Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Books and Zucchini and Overheard Conversations

I've been working on my next book, Footprints on the Ceiling.  It involves finding all my columns of the past three years, copying and pasting them into one document, grouping them by type, editing out all the stuff that made people mad when they were first published, and giving them titles.

I really am terrible at titles but I don't have a choice.  Numbering the chapters doesn't really work for a collection like this.

I also don't have a choice about editing.  There's something really torturous about reading your own work over and over again.  About the second time through, the little voices start up.

Jane Kirkpatrick calls them the Harpies, the little gremlins that sit on your shoulders and chatter in your ear.  "Boring boring boring."  "Nobody wants to hear about this." "TMI!"  "Cliche!" "Too wordy!" "Too choppy!" 

["Too beady, too bumpy, too leafy, too lumpy," as the hat book says that I used to read to the children.]

This is why I sometimes don't read my own books for a couple of years after they're published, and why I am astonished that nice people buy my books and read them.  I love you readers, more than I can say.

*     *     *     *

In Goodwill the other day I overheard a conversation between a younger lady and a woman my age.  The older woman was the wise-soothing-mentor type, and she was catching up with the younger woman's life.

Younger woman: I left my job at the courthouse.  I was tired of pushing papers.  I wanted to help low-income people.
Older woman: Well, good for you.
Younger: And I divorced my husband.  He just wasn't supportive.
Older: Oh?
Younger: [starts crying] Yeah, he just wasn't supportive.  So I divorced him.
Older: Well, you can't waste your life on people who aren't worth your time.

I came home and recounted this conversation to my patient tribe who puts up with their mom overhearing Goodwill conversations and repeating them at home, followed by a 3-point sermon.

Jenny said, "Do I sense a blog post coming on?"

Well, yes.  But I've found that if you write a blog post on divorce, you get emails and comments saying, "You have a good man.  You don't know what it's like.  I had no choice.  You don't know what you're talking about.  Nobody should have to live like I did."

No one ever says, "Wow, if you've stuck it out for 30 years, one sinner married to another sinner who is opposite in personality, surely you've had to find your way through some tough challenges and had some really hard conversations and made some interesting sacrifices, and yet you seem happy together today.   So teach me, Oh Wise One."

They never say that.

So.  I will just say this.  If you are the sort of person who feels that "not being supportive" is grounds for divorce, maybe you shouldn't bother getting married.  Because you are both going to have times when you think your spouse's latest scheme is insane.

*    *    *     *     *     *

Garrison Keillor wrote about zucchini a few times.  He says July is the only time Minnesotans lock their cars in the church parking lot, to keep people from putting their extra zucchini in the back seat.

Minnesota is somewhat limited in the things it will grow.  Cherries and peaches and okra do best in other climes, but corn and ground cherries and zucchini do astonishingly well there.  Keillor had a great line about zucchini lying there, snuggling quietly under the cool green leaves and growing to the size of beached whales.

Which is what mine are doing these days.  I was late getting a garden in and didn't have the best seeds, so the carrots are sparse and 75% of the tomatoes died.

But Oh, Reader, the zucchini.  I turn my back for a day or two and then, while hoeing in the vicinity I sweep back the large bristly leaves and there they are, enormous and quiet, cool and green, swollen to the size of baseball bats, sea lions, hippos.

Today Jenny made two loaves of zucchini bread and also liver and onions with zucchini.  She didn't even use up one squash.  Naturally, she found the recipe for the zucchini bread in the cookbook from my folks' church in Minnesota.

It also has a second zucchini bread recipe, two recipes for zucchini muffins, plus zucchini apple pie, zucchini jam, and a "squash casserole" that takes 3 cups of grated zucchini.

*     *     *
Matt was home for a few days, thanks to an assignment that took him to the Kitsap Navy Base in Washington, close to where we had gone for our anniversary trip.

Matt and Ben had long, extended arguments about such things as what would have happened to the Blazers if Brandon Roy and Greg Oden hadn't been so plagued with injuries.  And whether it would be better to meet a grizzly bear or a black bear if you had only 30 seconds to react.

Each of them will take one side, and they will argue with congenial intensity for a long time, quoting more statistics than you had any idea existed on the subject, and bringing in principles of physics and engineering and calculus, in addition to tidbits of history and finer points of geographical knowledge.

I couldn't hold up my end of such a conversation for three minutes, but I enjoy listening to them.

Quote of the Day:
"They're not poofing so well.  Sorry!  I'm speaking your language and not my language.  Their volume is not increasing as they get hotter."
--Ben, about the frozen marshmallows over the campfire

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Anniversary Trip


Here's last Sunday's Letter from Harrisburg column, plus photos of our trip to Washington.

Marriage built on routine can still take turns of sweet surprise


My husband’s phone buzzed at 1:45 a.m., over on the table in the tasteful studio apartment near Puget Sound, where we were spending our 30th anniversary.
I had slept uneasily, with strange, colorful shapes battling in my dreams. Since the phone didn’t wake Paul, I got up and answered it.
One wonders, at such times, what’s wrong back home, who crashed a car, and what’s on fire.
“Hello?”
“Uh yeah, I just got off at Exit 216, and I’m lookin’ for the Wilton Smucker Warehouse. I got a load to drop off.”
I thought, groggily, “What sort of insane truck driver calls at this time of the night?”
He went on. “I went through this little town, and I’m seein’ a sign that says ‘Harrisburg 3 miles’.”
The world seemed tipped the wrong way and answering him took a huge effort.
“Did the town just have one stoplight?” I finally said.
He asked someone beside him, “Did the town just have one light?”
The someone else didn’t know. I didn’t know why I’d asked.
I tried to remember where Exit 216 was, but I was distracted by a strange sensation in my stomach. The valves in my esophagus were opening, from bottom to top, and a seething something was pushing rapidly up the pipe.
The truck driver was still loudly demanding that I tell him where he was and where he should go.
I handed the phone to Paul, who mercifully was now awake. Then I grabbed a nearby wastebasket and threw up.
Paul finished directing the driver while I went to the bathroom and finished what I had begun.
I had a happy thought in the middle of this dreadful episode: My life isn’t boring after all.
Even 30 years into this marriage, the plot takes unscripted turns. How lucky I am.
We found this place through VRBO and stayed in the apartment above the garage.

I’m not sure where I had absorbed the idea that married life was boring and single life was not — maybe from watching my overworked parents and their peers, stuck in their small circumscribed lives of repetitive sameness. Oatmeal for breakfast, “singings” at church on Sunday nights, milking the cows twice a day, green beans in July, sewing circle on the same Tuesday every month.
It looked like imprisonment to a 16-year-old eager for adventure, quivering with anticipation for life in the real world.
When I got married, some years later and a few degrees wiser, a touch of that fear remained.
Thirty years in, swamped with blessings, I understand the appeal of sameness, the contentment of routine, but at this stage they are not often mine to enjoy.
We have six children — four still at home — my dad with us for the summer, a house in the country, a business, several jobs, and more remarkable opportunities than we could ever take on.
Blessings bring responsibility and responsibility brings work and decisions, and it all leads to stress that makes you forget how fortunate you are. It’s easy to focus your stress on the foremost blessing and most convenient target — your spouse.
So we took off to celebrate and rest, because our lives could change very quickly, we know that, and when the dust settles we want to still enjoy each other’s company.
We chose the Olympic Peninsula because it intrigued us both and was within a day’s drive. It proved to be exactly what we needed, the astonishing natural beauty healing our exhausted souls, the historic sites and local attractions keeping us busy and entertained.
We went out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner one night, fortunately not knowing what would happen a few hours later.
Maybe our lives are still a little too narrow, because we both like to — subtly, we hope — observe other people and “figure out the dynamics” as Paul says.
“That group. Is it a family?” Paul asked. “It’s all ages, but it doesn’t come out right.”
Happily for our curiosity, they explained it all to the waiter when they left — birthday child, mom, two grandpas, three aunts. Ah yes, of course.
There was no question about the nervous couple who sat at the next table, both polished up for the occasion, eager to please. They talked loudly enough to let the surrounding guests know that this was their first date, he was 61, and she was 10 years younger.
Would she like some wine, he asked. No?
Maybe some tea, she said.
He talked about his ex-wife. “She liked all this special stuff. I’d drive all over town trying to find what she wanted. Nothing was good enough.”
The woman said, “Oh, I’m not like that. Eating a hot dog outside, that’s good enough for me.”
He said, “Really?”
We sat there, 30 years in, soaking in the joy of familiarity and history and knowing each other this well, thinking what a burden it would be to have to start all over.
A cool garnish.
It was a virus and not the dinner that made me sick that night, I figured, because by morning I had a fever.
I slept most of the day, aching all over like I had camped on rocky ground in a cheap sleeping bag, but knowing that I didn’t have a single responsibility waiting for me.
“Can I do anything for you?” said Paul, who acted restless and confined but refused to go on the whale-watching excursion without me.
“A back rub,” I suggested, even though he isn’t the back-rubbing type. Eager to help, he attacked my spine like he was scrubbing a greasy oven rack.
“No, no,” I said. “You’re a farmer, spraying a field. You want to make sure all the acreage is covered.” So he did. Then he drove to McDonald’s and bought me some iced tea. I drank it and slept again while he worked on the stack of paperwork he’d brought along.
My 15-year-old daughter called me. “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry you’re sick. Is Dad taking good care of you?”
I told her about the back rub and the tea.
“Awwww, that’s so sweeeet!” she gushed, referring to Paul and not the tea. I agreed.
The next day I felt much better, so we went on a long ferry-and-road route to Whidbey Island and over to the mainland and then back to the western side and north to our welcoming little apartment.
On Sunday we went exploring again, hiking to three waterfalls in the Olympic Mountains and the relentless sunshine.
Looking down from a bridge on a series of waterfalls.
Another waterfall.
 We returned on Monday, replenished, rested, refreshed; knowing each other again; ready to come back to home and all it entailed.
Back in the daily swirl of responsibilities, I have a renewed sense of awareness, of gratitude, of astonishment, even, that I, who asked for and feared all the wrong things back then, was given this life, this man, this marriage, this abundance of blessings, these crazy turns in the story that keep me forever surprised.
 
Betty MacDonald wrote The Egg and I and the Mrs. Piggy-Wiggle books, among others.  She lived along this road.
Another ferry, with Mt. Baker behind.
This boat looked like it could tell lots of stories.

The ferry.  It was huge, full of cars down below, with room for hundreds of people up above.
What do you know--they're serving "me" at Elmer's!



The Olympic Peninsula scenery is amazing.  Ten miles from Puget Sound, the mountains are 6000 feet high.

We managed a smiling selfie on a hike.

Port Townsend

More Port Townsend

There are all kinds of ships in the bays, and, I'm told, the occasional nuclear submarine heading out to sea.

A squinting couple on the ferry.

A cool view while waiting to get on the ferry.

Maybe this belonged to a relative...
Maybe I should go away and leave Steven in charge of the kitchen more often.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Thoughts on Rest and Marriage and Time

Right after I posted Sunday's tale of my frantic day, it seemed that I kept running across articles on how our society glorifies busy, and how we choose to be busy, and so on.

Hmmm.

Monday turned out to be a day of rest.  Steven went to work early and the others slept in, and I happily let them, for the sake of the quiet that resulted.

Dad was up at his normal time, and if you wonder what that is, I will tell you that the other morning he marched into the kitchen at 8:10 and announced, "Ach, ich hap mich veesht fa-schlofa!" which is to say, "I overslept badly."

But after he had his oatmeal he kept himself occupied.

I decided that this is what "Rest" looks like for me:
1. Quiet.
2. Not having to answer questions.
3. Being able to plan and make lists.
4. Being able to think/write/pray/meditate/concentrate.
5. Staying home.
6. Not having to fix other people's disasters or take on their projects.

There are others in the household for whom "rest" looks very different.  But we all need it, and I think the purpose of the Sabbath command was to make it intentional.

So, as I said, Monday turned out to be restful, at least for a couple of hours, which was a very kind gift from the Father, and "so refreshing," as the Bingley sister says in Pride and Prejudice.

And the remainder of this week, starting tomorrow, promises to be a rest of a different sort, as Paul and I plan to take off to celebrate our 30th anniversary.

Yes, on August 10th it will be 30 years since we said our vows at Brownsville Church on a hot evening.  And in this busy time of year, Paul is taking me up to a cabiny place on Puget Sound, which shows that he is still a very nice guy who invests in his marriage and makes me feel astonishingly valued.

My parents would have celebrated their 60th anniversary this year, which means they were married 30 years when they came out for our wedding.  At the time, I thought they were old and out of touch, devoid of romance, stuck in dreadful sequestered isolated lives.

I don't think they saw themselves that way, which makes one wonder about the hidden dynamics of a settled life and a 30-year-old marriage that young people never see.

Mom saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time on that trip, and announced that she's going to get her feet wet in it, so there on the beach she stripped off her black stockings and waded in, laughing, and I was so proud of her, in the sense of Oh look at this adventurous old lady, but really she was just Mom being Mom.


Paul and I are both taking our laptops and piles of paper on this trip, because that is actually one aspect of "rest" for both of us, to spread out our work in a motel room and feel like we're getting caught up.

To each, their own.

I hope to walk the beach and pray about my busy life and how to rearrange it, and about trusting God for his timing and distributing of things I can't control such as church responsibilities and Paul's work load and having lots of single adults at home who haven't yet found someone to say their vows to on a hot August evening.  Stuff like that.

This stage will not last forever and it might even be over very quickly, and when the dust settles I want Paul and I to still enjoy each other's company.

 So, off to Port Townsend we go.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

A Sunday Evening Wrapup from the Minister's Wife



Somehow, I have missed God’s will for my life.  It is Sunday evening and I am not rested.

This morning I got up early and made tea, studied for Sunday school, put potatoes in one crock pot and a beef roast in another, got ready for church, and hollered upstairs at slow people.

By the time we got to church, Jenny had a headache and felt like throwing up.  I took her into the rec room, found the first aid kit, took her temperature, and found Emily in the foyer and told her to take Jenny home again.

At church I taught Sunday school and then listened to a missions talk and thought we should go to a certain Southeast Asian country, because the language isn’t tonal, and the team that’s going is all young, and they need someone our age to parent all the high-energy young missionaries.  That was my take on it.  They were not there to recruit someone like us.

After church I hustled over to the school where we met with the concerned parents of a boy who doesn’t pick up on reading as fast as some.  The older I get, the more my advice shifts toward: 1. Chill out. 2. Read to him every day.  3. Let him play outside all day except for meals and chores. 4. Wait until he’s 8 to talk about reading. Or even 9.

No one wants to hear that advice, it seems.

Then I came home and brought Paul’s mom along and put the ice cream goop in the maker and turned it on, and got in Ben and Steven’s way while we all got dinner ready, which was roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, tossed salad, blueberry cobbler, ice cream, and tea.

I also tried to make connections with my brother Phil, who had Dad for the weekend.  Paul left to go meet them along the freeway and everyone miscommunicated horribly and sent texts to the wrong people and didn’t read the ones they got, but they finally came home, just in time to go to Dan and Martha’s reception, out in the lovely gardens that Dan’s mom creates and sculpts, and where we younger moms looked around with jealousy, because we are doing good if we keep our plants sort of watered and kind of alive in this hot summer.

Then we galloped off to the evening service at church, where Paul preached to a slim crowd on Revelation and the beast with seven heads and ten horns, and the vacation Bible school teachers [Paul, Emily, and a bunch more] got prayed for and started setting up their classrooms, and I talked with Pauline about the picnic meal at the end of VBS next Saturday and tried to find willing people to make baked beans for 30 people each.

Steven drove us home and I typed a few more numbers into my new phone while Emily found flaws in the Companions story from years ago that someone gave her.

The boys unloaded the dishwasher and Ben talked about the Mongol empire, which was one of the biggest, longest ever, which his dad had failed to mention in the sermon as a possibility for one of the heads on the beast.

I checked on Jenny who is better but not well.

Now it is the end of Sunday and I do not feel rested, and the week ahead is about to hit like a tsunami.  I don’t think this was God’s idea for a day of rest.  Or is Sunday more about “keep it holy” than about “in it thou shalt not do any work”??

Or maybe there’s a verse in Hezekiah that says, “And the wives and mothers among you, especially those of the preacher’s household, shall not rest on the Sabbath, neither by day or night, or on the afternoon thereof.  And verily they shall feed at their table the flesh of cattle at midday, the fruit of the vine, and pottage, to all the inhabitants thereof.  And on the scroll shall they write the prayer requests of the congregation, yea, all the infirmities thereof, even unto the embarrassing personal ones, and if they by the hearing of the ears are told secrets such as would tingle the ears of the hearers from Dan to Beersheba, yet shall they remain silent, though the tales burn within them.  And even into old age shall the wives remember who didst attend at the worship of the Lord in the morning and evening assembly, and who didst absent themselves, and shall telephone them in the days to come, to enquire therein, whether they be ill, or whether a root of bitterness at another member or the pastor’s sermons troubleth them, or whether they remained in their dwelling to make merry in the company of their fellows, and to roast the meat of cattle on the coal that burneth with fire in the grill of iron."

[“At least it’s in King James,” says Jenny.]
{Actually I do NOT call people up to see why they weren't at church.  But I feel like a good minister's wife should at least notice they're gone, which I don't usually do.}

 --*--*--*
The longer Dad is here, the more I believe in multi-generational households, and the more I wish we could have had an arrangement like this 5 or 10 years ago, for Mom and Dad, with their own space close by, and me making sure they were clean and fed, and them teaching Jenny Pa. Dutch, and both of them going out to talk to the cats and keep the calves watered.

The other day I said, “When we’re old, please have us live in a dawdi haus*.”
The children immediately kicked into Clever mode.
“Actually we’ll have a Nawdi haus!”
“Cuz Mom’s gonna be naughty!”  [ha ha ha ha ha!!]

“Yeah, she’ll make Trim Healthy Mama food and try to fool us with it.”
“And she’ll give us tons of secondhand baby clothes and we’ll be like, put it on the baby, take a picture, send it to mom, give the clothes to Goodwill,”
SIGH.

*dawdi haus: a little house for the grandparents, on the same property as the main family dwelling.

&++&++&++

The kids are talking about getting me a t-shirt with a platypus on it, which I guess is the official cross of a beaver and a duck.
Ben will be the resident Beaver, since he just got accepted into Oregon State’s engineering school.
Emily will be the local Duck, since she’s going to the University of Oregon, hoping to get into the school of journalism winter term.
Both Ben and Emily completed their first two years at Linn-Benton Community College, where they both got astonishing GPA’s. [bragged Mother.]
They would also come home and discuss, with great hoots and mockery, the older students on campus who carried their books in ROLLING backpacks.
Yes, I am serious.  There were actually college students who were so old that they cared more about their aching backs than the screaming un-cool-ness of backpacks that—gales of laughter—rolled!

Me: You do realize that if I went back to college I would use a rolling case for my books.
Em and Ben: Yes, Mom.  We know.   It’s ok if it’s someone your age.  What looks so ridiculous is when a younger person does it.
SIGH again.

^^^___&&&
Since I am utterly frozen with fear at writing a novel, plus I don’t have time, I try to write a one-sentence story a day, just to start thawing.
It’s fun.
“The crowded marigolds made Frances feel understood.”


“Charles drove a stacker and wished he could drive a truck.”



“Darlene knew why Edwin always avoided Cartney Drive.”



AND.

I have a title for my 5th collection of newspaper columns:


“FOOTPRINTS ON THE CEILING.”


Someone suggest this, but they commented anonymously, so I don’t know who it was.



Quote of the Day”

“I just suddenly got curious—at what temperature would the human body melt?”

--Emily, who has the unfortunate combination of college knowledge plus hours alone on the combine

Friday, August 01, 2014

Letter from Harrisburg: Fred, the Moon, and Me

Trust, suspicion and finding men on the moon

The first moon landing, 45 years ago last Sunday, must have been a very big deal, because we actually found out about it.

Or, at least, my brother Fred did.

A lot of minor news slipped past us when we were Amish, since we didn’t have a TV or radio, and we bought a newspaper only sporadically.

We five children shared a big bedroom upstairs in that old farmhouse in 1969, and that night Fred knelt by the tall, narrow window and gazed at the moon in the sky above the buggy shed.

Fred always gave you the feeling that he was in on something mysterious and astonishing. If you were really lucky, and really nice to him, he just might let you in on the secret.

“Yes,” he said. “I think I see something.”

We rushed to the window, my 8-year-old sister Rebecca and I, a year younger.

Fred was 11. He knew everything. He said, “People landed on the moon today. I think ... yes, I’m pretty sure I see little black dots moving around on the moon.”

Really?

We leaned in and looked hard at that big white moon. We squinted and focused and pretty soon we exclaimed that ... Yes! There they were! We could see them too!

To this day, I don’t know if he had fooled himself as thoroughly as he fooled us. Much later, disillusioned, we learned to be suspicious of anything Fred told us, after he had convinced me that the pig pellets in the feed room were good to snack on, Rebecca that he and she were actually twins, and my little sister Margaret that pennies smelled like pig manure.

It is comforting that everyone who knows Fred tells similar stories of believing the most improbable things, simply because he said it in such a way that you felt stupid and unkind if you didn’t believe him.

He once worked on a dairy farm and pocketed a diseased tooth that a veterinarian pulled from a cow. Providentially, he had a wisdom tooth pulled soon after.

The owner’s wife offered her sympathies when he returned to work after his dentist visit. Fred said, all seriously, “Would you like to see the tooth they pulled?” and pulled out the cow tooth, a vicious-looking specimen with curved roots 2 inches long.

He convinced the woman it had actually come from his mouth. He still has that mysterious magic that makes you want to believe everything he says.

I’ve found that the world is full of people like Fred. Not as charming, perhaps, but just as able to make you feel silly if you don’t believe them.

To be informed on current issues to any degree is to be almost forced to form an opinion, so while I would like to walk the narrow path of reason and truth, I often find myself in one ditch or another — overly trusting and gullible, or unnecessarily skeptical and suspicious.

Health, medicine, science, finances, politics, parenting, religion and many more examples — all have spokespeople who seem determined to persuade the rest of us to alter our lives to their theories. For every multi-degreed expert presenting his case as truth so obvious and verified you couldn’t possibly believe otherwise, there’s a counter-­voice urging suspicion of experts with hidden agendas and guesses presented smoothly as fact.

Strangely, while the Amish are sometimes a bit too eager to believe the claims of alternative medicine and similar fields, many of them were skeptical about the moon landings. I lived with an elderly Amish bishop and his wife after high school, and Noah with his deep preaching voice would hold forth on the subject. “They say they put ‘de mensha’ on the moon,” he’d bellow, “but it was all made up.”

Then he’d talk confidently about how they staged the scene to make the moonscape look real and took the pictures, even though he had never used a camera in his life.

Perhaps it’s because the Amish have been fighting the cultural current for centuries that I learned in that context to be suspicious of other­wise well-respected experts in science and government.

Or maybe it’s my age, having seen experts proved wrong.

Bankers in the 1970s urged Midwestern farmers to take out enormous loans and buy equally enormous equipment. This was how modern farming was done, they said. Tragically, many of these farmers crashed and burned financially in the early ’80s.

When my friends and I were having babies, our doctors always told us that no, there was no way that teething caused fevers.

But we were the ones up at night with fussy, feverish babies who recovered magically when their upper incisors popped through, plus we had a lot more babies than any of our doctors did. So we took their expert advice with a grain of salt and gave the counsel of experienced moms equal weight.

We learned about the four food groups in home ec in high school, and later the side of every cereal box told us that low-fat food was the way to be healthy, so we nibbled on pretzels for years, feeling tired and hungry, and then lost weight and felt healthier when we switched to steak and butter and veggies.

As a mom, minister’s wife and writer, I often think about influence and what it takes to change someone’s mind. What makes us form a belief? What solidifies it? What makes us change it?

For many people, including myself, it isn’t facts and logic that make the difference. Experience and emotion and relationships are the stronger influences. You don’t win the argument by making the other side look stupid.

I “saw” the astronauts on the moon because I wanted so badly to be as cool as my brother. Later, the humiliation of being fooled multiple times outweighed the satisfaction of being in on his schemes.

Today, I am slow to believe any of Fred’s stories. I squint at him just as I squinted at the moon years ago, but now with careful analysis — true or not true? Hmmm.

This pains him deeply, he says, playing on my compassion with large, sad eyes. It worked when I was 7 but fails to affect me now.

If emotions and experience make the difference, then, most of the time, nothing I say will change anyone’s mind, so I seldom engage in debate.
Plus, I have a burdensome ability to understand all sides of an issue and why people believe as they do.

Most things are not worth arguing about, and in 10 years many of the most outspoken among us will look really silly, time having proven them wrong. If you keep your opinions to yourself, you can quietly change your views as time goes on without having to endure the pain of publicly backtracking.

My faith is important to me and, as a believer, I’ve been accused of ignoring the facts. I understand this viewpoint. Yet, the deep-down intangibles are even more real and true to me — conscience, forgiveness, hope. How do you debate such concepts?

My influence depends largely on how I make people feel, a discouraging concept for noisy debaters but comforting to people like me, who hate arguments but would love to turn everyone down the path of kindness and responsibility, simplicity and faith.

I will no doubt believe the wrong people for the wrong reasons at times, and then wise up and change my mind, as long as I live. And so will everyone around me.

What I want to remember is that we are all a lot like that little 7-year-old girl looking at the moon: persuaded more by emotions than facts, more by empathy than condescension, and more by experience than information.
Others will be influenced more by who we are than by anything wise and logical we might say.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

News Bits and a Good Reminder

I'll be at the Lane County Fair today from 3-9 pm, if any of you want to stop by.  Look for the Authors' Table in the glass-topped Atrium.

Also, I have a little piece on the Amish Wisdom blog, on differences between Amish/Mennonite communities.

Click here.

Or if you want to share the address: http://bit.ly/1rDron3

Sitting at the fair for hours makes it tempting to play the comparison game.  To my left might be a first-timer with only one book for sale who repeats his or her pitch over and over to passersby and might sell only a book or two.

Smug chuckle.

To my right might be Bob Welch, who has so many books he can hardly fit them all on the table, and so many people coming by to buy and talk that sometimes there's a line, waiting.

Sighs and despair. 

This verse was a good reminder this morning:
No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt a man.
But it is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another.
--Psalm 75: 6,7

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunday Evening Ramblings

Tonight I am going to be like my friend Miriam over at Prairie View, who often does a "Sunday Wrapup" blog post, except I am going to be less precise and profound than she is. She chooses her words very carefully.  You should follow her blog if you don't already.

Also I have a column deadline coming up and am convinced there's nothing happening about which I can assemble 1200 words, so if I list out a few things, who knows what inspiration may strike.

-0-0-0-0-
I've seen a lot of news items about the anniversary of the first moon landing.  How well I remember it happening, and now I think, it must have been HUGE news for these little Amish kids to know about it.  Or, more specifically, my brother Fred, who knelt by the tall upstairs window that evening and gazed out at the big glowing moon up in the sky above the buggy shed.  "They landed on the moon today," he said.

He gazed for a long time.  "Hey!" he said, "I think I see something!  I think I can see little black dots moving around on the moon!"

Rebecca, who was 8, and I, a year younger, rushed to the window and also gazed at that intriguing moon.  Pretty soon--why yes!--we could also see little black dots moving around!

Everyone who has been part of Fred's life for any length of time has a similar story.

_#_#_#_#_#_

We had our appropriately nicknamed friend Chip come and cut down a big pine tree south of the house this week.  We used to have five of these trees.  They were planted by my in-laws back when this house was moved onto mostly-bare property, and the trees had the advantages of being cheap and fast-growing.

They had the disadvantage of dropping pine cones that felt like the evil offspring of Legos and pincushions on bare feet.  And they grew long, long needles--probably the Native Americans wove laundry baskets out of them--that dropped by the billions every fall and had to be raked up while wearing protective footgear, as they also stabbed exposed feet at every opportunity.

Sometimes you've invested a lot of time and effort into a bad decision and you hate it but you also hate to see it go.

But in this case it's for the best.

-^-^-^

I have been thinking about rest.

Because I seldom get to rest my mind, something that, I am seeing, is even more important to the sanity of ADD introverts like me than I had previously thought.

I was so spoiled during much of the last school year, with that house-to-myself alone time every morning that I could count on, in which I could have my Bible time and make phone calls and plan my day or week.

This summer, there are seven of us here.  The boys' schedules change every two weeks, Paul works all crazy hours, Dad is here and is an early riser, and Emily is driving a combine so works from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.  The Night Guy gets home just after 7 in the morning, dusty and tired and hungry.  He clunks his lunch box on the kitchen counter and slams the front door as he goes to get the paper.  Soon Dad is thumping through the kitchen with his cane in hand, eager for oatmeal.

The Evening Shift Guy comes home after 11 pm and also makes noises, such as creaking the ancient floors of this house when I am just falling asleep, plus, I am told by someone who was tempted to violence, he sometimes showers after midnight and SINGS IN THE SHOWER.

The in, out, slam, ring, talk, eat, clatter, creak continues all day long.  Especially the talk.

And I do not get to be alone, at home, to plan and think and work without interruption.

I love having the family around me, and I love everything about summer except this part, which you will get if you're introverted, and won't if you aren't.  I could take off and be alone somewhere else, but what I need is time to work and plan in the house where I can actually see what needs to be done.

So, while longing for brain-rest, I was thinking about the verse in Psalms--"My soul finds rest in God alone."

Is this longing for alone time actually a misguided longing for more of God, like so many other longings in my past, like that hunger for second-hand shopping that hit me in Kenya?  And if so, how does it work to fill it, since I can't exactly sit down and read the Word and meditate for any length of time, which is kind of the standard answer.

+-+-+-

After steadily writing his life story on a lap desk for several weeks, my dad suddenly announced that he is finished.

What?!

"Yes, I've said pretty much everything I want to say."

I think: But there is so much more I want to know.

I suggested he write more about meeting Mom, and their courtship.  He wasn't sure he has more to say than what he's already said.

When I edit his story, I will be tempted to edit it into something it isn't, I'm afraid.  I want it to be somehow more romantic, more spiritual, more aware of how his decisions affected his children, more personal, more feely.

I must make peace with the fact that it is what it is, and it isn't mine to fix, and neither is his life.

*-*-*-

Harvest is going well.  Paul figured out how to handle a full summer's crop despite the loss of storage space and an elevator in Steve's fire.  Emily enjoys driving combine for her uncle.  Paul is keeping up pretty well despite being tired after a mysterious fever that knocked him down for about two weeks and had us all pretty scared.

=-=-=-=

I take Dad around and show him stuff, like the Great Pyramids of grass seed stored outside at the warehouse, and nephew Austin sacking




As I processed these shots they suddenly reminded me of this silly meme that was circulating recently called Kim Jong Un Looking At Things.

Google it for about a thousand more examples.

%=%=%=

Which brings me to This Stage of Life, when you have such a tangled birds' nest of memories in your brain that very odd wires connect at times, such as Dad and KJU.

Or like this person we saw who reminded me instantly of Dr. Goat in an old children's book I haven't read for probably 40 years.


A son and daughter who were with me confirmed the comparison.

Or like this conversation we had that Emily wrote down and posted on Facebook:
Me: What is the CAT doing in here?
Mom: Twining around your legs and meowing.
- later -
Me: Does "twine" just mean "twist?" Is twine just called "twine" because the threads are twined together?
Mom: I think so, because the Bible talks about "fine twined linen."
- later -
Mom: (singing) Zuckerman's famous pig!
Me: May I ask what put that song in your head?
Mom: When I said "fine twined linen," what popped into my head was, "fine swine, wish he was mine..."


When I'm writing, a detailed memory is a blessing. At other times, it can get a bit bizarre.

Now to see if any of these ramblings can balloon into a coherent column. . .

Quote of the Day:
". . .met your dad yesterday. For a man of his age, his taste in hats was excellent."
--Cam Passmore

Sunday, July 13, 2014

On Waving

A charming niece of Paul's got married this spring and moved to the Midwest where, she says, summers are not like summers in Oregon.  There is humidity, she says.  And mosquitoes.  And it doesn't cool off at night.

Anyone who has lived in both places is aware of the unbelievable perfection of Oregon summers.  Sunny, dry, well-behaved.  Largely mosquito-free.  So reliably rain-free that people leave their car and bedroom windows open all summer.  And when they go on a road trip to the Midwest, they have unpleasant surprises when they get in their car in the morning after a midnight thundershower.

However.  There's one thing very right about the Midwest, summer or winter, and that is waving.

I don't know how it is in cities, but in rural areas you wave at everyone.  Say you're driving to town for some Atrazine or Purina pig chow.  You wave at the guy out mowing his lawn, and at every driver you meet on the road.  If the guy on a tractor is within reasonable sight, you wave at him too.  You wave at the people on the sidewalk.

[Edited to add:  Maybe I should clarify that I know this is true for Minnesota and Oklahoma, so I use the term "Midwest."  But it might not apply at all points between and beside.]

In Oregon, you wave only if you know people.  In fact, waving at everybody is considered odd at best and boldly invitational at worst.

Maybe not everyone in Oregon is like this, but I learned from my mother-in-law, who feels strongly enough about it that she once got in the car and drove down the road to correct little Matt, who was walking from Grandma's house to the warehouse and waving at all the trucks going by.

She implied that waving in such a way sends a message you don't want to send.  Waving at truck drivers was somehow more dangerous than waving at people in smaller vehicles.

However, like I said, you ARE supposed to wave at people you know, no matter what they're driving.  I keep getting into Awkward Moments with waving and its social expectations.

1. The Itchy Eyebrow.  I'm driving along and what looks like Bonnie's blue minivan is coming the other way, so I wave and smile and ... oops!  It's definitely not Bonnie, so I quickly scratch my eyebrow and/or adjust the mirror.

Sometimes it's worse.  Recently I was driving to town and saw Simone in her car at her in-laws' place, and in the field right next to them was a big yellow combine growling along, and I very quickly extrapolated that Simone must have dropped off her daughter Dolly, who is driving their new combine--didn't they buy a Case?-- this year despite some physical challenges, and that must be her out there, how cool is that, yay for her, the brave little thing, and so I smiled hugely and waved happily and exaggeratedly, and then I saw through the dust that it was most definitely not Dolly but someone much bigger, older, and maler.  Who I hoped couldn't recognize me.

2. ABCDEFG, Someone is Ignoring Me.  Often I'm driving along and I don't recognize an oncoming vehicle--or I'm too zoned out to look--and right at the last second I suddenly see that it's... Arlene!!  And it's too late to wave, so I look both oblivious and rude.

Some people are nice about this and some are actually offended.  "Hey, I met your husband on 228 yesterday and he never looked at me or waved."
"Uh, yeah, well he had a lot on his mind.  I'm so sorry."

3. Did She Or Didn't She? [Only her hairdresser knows for sure.]  Well, I guess this probably happens in the Midwest as well and is just as awkward.  I'm biking along Substation Drive in the pleasant summer eve and there's a combine in the field by Milford and Susie's, so I'm sure the driver is someone I know, so I need to wave.  I wave and the bike wobbles.  But it's dusty enough and the sun is just right so I can't see if the driver saw me and waved back.  What to do?  I don't want to be all oblivious and rude, so I wave again a hundred feet down the road.  I still can't tell, so I wave again.  Then I turn around by the bridge and repeat the same thing on the way home.

4.  The Rude Returner.  I go back to the Midwest for a visit and run into town with my brother.  He waves at everyone with a forefinger that pops up automatically from the steering wheel like a spring-loaded flag.  I do not.  He is taken aback at how I've lost my manners.  In the grocery store, everyone I meet in the aisles looks at me and says hi, a custom that is just as important as waving.  The first two times, I jump and almost shriek.  Then I think, Ah, I'm back in the Midwest.  Where they get the humidity and mosquitoes wrong, but where they get a lot of things right.

Wouldn't that simplify things to have a single rule: Always Wave at Everyone If You're Driving.  And Say Hi To Everyone If You're Not.

Quote of the Day:
"Oh dear.  I'm gonna be a terrible mom.  The cats were looking at me with these big pleading eyes and I'm like, 'You have food.  You have water.  DEAL with it.'"
--Jenny

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Post About Nothing In Particular Except Life In July

"You haven't posted in a while," said my mother-in-law.
Sometimes I eat lunch on the porch and watch other people work.
I thought Ok, if Anne--who doesn't even get online, but relies on email feeds--notices, then it's probably time to post.

I said something like, "I've been really busy."

I thought something like, "Nothing is really happening."

Which isn't entirely true.  But this is the sort of stuff that's happening:

I bought two big fat [butchered] chickens at the grocery store.  I cooked one in the crock pot and thought I would pick off the meat and save the broth and make a big vish of chicken noodle soup.

The meat all disappeared just like THAT.

So I baked the second chicken yesterday and served it with baked potatoes and lima beans.  I picked off the leftover meat to make chicken noodle soup and I said, "DO NOT EAT THE CHICKEN IN THIS CONTAINER."  By this morning, most of it was gone.

I wonder how chicken-less chicken noodle soup would taste.
Here my great-niece Izzy and I are celebrating the 4th.
We are suddenly in the middle of harvest.  Fragrant field smells and lovely sunsets and big combines crawling across fields.  It seems there is always a hungry person in the kitchen fixing food, having just come home from work or just about to leave.


Ben is sacking seed with the help of Cody, who came with his grandpa who was dumping a truck.
Here's Cody's grandpa, Leonard Baker, blowing the last seeds out of his truck.
My dad is staying with us.  I am quite sure he isn't the fridge-raider, as I am always urging him to eat more.

Emily took her grandpa blueberry picking.  He is 97 and didn't think he'd ever gone blueberry picking before.
Here's Paul, putting some seed into totes, because someone had a field of K31 certified fescue, and there was a field of regular fescue next to it, and the seed from a buffer zone in between had to be kept separate.  It made more sense to put it in totes than to use up a whole bin for 4000 pounds of seed.  Something like that.  I do like having a hardworking and dusty husband.
Jenny has been taking lots of practice driving tests online, but she was still fearful that she'd fail.  I said, "You had a big brother who insisted that he was ready and I took him in and he failed TWICE.  There's an inverse relationship between competence and confidence in this area, I think."

Paul took her in today.  Of course she passed.  She came home and made lots of noise about this.  "Don't drive yourself crazy," said her grandpa.  And then he laughed and laughed.

I said, "Did you tell anyone?"
She said, "I told Allison, Emily, Janane, and Deana, and I asked Janane to text Ashley because for some reason my phone won't let me."
All right then, that should do it.

The ruins of Steve's fire have been cleared away and the new building project is underway.
"And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, . . " Isaiah 61:4
Cousin Trish and her husband are building a big straw shed across the way.  "Does that shed remind you of anything?" I asked Emily.
"Yes!  It reminds me of Noah's Ark," she said.
"Me too!!" I said, and then we both didn't feel quite so weird any more.


So I told Trish I feel like one of the wicked people in Noah's day who is watching the ark being built.  She said, "Oh dear!"

I also feel like we live back with the Druids or whoever they were, in ancient England, and they are putting up Stonehenges all over.
First they criss-cross the field with big balers and stackers.  Here's the last one leaving, with our new calf over there in the corner.  We actually have two calves: Merry and Pippin.

They weren't up quite in time for the summer solstice.
 
Some girls were over and they baked and decorated cupcakes.
Here they're sharing with Paul.

 Now this was actually worth blogging about: my sister-in-law Laura called and said her cousin Kathryn is in town and they'd like to get their former classmates and teachers together.  Which would include me!

It was a fun time of reminiscing.  The two girls who used to fight in the car on the way to school and then pour out their hearts to me about it at school?  Well, they sat and discussed homeschool curriculums.

Left to right: Celesta Yoder Nelson (teacher), Laura Schrock Smucker, Kathryn Bender Garbutt, Greta Gingerich Shaum, Rosie Smucker Leichty, Esther Schrock Troyer, Gina Gingerich Hostetler, Senesa Showalter Yoder, Dorcas Yoder Smucker (teacher)



1983--the same group plus a few more girls and all the boys
Two mean boys--who weren't there--are now preachers.

Kathryn once put ketchup in a teacher's shoes.

Alton K. once dumped a bottle of glue in Kathryn's hair.

When this bunch was about 16 years old, five of them went to the coast overnight and rented a condo.  Without adults or cell phones.  None of them would e.v.e.r. let their daughters do the same.

I'm sure they could have dredged up dreadful stories of the things I did as their teacher, but they were very kind.  I told them how I finally made peace with some of the inept things I did.  When my daughters were that age, I suddenly realized that this is how teenagers are and this is what they do.  If the school board was dumb enough to hire a 19-year-old they didn't know, then they deserved exactly what they got.

We all survived those years.  They are all gracious people who can read and write and cipher.  And much more.

Quote of the Day:
"True or false:  Trains should be given the right of way in all situations."
--online practice driving test