Sunday, July 26, 2015

Southern Accents, Oklahoma Memories, and Writing Cabins

You know how Americans are a bit too enraptured with all things British?

William and Catherine!
Buckingham Palace!
The accent!
The Queen!

Well.  I am like that about the American South.

The porches!
The accent!
"Yes, Sir," and "No, Ma'am!"
Fried okra!
Black-eyed peas!
The accent!
The chivalry!
The manners!
Fried chicken!
Big brick churches!
And did I mention the accent?!

Last week one day I got a phone call from a truck driver who needed to pick up a load at the warehouse.  Oh. My. Word.  He had the thickest and heaviest Southern accent I've heard in YEARS.  He was from Memphis!  How many truck drivers from Memphis come to the Wilton Smucker Warehouse?  I would have said None, but there he was, with an accent so thick you had to sort out the words one by one because they were stretched out and then glued together with sweet tea and molasses.

Ben came home from sacking that day and told us about this truck driver who came by with this unbelievable Southern accent, so I wasn't the only one who was impressed.

Paul's explanation was that there's a company in Memphis that for some reason decided to send their own trucks for seed rather than having it shipped by rail or some other way.

Just a few days ago it happened again.  The accent wasn't quite as pronounced, but again it was a truck driver and he was traaah-in' to faaahhhnnnd this warehouse, and the G-P-EHHSSS had sent him to the end of Substation, and he couldn't go no further.

Well.  That meant he was right outside our house.

I told him to turn right and go a quarter mile and look for the sign.  Then I looked out the window and there went this big white truck, with the company name on the side.  "Wiley Sanders."  Oh my word.  Could there possibly be a more Southern name than WILEY SANDERS?

My sister Margaret married a guy from Mississippi and is a little less starry-eyed about the South than I am.  It's HOT AND MUGGY, she says, and there are BIG SNAKES in her mother-in-law's attic!

So I guess I will continue to admire the South from afar and hope that lots of Southern farmers will feel compelled to buy grass seed from Oregon and have it shipped by an outfit like Wiley Sanders.  And I guess if my friends in the South want to call me up and just let me listen to them now and then, that would be ok too.

In other news:

Paul is working on prepping the old machine-shed boards for my writing cabin.  He pulled 99 old nails out of one board, he told me, which confirms for us all what a labor of love this is, since this goes entirely against his natural bent of being as efficient as possible.

I stopped by the other day and we evaluated which of those beautiful ancient textured boards should be used for flooring, siding, and so on.

This week I was at the authors' table at the county fair for a few hours and didn't sell many books but as always talked with other authors.

Bill Sullivan the hiking-guide author was stationed next to me.  Some years ago he and his wife built a log cabin way back in along the Siletz River.  They had to haul all their materials in by hand, a mile and a half.  He told me the hilarious story of going to the county office to get a permit for this project.  For one thing, he had drawn up the plans in metric measurements, and the county people just squinted at it, completely confused; for another, the officials were asking about plumbing, electricity, and road frontage, none of which applied, and like so many official paper-filers they didn't know what to do with this.  Finally they gave him one of those yellow papers that you tack up outside when you're doing a building project, indicating that the county has given you permission to work on this.  So Bill tacked the yellow paper up in a prominent place, knowing full well no one would ever check up on him.  The next day a cow ate it.

I knew Bill would understand the charm of a cabin with reclaimed materials, and I told him about our "Acorn Cottage" project and how Paul plans to make it.

He said, "Good.  You need a writing cabin.  I built a cabin for myself at the cabin."


"Yes.  It's 8 by 10 feet.  I have a typewriter there and nothing else.  Well, a typewriter and a table and windows."

He went on, "Especially with writing fiction, you need to be by yourself."

All right then.  Not that I needed affirmation or permission, but it was nice to get it anyhow.
-     -     -

This week I also took Dad to see his cousin Paul Yoder in Eugene.  Both of them lived in Oklahoma, but Dad was eight years older, and Paul's family moved to Oregon when he was twelve.  They had a great time reminiscing and Dad could still reel off the names of all the Indian kids in school without even stopping to think.

I know Indian isn't the most appropriate term any more but that's what Dad called them so I'll keep the term for the sake of the story.

The government at that time was trying to get the Indians --mostly Cherokee and Osage in that area--to be farmers, so they would give each family some land, a plow, and two horses.  In one area near Thomas, Oklahoma, most of the farmers were Amish or Indian.

So that peculiar combination of cultures went to school together, apparently with no dominant-culture American/"Englisch" kids in the mix.  Many of the students got to be friends, and Dad and his brothers went to Indian pow-wows where, Dad says, the drums pounded all night long.

The Indians used to eat turtle soup and also puppy soup, Paul said. I don't know if they shared with the Amish kids or not.

When Paul was quite young, his brother Earl and Earl's friend Elmer decided to dip Julia Big Eagle's ponytail in the inkwell.  Pretty classic behavior of boys in that era, if the books are to be believed, but what happened then wasn't in any children's book that I've read.

Julia went home and told her mom what had happened, and her mom was not happy.  Paul says, "Her mom come to school the next morning, a big Indian woman, with her blanket wrapped around her, and from under the blanket she pulls this big butcher knife, and she took off after Earl and Elmer.  We were scared.  We didn't know what she was going to do."

Earl and Elmer dashed into the outhouse and locked the door.  Mrs. Big Eagle pounded on the door, trying to get in, and the terrified boys kicked out a board in the back of the outhouse, slithered through the hole, and ran off into the cornfield.

"I was just little," Paul said, "and my eyes were this big."

He still looked scared, telling us about it 80 years later.

-     -     -
Quote of the Day:
The dishwasher broke, which means a lot more conversation over dishes:
Emily and Ben get gradually more loud and animated, Smuckerishly, as they discuss a professor at LBCC.
Grandpa: A soft answer turneth away wrath!
Ben and Emily: Huh??!
Jenny: I think he thinks you guys are arguing.
Kids: [howls of laughter]
And we all think: Oh, Grandpa!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

When Life is Hard Slogging

About seven years ago I directed a dreadful Christmas play called Why the Chimes Rang.  It began as a good idea but turned into a bad-dream project that muddled on and on, growing huger and more complicated, with every aspect of it, from the singing to the costumes to the behavior at rehearsals, steadily degenerating into chaos as time went on.

Or at least that's how it is seared into my memory, which is why I haven't directed a play since.

One of the characters was a young mother who was hungry and lost on a winter night.  The actress was supposed to come down the church aisle, unsteady and desperate, clutching her baby in her shawl as the winter winds blew the snow down on the village.

She had one line to say: "Oh, I am so weary and cold."

Thankfully the girl who played this part had a sense of humor, because for some reason she COULD NOT GET THAT LINE.

"Oh I am so tired and hungry!" she would say before collapsing into the snowbank which I think was a pile of quilt batting from the sewing circle, covered with a white sheet.

No no.

Back up the aisle, turn around, and toward the front again, into the wind.  "I am so weary and tired!"

No!  "WEARY and COLD."

"Oh, I am so cold and hungry!"

I'm not sure if she ever got it right, even on the night of the program.  I should have let her ad-lib, I guess.  Who would have noticed?

I am thinking of this scene now because sometimes there are seasons of life in which it feels like we're all weary and cold, fighting our way into the winter wind, and our shawl isn't enough protection at all, and we are about to collapse into the snowbank with our baby in our arms.

Sometimes life is just a lot of hard slogging, on and on, and we grow weary in body and soul, which makes us extra weary and cold in spirit as well, and it feels we will never reach the front of the church, and for sure we won't hear the miraculous chimes when they ring in the steeple on Christmas Eve.

This is such a season.

I've had more sickness this summer than I've had in years.  Bouts of bronchitis, weeks of just feeling unwell that makes a normal day's work feel like climbing Mt. Hood, all of it complicated by a certain affliction that my children say is entirely TMI but it involves a sudden sense of flames radiating out of one's ears and breaking out in perspiration from every pore, and it comes upon women my age uninvited.

That this combination should land in the middle of summer, of all times, and the hottest summer in years, and just when everyone is working long days to the point of utter exhaustion, and also while my dad is here, just feels wrong.  Other times, there'd be someone around to pick up the slack.  Now, there isn't.

Life becomes a hard climb uphill, day after day.

As I said, there's the relentless heat, so unusual for an Oregon summer, and the early and intense dryness of it, so the grass has died, the lilac leaves--normally hardy through the heat of August--already look curled, and all the flowers wilt quickly as soon as my back is turned.

Harvest.  Animals to feed.  Yard work.  Jobs and school and vehicles. Fruit to pick and put away.

Summer is wonderful but it is also hard, and I sense in my spirit that I am not the only one facing a hard path to joy, that others face relentless spiritual forces as well, that many of us are short on rest of every kind.

Tests must be studied for, late at night, for summer classes, and the summer job means your friends go swimming and you stock shelves, and worn-out belts and motors must be fixed high in dusty warehouses in motionless heat.

Young people with long hours of alone time on combines and in deserted warehouses day after day end up with too much time to think and no outside voices to counter the inner noise.  Condemnation, temptation, depression--whatever the spiritual weakness, it shows up here.  And sometimes just a weird outlook on life, and then they start having arguments in their heads with all the stupid people on NPR or with Rush Limbaugh or that opinionated sports dude.

Then they think, "Wait.  I am arguing with people on the radio."

It's the season when young people apologize.  I first noticed this years ago, when a young friend was driving combine and then wrote me a note apologizing for how she had said something, and she's afraid she left the wrong impression, but really she meant it like this, and she feels very badly about this.

Combine syndrome, I named it.

Last Sunday two young people came to me separately and apologized for lying, kind of.  One wanted to leave this impression and not that, but it wasn't honest.  The other had answered a question impulsively but, she later realized, not accurately.

And I felt their soul struggles in the hot sunshine and I saw their difficult journeys and I wanted to say, "It's just a hard hard season, all around, and a tough trail, just now. Be gentle with yourself."

The day I found myself lecturing Caitlyn Jenner, I knew I had a bad case of combine syndrome of my own.  In case you're the last person in America to know this, the athlete Bruce Jenner has taken steps to transition into a woman and now goes by Caitlyn.  This news has been all over social media, news media, everywhere. And I was actually thinking about this, and harping in my head: "It is none of my business what you do with your life, but you're in your sixties and if you want people like me to take you seriously as a woman, how about you transition into someone named Edith with gray hair and a bit of a belly and some HOT FLASHES, OK???"

Then I thought: God help us.  Saeed Abedini is still in prison.  Christian people are dying in Nigeria.  There are still silent little orphans in toy-less cribs in Jamaica and China.

And I have followed the rest of this country down this rabbit hole of insanity.

I laughed at myself, which is what you learn to do at my age, especially if the choice is down to laughing or crying, and I went back to the Word and ate it hungrily.  And that is what I have been telling the discouraged young people in my life: you need more Jesus, and you need to counter the crazy voices with Scripture, even if it's a dusty note card tacked up by the sacker or a podcast on the combine.  And you need to talk with real people with real voices who speak real words to you.

So one morning I made Dad's oatmeal and then escaped to Jake's Cafe in Harrisburg and met a friend for breakfast.  A fellow mom who has kids the ages of mine and adrenal issues.  And those two hours were like a huge icy Kicker from Dutch Bros on a 100-degree day on an un-air-conditioned tractor.  Had I not been in this season, with all this work and all these challenges, I wouldn't have appreciated it half as much.

At least I know this, among all the hot flashes and hot days and the dry straw swirling and the hard uphill journey--the season eventually ends.  I've been here before, and I know this for a solid fact.  It doesn't last forever.  One day when you least expect it the farmer will tell you you're combining the last field today, and you'll have time in the afternoon to go swimming, or you can sit up late with friends on a Sunday night because you won't have class the next day, or a cloudy day turns into a scattered rain, and maybe the lilacs will be ok.

The day will come when the sackers won't be working night shift any more, the blueberries will all be in the freezer, the farmer won't need you to do flail-chopping until next week.  Your mind will think normal thoughts again, the confusion will pass, the guys on the radio will be only an occasional noise in the background.

And finally finally you'll reach the front of the church and get your line right, or at least right enough, and the long long walk will be done at last, and the chimes will ring in the ancient belfry, and as you sit on the pew and rest you will know that it was scary and hard and it seemed it would never end, but you are stronger, better, wiser, braver for what you've just been through.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

July's Column--On Summer, Food, and Such


Cooking can nourish the soul, too

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JULY 12, 2015

You’d have thought we were a pioneer family loading our covered wagon in St. Joseph, Mo., the other day, instead of a mother and daughter stocking up for the next few weeks at Cash and Carry, Eugene’s efficient restaurant-supply store.

Five dozen eggs. 25 pounds of brown sugar. 50 pounds of potatoes. A gallon each of barbecue sauce and ketchup. A quart of mustard. Six pounds of sliced cheese. Seven pounds of sandwich meats. Two quarts of cream. And a three-gallon barrel of vanilla ice cream.

We heaved it all into our car, the ice cream wrapped in a sleeping bag in the trunk and the potato bag awkwardly swung into the back seat with Emily and I each hoisting an end.

This summer, it seems that food is consuming me, instead of the other way around.

Food, family and the grass-seed harvest take up most of my time.

“You got any oats?” my 98-year-old dad demands enthusiastically at 7:15 a.m., thumping into the kitchen with his cane and his hard-soled shoes.

“Sorry, I gave them all to the horse!” I joke, and I set the little pan of water on the stove just as our son Ben comes in from a night of sacking grass seed and stands beside me at the stove frying three large quesadillas before he goes to bed for the day.

Steven, our youngest son, took his turn cooking for his fellow firefighter students on an overnight shift last week. Late the night before, he shredded potatoes and chopped celery for a salad, then left at 5 a.m. with a gallon container of pulled pork, 15 enormous buns, two quarts of homemade applesauce, and the tub of potato salad.

Some of us pack lunches to take to work; some eat lunch at home. Some make tea in the morning, some coffee. They all have different work schedules, so someone is constantly in the kitchen, rooting in the fridge for a late meal after work. Most of the seven of us gather around the table at 6 p.m. for a big meat-and-potatoes dinner. And just before 11 p.m., Ben once again rattles drawers and opens cupboard doors, preparing fuel for the middle of the night.

We pick gallons of berries to wash and freeze for winter, reserving some for fresh pies and cobblers.

Then there are hot dog roasts in the back yard with young cousins and friends around the fire pit in the dark, guests and grilled chicken on the Fourth, and Sunday dinners with extra leaves in the table and a pot roast in the oven all morning.

I’m the one who makes sure it all happens.

They all know basic cooking, I make sure of that, and they all pack their own lunches. But someone has to manage the logistics of this operation and keep it running efficiently, and that would be me.

“How did I get to this place?” I wonder now and then as I check the long list on my clipboard and brace my feet to heave a 200-pound cart of groceries down the condiments aisle at WinCo. I was the girl who could happily live on Cheerios, fresh peaches and iced tea. Mom taught me to cook, sort of, but I didn’t find it particularly interesting or fulfilling.

Paul and I took the traditional roles of breadwinner and housewife when we got married, which worried me just a little, but I soon learned that we were both happy with simple Crock-Pot meals.

Then the world spun around a few times and I found myself a mother of six, a pastor’s wife, a friend of many, and the chief food coordinator for a houseful of people and a stream of guests, with two refrigerators, two freezers, three full pantries, and a shocking grocery budget.

The most discouraging part of the job is that all my hard work is constantly disappearing. Hours of shopping, baking, thawing, stirring, frying, whipping and then, in minutes, it’s gone, with only a few bones left on the plates and a smear of dressing in the bowl.

This is what is means to be an adult, I think: to make peace with the life you didn’t foresee, to see spiritual significance in the daily repeated tasks and to find fulfillment in doing them well.

If all I can see is the doing, the disappearing and the dirty dishes, I’m going to be resentful. I won’t be concerned with quality and nutrition. I’ll quit being creative. Worst, I won’t see that it’s not about frantically shoveling mash in a trough but about bringing together and nourishing the people I love.

So, as I do with everything, I look to the Bible for perspective. “Bread” is the word for food in general, I find, and it is used with reverence.

“Man shall not live by bread alone,” Deuteronomy says, and Jesus repeats the words, much later. He teaches his followers to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He asks, regarding God’s generosity, “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” And then he says, mysteriously, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

The Book of Proverbs dares us to be surprising: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” And: “He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.”

Food, I conclude, has far greater significance than a McDouble grabbed and eaten on the way to more important things. It’s meant to be fellowship, gratitude and sustenance, an indicator of character, a unifying gift, a symbol of spiritual realities.

If I believe in divine design, then I also believe that all these people in my life are precious to God, this constant hunger was intentional, and to nourish and feed his children is a calling with eternal significance.

“Work is love made visible,” Kahlil Gibran wrote in his poem “On Work.” “For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.”

The bowl of apples on the counter becomes a work of art, the bags of groceries hauled inside on a hot day a sacrifice to God, the cheesecake a fulfilling creative challenge. The cookie in a lunch bag opened on a dusty combine, the smell of bacon drifting upstairs on a summer morning, the barbecued dinner on the porch that makes a harvest-weary husband smile — these are holy and precious things, love offered on a plate, fragrant whiffs of joy, beauty that disappears in minutes but continues for a lifetime and eternity.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guest Post on Properties of Light

Lucinda at Properties of Light asked me to do a guest blog while she's off on a mission project in Canada.

So I did.  It's kind of a motherly post, about our choices accumulating into a pile that constitutes our life when we're my age.

You can read it here.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Busy Birthday

Today was my birthday.  I'm 53 years old now, which sounds terribly old but it doesn't feel that bad.

I decided to document what I did on my birthday, which proves that even when you're 53, sometimes you decide to act like a 15-year-old, complete with selfies.

Mostly, though, this is for me, to remind myself How Blessed I Am.

First I made a pot of tea for me and a pan of oatmeal for my dad, just like always.

Then Paul took me out for breakfast at Denny's.  But first I took my tea along, on my lap, because I like to sip tea while someone else is driving.

After a large breakfast, Paul dropped me off at Grocery Depot.  I love Grocery Depot.  These slabs of frozen pig were 99 cents a pound.  Now that Jenny's working there, I think I'm once again known as the go-to person who will take the stuff that's not selling or that doesn't fit in the freezer or that they simply don't know what to do with.

I am happy to fill that role.

Courtney rang me up.
It was nearly noon before we got home, so I bustled around to prepare for the annual birthday tea with Anita the neighbor and Lois the sister-in-law at 2:00.  This is a long-standing tradition of ours, since our birthdays are all close together.  The three of us are almost never together otherwise--maybe at funerals now and then.  But we love love love these birthday afternoons together, and we talked, and at 5:45 I just HAD to tell them another story, and they graciously listened.

See, you can have a lot of fun at these ages.

During our tea, Jenny came home from buying peaches, and my Sunday school pupil, Tanner, came by with the raspberries he and his brother picked for me.  Oh my.  Heaven.


Jenny made supper since it was my birthday--shrimp alfredo with spaghetti, and a spinach salad, and ice cream with fresh fruit.

Then the girls brought out a large, awkward package wrapped in a tablecloth.

It was an adorable yellow watering can.
Their one stipulation was that I need to get that awful green plastic watering can off the porch, now that I have this one.

I thought we needed a good shot of Paul and me, but first I had to get the raspberry seed out of my teeth, which Jenny felt compelled to document.

All right, now for the real picture:

After supper I talked with Matt on Skype for a long time, interrupted by a fun phone call from Paul's sister Barb, who likes to call people on their birthdays.

It was almost dark by then, but I decided to go on a quick bike ride in the lovely harvesty evening air.

When I came back I went to say hello to the calves, Merry and Pippin.

 Hey!  Why don't I take a selfie with the calves?!  So I did.

Steven came home late from his classes.  While he heated some leftovers and hunted for the comics, I tried to strike up a conversation, which is what I do.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Why don't you sit down and tell me about your life?
Steven:  Ahh, always with the broad questions.

But he talked enough to make me happy.  It was a good ending to a very good day.

I am indeed blessed.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I Knew Them Back Then

Sometimes you don't realize how special a time was until long after it's gone.

The members of A Capella Harmony Quartet were all in Oregon for a little while, so they arranged to sing for our evening service today.

The parking lot was full when we arrived.  Cars were being parked on the grass to the south and on the ball field.  The sanctuary was full, so we sat in the balcony, where people hauled in Sunday school chairs and joined us.  Apparently the foyer below filled up as well, and we heard the clank of folding chairs as edges and corners filled up with overflow seating.

The singing was just lovely.  And, I'm told by someone who knows music, it was also just GOOD.

Later I was also told that, despite the fact that AHQ parted ways a long time ago, they're still one of the most popular groups in the acapella-only slice of the Mennonite church.  Hence the great turnout.

I thought: Wow.  I was here when they began.

First it was four young guys singing after church, just for fun.  Well, three really young guys and Tom.  I think Byran and David were 12 when they started, and Tom was a few years older.

Gradually they became a Group, and they'd be asked to share a few songs on Sunday evening, and Tom would get up front and ask "the boys" to join him.

They sang more, and better, and for more people.  They made a recording, then another and another.  They sang at weddings and Southern Gospel celebrations and churches.

Don McGarry's cat had four kittens, and he took it as a sign, and named them Tom, Byran, Konrad, and David.

AHQ did an impressive job of combining creativity, excellence, and humility.

Paul went on several tours with them, where Paul would talk about missions in Mexico, and the quartet would sing. [Since we weren't a singing family, and you can't have the missions talk without the singing.] I went along on a tour in the South, and we went to places like Florida and Georgia, and we had sweet tea and pink-pod-purple-eyed peas.

And then after they had been all over the country and had sung for all those fancy people, they would come back to Oregon and sing those same songs for us at little old Brownsville Mennonite.

When they sang Then Came the Morning, it always made me cry.

Eventually life, college, marriage, and such things got in the way, and the group disbanded.

But today they were there again, on the platform at Brownsville, with a lot more life lived, and the songs were not just fun, as they had been in the past, but sung out of hearts that knew them to be true.

They sang Then Came the Morning and it made me cry again because it was about the Resurrection and so achingly amazingly right and so beautifully sung.

Did I have any idea how blessed we were back then when Tom would step up to the platform and ask "the boys" to join him, and when we watched the group grow into what they became?

No.  But I know now.

I wonder: what wonderful future something is sprouting, all ordinary and hidden, in someone I know and see all the time, right now?

Quote of the Day:
"There's an Office Deppot and a Hair Saloon."
--Konrad Krabill, who deliberatly mispronounced things, in a rumbling commentary from the back seat of the van on one of our trips with AHQ

Sunday, June 21, 2015

On Dads, Smuckers, Sickness, and Good Things Accumulating

I've never understood why dads are so maligned in our culture, from the inept Berenstain Bears dad to commercials and YouTube videos that portray Mom as all capable and efficient, and Dad as the bumbling burping guy who's kind of along for the ride.

If a girl has a good Protector Dad, she won't put up with any nonsense from other men--that's been my observation.  Our girls have had employment situations where there was opportunity to be preyed on by creepy men.  I never feared for our daughters, who are all tough and articulate and would have put such a person exactly in his place.  Unlike the young lady they knew who said, all bewildered, "Well, yes, I gave him my phone number.  I didn't want to hurt his feelings."

A single mom can teach her daughter to be wise and strong.  But I think there's something magic about a strong dad that imparts an invisible security and suppleness in his kids, without even consciously trying.

Paradoxically, a dad's message of "I am here and I will fight for you" also says, "You have what it takes to go do what you need to do."

So Happy Father's Day to Paul, who is the person we turn to when the oven door shatters, the electrical outlet buzzes, the headlight breaks, the scammer calls, confidence lags, and any sort of danger lurks.


Last weekend was the Smucker reunion at Drift Creek Camp, a Mennonite facility way back in the mountains of the Coast Range, east of Lincoln City.  You have to navigate miles of one-lane twisty roads to get there.

Four of the young ladies present were pregnant, which tells you how the population graph in this family is going.

If you want to see pictures of the weekend, click here.


Unfortunately, a number of people at the reunion had sore throats.  Thanks to a strict regimen of diet and supplements and flu shots, I hadn't had bronchitis in two years.  But the combination of late nights and cold rooms and being rundown ahead of time was too much, and since I can't be content with a simple sore throat, I've been fighting that miserable cough/fever/asthma crud ever since.

My dad is here again for part of the summer, and he also got sick which worried me seriously.  But he got better after two days, which means his constitution at age 98 is better than mine at 52.

I've tried to be productive with immobile things like organizing recipes while outside the windrowers are rushing by and the guys are prepping the warehouse and harvest is HERE, the earliest harvest since Paul's had the warehouse.

Once again we are relying on a supply of sons and nephews to sack seed, with my nephew Austin Koehn coming to replace Paul's nephew Austin Smucker later in the summer.


I have been thinking about things accumulating.  Not only things like papers in the office, but also things like choices and things you need and good health.

I wrote a guest post for a friend about this, which will be up in about a week, so I won't elaborate here.

Except to say, so few things in life are done in one fell swoop.

Relationships, the Tupperware in the cupboard replacing the Cool Whip containers I used in our poor days, sewing skills, discretion, the collection of quirky little chickens on the kitchen shelf.  All accumulated little by little, taking advantage of the moments, over a long time.

Quote of the Day:
I was sick in bed with bronchitis.  Emily was tagging bags at the warehouse and came home with a headful of dust.  She wondered if there was anything she could do about it.
Me: [croaking] Have you ever used a Yeti pot?
Emily: ???
Me: NETI !!!  A Neti pot!!
Emily: Well, I guess a Yeti needs a place to go too.
Me: [strangled laughter]

Monday, June 15, 2015

June's Column--Dad, the Bag, and the Printer

You knew I was going to get more mileage out of that printer fix, right?

Hacking  a system  of values

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JUNE 14, 2015

My dad and his turquoise bag arrived this week. Dad is 98 years old. The bag is about half his age.

My sister Margaret recalls that the bag came from a Dumpster in 1988, when Mom and Dad were restocking their lives after a house fire and hit an occasional bonanza in a stash of garage sale leftovers.

It’s a deep bag, with two short, sturdy handles, in a textured Naugahyde that was probably in style in 1965. It already looked brittle back in 2005 when I flew with Mom and Dad to Pennsylvania for my niece’s wedding. A zealous TSA agent, spotting Dad’s razor on an X-ray, pulled aside the bag for further inspection.

She dipped in and hoisted out Mom’s nightgown by the shoulders, then sweaters, a toothbrush case, and finally Dad’s heavy metal razor. Her rubber fingertips daintily screwed the bottom piece, and the flaps on top slowly opened. No razor blade. She smiled. All was well.

What she didn’t know was that Dad, who had read somewhere that you can’t take razor blades on a plane, had mailed them ahead of time to my sister’s house.

That episode forever gave me a sick feeling about both TSA and the turquoise bag.

That bag went on road trips to Iowa, full of magazines to read, rugs to crochet and sandwiches for lunch.

It went across the country on the train a few times. And then, this week, it came to Oregon again, by air this time, along with Dad and my brother and sister-in-law. Dad’s razor didn’t alert TSA this time, but his pocketknife was confiscated.

The bag sits sturdily in Dad’s room, undaunted and hideous.

My parents used things until they wore out. Then they repaired them and used them some more.

They did not throw things away.

When we sorted through my parents’ possessions for a sale six months after Mom’s passing, we found Dad’s heavy barn mitts, the grimy yellow fabric mended and re-mended until it looked as patchworked as a map of Europe, with even white stitches on all the national borders, way up to the North Sea.

In my dad’s lifetime, our culture has gone from Depression-era frugality and a determined use-it-up-wear-it-out philosophy to billions of single-use diapers and Cool Whip containers tossed into landfills.

My parents didn’t talk about why they lived like this. It was the right and responsible thing to do, like saying please and thank you. They might have mentioned stewardship of God’s creation and benevolence now and then, but they had no articulate philosophy for feeding table scraps to the chickens and taping the broken broom handle back together. Why would you think of doing otherwise?

Thankfully, a growing crowd of young people is questioning our consumerism and articulating why. Those cheap breakable gadgets, strings of Christmas lights and cute shoes are cheap only because they were likely made by someone twisting wires with his teeth or inhaling weird chemicals all day and getting paid less in a month than you get in a day, they say. And a landfill full of cellphones and water bottles calls for modern words like nonrenewable resources and recycling and economic inequity.

Does this mean, astonishingly, that my parents were actually hipsters, reusing and recycling before it was cool?

I also wonder which has the greater virtue — doing the right thing just because it seems right or doing it for well-thought-out reasons.

I find myself, as always, in the middle — frugal because it seems right, concerned about waste and economic disparity, equally appalled at the Naugahyde bag that won’t quit and the impossibility of fixing anything slightly technological.

The daily items of Mom and Dad’s life could be understood and repaired — the torn apron, the worn-out leather on a harness, the dangling hinge.

Our daily tools can be neither comprehended nor repaired by normal people.

I once bought a pressure washer to clean a winter’s dog tracks off the porch and a summer’s dust off the siding. It had a yellow body the size of a four-slice toaster and cost about $60 — for me, a substantial investment in a cleaning gadget.

One day it stopped working. I couldn’t fix it and my husband, whose abilities approach miraculous, couldn’t either.

Determined, I located a business that repaired pressure washers. I took my cute little washer into the shop, where huge muscular washers sat around on the concrete floor like a bunch of Great Danes taking a break from eating cats.

The large bearded man behind the counter took one look at the machine I carried and turned to me in complete disbelief. No. Absolutely not. He wouldn’t even take a look. Fixing it would be far more expensive than buying another one.

I knew he thought, but did not say, “Crazy woman.”

It felt sinful to throw away that pressure washer, for reasons I could articulate — the irresponsible waste! — and reasons I couldn’t put into words, that vague sense that tossing a toaster-sized mix of plastic and metal in the trash had implications far beyond this moment and the money lost.

Is it possible to bridge the old ways of reuse and repair with the new mysterious and secretive electronics? I’d like to think “Maybe.”

Computers and printers, I admit, are a huge improvement over carbon paper, Ko-Rec-Type, and hand-drawn charts.

Not long ago, our printer suddenly turned a normal page into a few streaks and dots. It was stubborn and silent when I enquired what was wrong.

“Please?” I said, as I changed the black ink and pressed the proper little pictures on the screen.

“Pretty please?” I ran it through cleaning and maintenance procedures. “If I offer you incense and garlands of hibiscus?”

“You might as well give it to Goodwill,” said my husband, Paul.

Furious at the printer, at these secretive and unfixable electronics, and at everything wrong in Western Society, I determined to fix it myself. Plus, we had just bought all those new ink cartridges.

I had an idea. So the black didn’t print, but would the other colors? I changed a document to purple. With an obliging ca-dunk and bzeee, out came the paper, clear and purple. The day was saved, I told the family.

The college kids grimaced. Seriously? Thermo-fluid Dynamics assignments in purple?

OK, maybe not.

I had another idea. Quietly, I popped out the blue ink cartridge and replaced it with a black one.

The printer was deeply offended. It hissed at me, and scathing words appeared on the little screen.

“How do you know this, you stupid machine?” I snapped back. “The ink cartridges look exactly the same!”

I inspected them further and found a little chip with strange gold patterns on the front of each cartridge.

Where the printer couldn’t see me, I pried off the chips and glued the chip from the blue cartridge onto the black, let it dry, and nonchalantly inserted it, then clicked on a document to print.

It did. First in a fading blue, then in a definite black.

Sermons could be printed again, I crowed. And grocery lists and research papers and checks for warehouse employees.

My children — who communicate with electronics in fearless harmony, as starlings understand the wind and fly without conscious thought — they were impressed.

“Mom! You hacked it!” Emily said.

“Hacked it?” Hacking is what pale brilliant 20-year-olds do in musty basements. Moms my age do not hack.

“That’s what it’s called!” Emily insisted. “You fooled the machine. And got around the system! So, you hacked it!”

Really? I felt smug and happy.

Today, my husband called me from our grass-seed warehouse. “I’m changing the dust bags, and they’re about a foot and a half too long, so I had to cut them off, and I was wondering …”

“Yes! I want them!” I said, and instantly pictured the tote bags I would make of the tough canvas tubes. They will be sturdy and practical, with two short handles apiece. They might even serve me so well that 40 years from now I can take them, mended and a bit brittle, to carry my sweaters and toothbrush when I pay a visit to my exasperated children.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Sunday Stuff at the Smuckers

--Two people in this house are unable to pronounce FAFSA right.  They say FASfa.  This is the federal financial aid program, so these are educated people we are referencing.  They talk about FASfa applications and FASfa deadlines and getting more FASfa grants after you're 24 years old.

Often, operating under the delusion that maybe after the 500th correction they will finally say it right, I interrupt with an emphatic "FAFsa!"

Other times I scrinch my shoulders and think fffffffffff sounds at the hamburger I'm frying.

Neither method has changed things so far.

Rhonda Strite, whom I know only from afar via Facebook and also through her being a friend of Amy's roommate Kimberly in Thailand, recently posted about annoyingly mispronounced words.

This is one of my pettest of peeves.
When people pronounce "strength", "strenth". Same way with "length".
It just sends me. And my throat makes the "nkgth" sound silently, over and over, desperately trying to repair the damage.
So please, don't be one of those people.

This sent the conversation down a long trail in which people brought up many more such words.  Warsh for wash, pitchers for pictures, mirra for mirror, li-berry for library.

"Just don't forget "strenGth". That's all I ask," said Rhonda, about 40 comments in.

To my family: It's FAFsa.  That's all I ask.

--There's lightning in the southern sky this evening. I wonder how many Willamette Valley families were, like ours, out in the yard, wrapped in blankets, watching, gasping at the sudden flashes.

Iowa families would not do this, I'm quite sure, especially for lightning so erratic and far away.  They probably don't get quite so excited about snow either.

Funny how this works.

In Oregon, families don't go out and dance in the rain like some people do in arid places like the Middle East.

Most winters, if the sun happens to come out in January or February, I go to the window and just Look.

I doubt they do that in Oman.

--If you've lost a loved one, the strangest things can instantly take you back.  Right there.

Last week I washed some throw rugs, including one of the many Mom crocheted for me.  It started unraveling, so after it dried I got a crochet hook and started working that long dangling rag strip back in.

Just like that, I was back in Minnesota, and Mom was on the couch with a rug in her lap and a sturdy steel crochet hook in her hand.  Stab, loop, pull through, wrap, pull through again.

My hands were her hands, even though I don't think she ever formally taught me to crochet.  The motion of the hook was hers, the firm grip on the rag strip, the determined yank to free the hook from the thick, just-formed stitch.

Grief that takes your breath away, just that quick.

Today we sang Abide With Me in church, and I was instantly back in that country church at my nephew's funeral, drowning in loss, and then big, blind, black Mr. Bear stood and sang eight verses of Abide With Me in a voice that came from the depths and reached to the heavens, a splash of stunning beauty in an ocean of pain, and years have passed and with the first note of that song in a normal Sunday service, I am right there again.

--Another woman whom I know only online, named Stephanie Leinbach, wrote about how she rebelled at being seen as a blogger.  

I want to ask one thing of you.  Please. Don’t call me a blogger. . . .
What Tropical Breeze is among Mennonites, blogging is on the world wide web. In February 2014, there were 75.8 million WordPress blogs, and that was only for WordPress. The world doesn’t need another blog, and when I signed up with WordPress in May 2014, I became (approximately) blog # 75,800,001.. . .
It took me four months to publish my first post. And during those four months, I told only one person what I was up to.
I found the whole situation mortifying. I still do.

You can read more here.  Ironically, I think she has stopped blogging and now posts via email.

When I first read this post, I thought, "What? Surely that's just making a very big deal out of something inconsequential."

I am not like that.

Except I am, I realized a day later. Not with blogging but with cruises and Keurigs.

I have a horror of both.  Not that I'd judge you for going on or having one, but if I succumbed to either I'd feel like I had finally been enslaved by utter American materialistic worldliness.  Plus I'd be like everyone else, and I have this secret pride about being above such common things.

But then I saw a flyer for a Mennonite musical cruise, going from Seattle to Alaska I think, on which the great John Schmid would be featured, and also my old friend Dorcas Stutzman and her family, and other such people, and I was tempted.

If they asked me to speak on a Mennonite cruise to Alaska, I think I could justify it.  Especially if they paid my fare, and Paul's too, and we could eat for free.

But the Keurig doesn't tempt me, not even the little tubs of Earl Grey tea.

Quote of the Day:
Me: What class are you taking at the University of Maryland?
Matt: Spacecraft Attitude, Dynamics, and Control.  Only slightly easier than the teenage version.
Me: ??
Matt: Teenage Attitude, Dynamics, and Control.
Me: Ah. Indeed.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mrs. Smucker Hacks the Machine and Saves the World

There actually are things I like about electronic devices.  Or, more accurately, services they offer:

1. Email
2. Texting
3. film-less photographs
4. Blogging
5. Amazon, where one can buy shipping envelopes and obscure batteries without driving to town

And there are things that I absolutely despise about electronic devices.

1. They have creepy, secretive, stubborn, vindictive little minds.
2. They don't like me.
3. They are utterly disposable and unfixable.

We will focus on point #3 today.

The bigger problem here, and you do not want to get me started on it, is that we rich Westerners are all about consuming cheap breakable gadgets that are cheap only because some poor soul on the other side of the world is working long hours and inhaling chemicals and twisting wires with his teeth, and earning less in a month than you do in one day.

This means, among many other things, that IN AMERICA WE CANNOT FIX THINGS.

This is how it works.

I bought a pressure washer once upon a time.  It cost maybe $60 which for me is a substantial investment in a cleaning gadget.  It had a little yellow body the size of a 4-slice toaster, an electrical cord, a place to hook up the garden hose, and a long black tube with a gun thing on the end where the water shot out so I could clean a winter's worth of dog tracks off the porch.

One day the pressure washer stopped working.  I forget the actual issue, but it couldn't serve its purpose.

So, being a frugal and sensible former Midwestern Amish farm girl, I set forth to fix it.

I assume I asked Paul, since I always do, and he must have said it was beyond his capabilities.

I hunted a long time and found an address for a place in Eugene that repairs pressure washers.  Then I hunted even longer and found the place on a side street.  I took my cute little washer into the shop, where huge muscular washers the size of file cabinets sat around on the concrete floor like a bunch of Great Danes taking a break from eating cats.

I asked the large bearded man behind the counter if he could please repair my pressure washer.

He took one look at the machine I carried and turned to me in complete disbelief.  No.  Absolutely not.  He wouldn't even take a look.  Fixing it would be far more expensive than buying another one.

I knew he thought, but did not say, "Crazy woman."

We left, sadly, while the big washers nudged each other and rolled their eyes and grinned.

I like to have things I can fix if they break.

Such as the wooden chairs from Paul's mom that are over 100 years old.  When the bar across the legs gets loose, Paul glues it back in.

When my old sewing machine began clattering, I spent several hours taking it apart and then discovered it was all due to a bent needle.  Kind of embarrassing, but oh so satisfying to fix it myself.

Things like apple peelers, hinges, jeans, and roofs are all made of understandable components.  Thus, when they malfunction, they can be fixed.

I like that.

Other things, still in perfect condition but for that one tiny hidden electronic glitch, cannot be fixed and must be disposed of.

It drives me crazier than it should.

But still.  It's not just about a calculator or Magic Bullet.

It speaks of great economic disparities and terrible stewardship of the resources God gave us.

However, despite all this, at the moment I am very happy.

Because this week I outwitted an electronic device.


We have a printer that we use a lot, for sermons, to-do lists, photos, and much more.

Like all electronic devices, it has a mind of its own and communicates with us through a flat little screen, where one must perform obeisance in the form of pressing the right little pictures with one's finger.

If t runs out of ink and you insert a generic ink instead of the Sacred Epson Fluid, it makes nasty little beeps and makes you click through about 4 screens before it grudgingly prints.

But after printing mostly-cooperatively for a number of months, suddenly it stopped.  A nice document was turned to a vague bunch of dots every few lines.

I changed the black ink.

It didn't help.

I ran it through the maintenance procedures twice.

No change.

I put in yet another new black ink, desperately, and requested more cleaning and maintenance procedures.


Since this is one of the Unfixables, Paul bought another printer and set it up by his recliner where he does paperwork.  The old printer can go to Goodwill, he said.

But!!  We had all this ink we just bought!

Stubbornly, I kept begging this printer to work.  Please?  If I push "Setup"? Or 'More Functions"? Or run the cleaner once again?  Or offer incense and garlands of hibiscus??

It went bzzeeeeeep ca-dunk ca-dunk, but it didn't print.

Hey! I had tried to print the black ink only.  Maybe...

Sure enough, it printed perfectly in yellow, cyan, and magenta, otherwise known as yellow, blue, and bright pink. And in combinations thereof, such as green and purple.

Hmmm.  We could all print our documents in purple.  The day was saved.

Ben and Emily grimaced.  Seriously?  Thermo-fluid Dynamics assignments in purple?


I had another wonderful idea.  Maybe I could fool the printer!  I popped out the cyan (blue) ink cartridge and sneakily pushed in a black cartridge instead.

Oh my.

The printer was NOT HAPPY.

Angry thumps and noises came from its bowels, disparaging words lit up on the screen, threatening wrath and condemnation.

"HOW DO YOU KNOW, you stupid printer?" I wondered.  It was creepy.  How in the world would it know black from blue if the cartridges are the same shape?

I inspected the cartridges.  And there was a mysterious little chip on the front with a strange golden pattern.


Gleefully, where the printer couldn't see me, I pried the little chips off the nearly-empty cyan cartridge and one of the rejected black cartridges.  Then I glued the chip from the blue onto the black.

And nonchalantly inserted it into the cyan slot.

Two bzeeeps followed, but no nasty messages.

In Microsoft Word, I changed a black document to blue, and then told it to print.

Oh the suspense.

Ca-chunk, zeeeeeeeeee, click click.

And out came the document.  In black.

YES!!!  I had both outwitted the machine and saved it from the landfill.

Sermons could now be printed again, I told the family.  And homework assignments and engineering diagrams and my speech for the Mother-Daughter tea, and checks for the warehouse employees, and grocery lists.

My children, yes, those offspring who communicate with electronics in fearless harmony, as starlings understand the wind and fly without conscious thought, they were impressed.

"Mom!  You hacked it!"  Emily said.

"HACKED it?"  Hacking is what pale brilliant 20-year-olds do in musty basements.  Moms my age do not hack.

Except maybe we do.

"That's what it's called!" Emily insisted.  "You fooled the machine.  And got around the system!  So, you hacked it!"

Really?  Little old me??

I was very happy.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny started a new job this week at Grocery Depot where Amy and Emily used to work.  I'm told this conversation took place the other day:
Donna the manager: I'm kind of worried about hiring and training two new people at one time.
Sarah Beth: Well, you won't have any trouble with Jenny.  She's like a miniature Amy.
Donna: Wow! I didn't know Amy could get any smaller!