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!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Wonderful Idea

I have a lot of ideas that I share with Paul, and they are sort of like horses trotting out of the corral, and he leans on the fence and watches them go, and makes non-committal comments occasionally, then answers his phone and orders tags for the 5-grain Ben is bagging tomorrow.

Other times he shocks me by randomly grabbing a particular horse, leaping on its back, and riding it as far as it will go.

Such as when we were in Kenya, driving home from school in that dusty white Peugeot, and I said offhandedly, "Maybe we should adopt Steven."

Which led through about 9 months and 50 miracles, and then Steven was really our son.

Recently we had an old machine shed at the warehouse torn down, and we were thinking about projects and salvageable materials and big lovely slabs of weathered wood, and I said, dreamily, knowing it was an idea as far off and unreachable as the moon, "I would love to have a little writing cabin by the creek."


By happy coincidence this was suggested after Paul had decided to end his teaching career, and suddenly he realized that he might actually have some TIME, that elusive commodity missing for the last 20 years, and we had all these cool old boards, and he loves to make things with wood AND--oh happy prospect--a project like this could cover at least a year's worth of Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, birthday, anniversary, and Christmas, if he played it right.

So I have been browsing Pinterest and eagerly sketching on graph paper, and Paul has been planning and measuring.

I needed a file for my ideas, and then I needed a name to write on the file.

"Writing Cabin" was kind of dull.  It needed an actual NAME, like they used to do in England, or in the Anne of Green Gables books.  Like Green Gables.  Or Whispering Winds.

I went online and discovered that there are actual websites for generating names of people and places.  Most of these are for gamers ("Ebonshield"  "Slydrift" ) but they're also for writers and people who want an actual name for a real place.  One such site promised to help you name a real house or building, which is what I wanted.  It lavishly proclaimed that it could generate over 1 trillion names!!!

All right then. I clicked.

First I needed to give the generator some clues, such as colors, foliage, natural features, and type of building.  I chose "oak" for the foliage, "creek" for the natural feature, and "cabin" for the type of building.

And clicked, imagining a long list of tasteful and imaginative names.  Gears ratcheted and motors whirred, and the result popped up before me.

Yes.  One result.  In bold letters.  The eagerly awaited name.


Sometimes, that is how my life goes.

So then, since there is lots of hawthorn along the creek, Paul suggested Hawthorn Cottage, with the double meaning of the plant and also suggesting Nathaniel Hawthorne, which is impressively literary of him, but Jenny said it would be confusing, and I agreed.  I asked if it would hurt his feelings if I didn't use his idea, since I worry about these things.  He said no.

I thought we should invoke the oaks, which led me to the charming but not too cutesy, I hope, Acorn Cottage.  12 hours later, I still lean toward this one.

Maybe our minds are better name generators than any braggy website.

Meanwhile, I can't explain how thrilled and amazed I am at the prospect of an actual rustic little cabin to write in, and to escape to on summer nights when the house is never silent, and for Jenny to have slumber parties in, and to use for private conversations with people who need a cup of tea and a listening ear.

Let us hope that Paul can stay on this horse despite harvest, preaching, and all the other distractions potentially calling him off the trail.

Quote of the Day:
[So there was this scary item in the news, where someone died of botulism from potato salad at a potluck.]
Me: The Poisonous Potluck.  That would be a great name for a Mennonite novel.
Jenny: Yes, except some Mennonites don't believe in calling them potlucks.  The Poisonous Carry-In doesn't sound as good.  Or The Poisonous Fellowship Meal.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cats and Lilacs and Stuff I Cannot Say

Recently a young online friend named Bethany Eicher blogged about the difficulties of writing during those seasons when almost nothing in your life is ok for public consumption.

"You have to write something," I told myself. "It's been over a week since you wrote and your last posts were pathetic!"
"I can't help it," I argued. "I just can't write right now!"
"Write about the picnic you and Chris went on," I told myself. "You could make a good story out of that!"
"No." I argued. "It's too complicated. I don't feel like going to all the work."
"Write about all the beauty of Spring! All the green and the forsythia and the redbuds and the dogwoods...how it makes you think of home..."
"Naaah. Same old surface-y stuff. It'll be obvious I'm empty of words and just making stuff up!"
"Well then, write about the abscence of words and how when dark things are hiding in the back of your mind it's impossible to write..."
"Good grief. No. What is this, a broken record?"
"Ok. Fine. Do what your friend suggested and write about some tips for making your marriage better!"
"Oh please. I hate preachy blog posts. Besides, I tried twice and it just sounds lame. What do I have to say about tips for marriage anyway? Look at the big go around we had this week! And I'm not going into that; no."

I left a sympathetic comment about those times when you're left with posting pictures of lilacs and the cat because 98% of your life can't be shared.

So the next day Bethany did a "guest post" from me--with a picture of a cat and another of lilacs.

I laughed.

Well, I am down to cats and lilacs myself, so to speak. I have miracles on the brain, and disappointments, and healings, and words I finally said, and wounded places that still need oil and wine, and astonishment at God's presence over here, and wondering if he is ever going to show up over there, and that sad story "Crystal" told me, and the young man I stalked on Facebook who would be a nice match for That Lovely Daughter but no one shares my enthusiasm, especially the daughter.

However, I feel guilty even mentioning these things without explaining further, lest I be like Those People on Facebook who post mysterious updates seemingly designed to make you both sympathetic and intensely curious:

"A sad day when "Christian" people say they'll be your friend but then they let you down!!"

"Really really scared right now.  Who can I trust??"

"Ok, here goes.  Somebody come feed my cat if this doesn't turn out well."

"AAAAAAHHHHHH so excited!!!!  Got a phone call that will CHANGE MY LIFE!!"

What I am trying to say is, we who write find ourselves feeling obligated to keep up the momentum.  Also, we give you the impression, usually unintentionally, that you know all about our lives and relationships and past and cobwebby corners.

Sorry.  It's an illusion.  We don't tell that much, and you don't know that much.

But isn't this true for everyone, writers or not?

Twice recently I had friends who seem strong and capable suddenly dissolve in tears, overcome with the raw truths of their lives.

I thought, "Where did THAT come from?"

It came from the well inside each of us, that place where things bubble and swish and fill us with great emotions that consume our thoughts in the night watches, but cannot be spoken publicly.

I am all for being Real, don't get me wrong.  But I simply cannot go announcing to the world that that young-adult son made a stupid decision, and that situation from three years ago still pains me beyond bearing, and I am doubting God's goodness with how things transpired over there, and I feel unappreciated and invisible--and far too whiny and complainy--in that one role I have, and also that I am finding so many times when I felt hurt and disrespected it was ultimately my problem--for not respecting myself--and not theirs, and I am still getting my head around that.

Obviously not everyone has this much percolating at any given time, such as that nice guy named Paul Smucker who took me to church last week, and when we were driving along and I was thinking of the deacon ordination coming up and time passing and the complications of ministry and how I'd have done ordinations differently in the past if I were God, and I asked what he was thinking about, he said with some embarrassment, "Well, actually, right then I was thinking about how to get rid of mice at the warehouse."

But truly we do not know what is going on with others, and if we did, we would be a lot more kind.

The Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians talks a lot about love (of course) and then it suddenly has that verse about knowing.

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

To me it says: I am now fully known and fully loved by God.

I think it also says: someday, if we love God, we will see Him face to face.  And we will also fully know and fully love one another.  For now, we do the best we can, all of us catching only glimpses of each other.

And now, here are a few things besides cats and lilacs that I will mention, since you have been gracious enough to read this far.

Steven had a weekend firefighter shift and he was supposed to provide Sunday dinner for the whole crew of nine.  He said they all eat as much as he does.  So at 6:00 on Mother's Day morning he gave me a potted plant with unusual orange flowers, and then he dashed out the door with a big roaster of chicken leg quarters, a jar of homemade teriyaki sauce, the means for making lots of rice, a big salad--the kind his aunts make, with twisty Fritos--and a jar of applesauce and my shaker of cinnamon.  He forgot the homemade cookies.  He picked up ice cream somewhere.

Later he texted me:
"It was super, they loved it.  It all went well."

Moms have a checklist on Mother's Day.  As each kid checks in, whether via card, plant or Facebook message, we smile with relief and tick the name off the list.

Or, I do that.  Maybe you don't.

And when the list is done, we curl up on the couch and read a James Herriot book with a happy, satisfied heart.

Emily's friend Esther wrote a somewhat satirical blog post about single people in a Mennonite setting, and how marrieds are sometimes oblivious or rude.

I and a number of others linked it on Facebook.

A hailstorm of comments ensued.

Something strange happens these days when a person tries to speak for a group.  It seems people can't accept that this person is speaking for him/herself and this group, this time.  Suddenly, everyone's hand is waving in the air and they're hollering, "But what about ME?? And MY experience??"

It's kind of like when you're teaching third graders in Sunday school and you come up with a great illustration of how feeding their cat every day is great preparation for someday going to work every day, or taking care of children, or other adult responsibilities, because he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.

So you share this illustration, feeling proud of yourself.

Immediately the air is full of hands, if they even bother to raise their hands before speaking.

"But!! I'm allergic to cats!!"

"We don't have a cat!  We have two dogs!!"

"It's my brother's job to feed the cat! Not mine!"

"I hate cats!"

So then poor Susie and Wendell sit there feeling like maybe there is something vaguely wrong with them because they fit the norm of having a cat and feeding it every morning, just like the teacher said.

And  you, feeling deflated, say to the others, "Today it's Susie and Wendell's turn to fit the example.  Another day it will be your turn."

Similarly, someone like Esther posts about the challenges of being single, and immediately the cry is raised.

"But what about us married people? We have a hard life too!!"

"Hey, I'm old and widowed!  You have no clue, you eligible cute little young thing."

"I'm single and tied down with elderly parents!  At least you aren't burdened like this!"

"At least you're a girl!  Single guys aren't allowed to admit to being lonely!"

And I want to say, "Calm down, class.  Today it is Esther's turn to speak for single Mennonite women who have a job and do not live in their parents' community.  She actually speaks for many. Let's hear what she has to say."

And: Tomorrow it may be your turn to talk.  Then we will listen to you.

This happens on Mother's Day.  There are so many exceptions to the mother-and-child "norm," and so many protests to the "Happy Mother's Day" greeting,  that you start to feel guilty if you have children and like to celebrate Mother's Day.

And then you think: seriously, there are an awful lot of moms.  Who love their families.  Why shouldn't we just celebrate them?

Tomorrow you can tell your story too.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Letter from Harrisburg--On How Moms REALLY Influence Us

I suppose it was no accident that I heard about my grandma jumping off the train and my daughter crashing her motorbike on the same day.
When I got the text that something bad had happened to Amy, I was sitting in a church service in Iowa with Aunt Vina, last March.
I jumped up in a panic, edged past my cousin Merlin, and called Paul, my husband, who was still at Vina’s house, sick with the flu. We couldn’t phone Amy directly, because she lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and we communicate online, which is hard when you’re traveling in the Midwest, have sketchy Internet access and use an old flip-phone.
Paul checked for news on his smartphone.
Amy was alive, thank God, and remarkably unhurt, he told me. While riding her little green motorbike across town, she had crossed a strange shiny streak on the highway and immediately found herself on the pavement with her helmeted head wedged under a parked car while the bike skittered on without her and a flip-flop slid all the way to the curb.
The streak turned out to be a slick of spilled oil. People at a nearby store rushed to her rescue and were surprised that she didn’t need to be hospitalized. A woman poured an herbal ointment on her scraped arm, which stung like crazy. Then she went home and sent us an email, which Paul read to me.
I went back into the service but couldn’t listen to the sermon. Instead, I sent a text to Amy’s email, apologizing for not knowing about this earlier.
She replied, “I AM FINE. DO NOT FREAK OUT.”
I showed the message to my cousin, who whispered, “A little too late.”
We moms are good at obsessing. Pacifiers versus thumbs, safety versus freedom, letting them go when they’re grown.
When our children are still small, Mother’s Day is a day for mulling our mothering methods and hoping we’re doing it right.
But now, looking at my adult children and the sweep of generations, this is what I’m concluding — our influence and eventual success are not so much about techniques and systems­ but about who we are and how we live.
Vina, my one remaining aunt and the best storyteller I know, had invited two generations of local cousins to her house for Sunday dinner. I set aside my anxiety about Amy to take advantage of this rare chance to ask for details of vaguely remembered family stories.
Vina and her cousin Leona recounted the story of Grandma and her sisters jumping off the train when they lived in Oregon.
When I was a child growing up in the Midwest among cornfields, harsh winters and flat horizons, Oregon was a mythical land that my grandma spoke of with reverence and deep nostalgia.
She and her family had moved to the Amish community near Amity, when she was 19. They stayed for only three years, but it was long enough to forever equate Oregon with the Garden of Eden in Grandma’s mind.
The fruit in Oregon was so wunderbar, she would say. Apples and cherries and plums, free for the taking in your own backyard. And you could see Mount Hood. Ach my, was there anything as wunderbar pretty as Mount Hood? Grandma would take her spoon and push her mashed potatoes into a careful cone. “That’s Mount Hood,” she would grin, and then she would eat.
I remember trying unsuccessfully to imagine mountains in general and Mount Hood in particular. We could never comprehend Oregon or its wonders or its iconic status in Grandma’s memories.
Then, strangely, I ended up living in Oregon myself, years after Grandma had died. Not only that, but she and I were both 19 years old when we first arrived. She had come on the train and I flew, and as the plane descended toward Portland, a gigantic snow-covered mountain loomed off to the left, level with my window. The pilot said it’s Mount Hood, and it was almost a spiritual moment to see that mountain, come to life from Grandma’s plate and memories, before my astonished eyes.
Grandma was the third oldest of a family of 15. She was Anna, known by the Germanized Ennie. She and the two sisters nearest her age, Katie and Susan, were apparently best friends, workmates, and, at times, the determined and resourceful lifeboat that kept the family afloat.
Among their many adventures was going to Portland every week to work as maids for wealthy families, Aunt Vina recalled.
The three sisters used to get off the train at Whiteson, a village few miles from home, after their week in Portland. However, the train, heading south, would actually pass by their house before they got to Whiteson, and it seemed a shame that they couldn’t get off closer to home.
They got an idea. A mile or two north of Whiteson, the train always slowed down to go around a curve and then over a bridge. If they did it right, the girls calculated, they could jump off when the train slowed down and then walk home.
So on their next trip, they were ready. The train braked for the curve, and one by one the girls leaped off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy or safe as they expected, and Susan barely made it off before the train started over the bridge.
The next time they got on the train, presumably the following Monday, the conductor sternly told them to never, ever try anything that foolish again.
They never did, to Vina’s knowledge, but their knack for adventure lasted the rest of their lives.
I decided I must find the place where this remarkable story had happened. So, on a recent Saturday, Paul and I picked up my oldest brother, Phil, in Newberg and set out. We didn’t have many clues.
A little booklet called “The Amish of Amity” told me the general area of the Amish community but not the specifics of my great-grandpa’s farm. Phil remembered that Mom took him to see the area some 20 years ago, and at that time the original farm was a golf course.
And of course, I had the clues of railroad tracks, a curve, and a bridge.
So with Paul driving, me reading directions, and Phil in the back seat, we headed south on 99W near McMinnville,­ headed for Whiteson. Our first stop was supposed to be Trestle View Lane, which would give us a good view of the old railroad trestle, which seemed like a significant clue.
Shortly before we got there, we passed a golf course. It was the only golf course for miles around, so we concluded it must be the original farm and could hardly believe we had found it so easily.
Then we took a back lane through the field across from the golf course, hoping to get closer to the tracks.
Suddenly we were on the tracks, which glide quietly right through the field. We looked south, and yes, there was a slight curve, and beyond it a bare bridge over a deep ravine with the South Yamhill River down below, and then the tracks continued to the south on a long wooden trestle.
It is a moving moment, to stand on weathered railroad ties and think of your fearless grandma, jumping off a train and then catching her breath as Susan barely makes it to safety, perhaps right over there, where the grassy slope drops into the river under the unforgiving bridge.
It happened 100 years ago, yet that quirky courage is still fresh and current.
My mom and her sister were so much like their mother, endlessly determined, tackling challenges that would intimidate any normal rational woman, delighting in doing what couldn’t be done.
My daughter hopped back on her motorbike soon after her accident and again rode all over the city, because she loves Thailand and teaching English and traveling like the locals.
While I consider myself less hardy than my mother and daughter, I do recall planning a trip to Yemen soon after the 9/11 attacks to visit my sister. “But — aren’t you afraid?” sputtered a horrified friend.
“Of course I’m afraid,” I said, “but why would I make a decision based on fear?”
That approach to life, I realize now, is the invisible chain that links me to all these intrepid women, and that is the wonderful and challenging lesson for all young moms on Mother’s Day.
Rather than focusing on detailed parenting methods, we should all be seeking to be the best people possible — the bravest, the kindest, the most grateful and joyous and thoughtful. Because daily we see more of our mothers in the mirror, and who we are is who our daughters will eventually become.