change the flow of time
And so it moves
Unseen by me.
Until the clouds decide
To congregate one day,
Block out the sun
And bless the waiting earth
With rain.
Sheep and cats and cows
All drink
And grass turns green
With life.
The time has come.

So time moves on
For me as well
One day I wait in hope
Unseeing still
And then the clouds move in
And change arrives.
The splinter pulled at last,
The finger bandaged clean
The pressure lifts
Forgiveness comes,
A healing word,
A hope fulfilled
A change,
A tree of life
Solution, restoration.
And seeing, I give thanks.

He sees.
He waits for unseen purposes
And wise and full of love
He keeps my heart
And when its soil
Is ready for new growth
He sends
The rain.
No season lasts forever, so,
He watches in the waiting
Calls us to trust,
Stand on the iron ground,
Turn to the sky of bronze,
And give our thanks.