Sunday, September 09, 2018

LFH--Frogs, Humor, and Growing Older

Due to changes at the newspaper, [freelancing vs. work for hire] I can no longer post my entire column as a blog post. So here's the beginning, with a link to the rest of the article.

Letters from Harrisburg: Growing old offers endless amusements
By Dorcas Smucker For The Register-Guard

Something strange and shocking has been happening at our house. It’s hard to admit, but my husband, Paul, and I seem to be acting a lot more like our parents. We yell more than we used to, and small problems somehow turn into big theatrical events.
The “back pantry” of our old farmhouse has a concrete floor and a door leading outside that has a significant gap on the bottom.
A few weeks ago, I hunted for a container of blueberries in the old refrigerator in that pantry. As I reached for the berries, I was startled by a quick green movement right by my eye. A frog crouched there, inches away, on top of the open refrigerator door.
[You can read the rest here.]

Monday, September 03, 2018

Oh! Hello There!

I didn't plan to quit blogging for the summer. It just sort of happened. Sorry to alarm you, those of you who were worried.

And thanks to those who emailed and wondered if I was ok.

It's been a busy summer with the normal stuff like harvest and hoeing and hosting, plus a few new things like hiking and . . . let's see, how can I make "travel" and "a few fun new projects" and "a writers conference" also start with H?

I was going to add "hexercise" but that sounds like witchcraft so we'll skip that.

So it's been a full and fun summer. Then the page turned to September and suddenly it smells like fall. 

I hope to blog more often and regularly again.

As always, thanks for reading!

Here's something I wrote yesterday:

When I was little we lived in an old house in Ohio that had a little unheated alcove under the stairs, and Mom let Rebecca and me play there with our dolls. We called it the kemmaly which means something like "little closet" in Pennsylvania German.
We would wash the dishes after meals as fast as we could, because we could hear our babies crying, and then when we were done we'd take off running through the dining room for the kemmaly.
But then we'd screech to a stop and remind each other, "Fraue du'n net shpringa!" [Ladies don't run!]
Then we'd walk as fast as we could, with long steps and swinging arms, because that was more ladylike I guess, and we'd find our crying babies and feed them.
When we were 6 and 7 years old, we got a new baby sister named Margaret, and when she was only a few weeks old we got the bright idea to play with her in the kemmaly like she was a doll.
Before long, Mom realized Margaret wasn't in her crib. I thought she didn't need to get THAT upset about us playing with her in that freezing kemmaly.
Margaret survived and so did we.
Now I'm thinking about that Fraue du'n net shpringa business.
I try to walk for half an hour 5 days a week, a good brisk walk, and sometimes I go to the warehouse and climb stairs. Also, when I have the road to myself and there are filbert trees between me and any inquiring neighbors, I jog until I can go no more, which is maybe a hundred feet.
Then I walk again until I catch my breath, then jog some more, even though it makes all my hinges squeak and feels like I am leaving loose nuts and bolts strewn behind me and also like those bad dreams where the bull is after you and you can barely get your legs to work.
But I'm getting stronger, which is the whole point.
Today at church, as we merged into the Sunday school crowd, my friend Rita whispered, "I heard you've started running! I think that's great!"
What I should have said: Thank you!
What I said: WHO SAW ME?!?
Seriously. I'm 56. I wear a 90s poof in my hair because I want to. I wear comfortable shoes. Every year I have less patience with ridiculous people and am less afraid to speak truth without shrouding it in disclaimers.
I think it's time for Fraue to shpring if they feel like it.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

To the Dads Who are There

Dad’s powerful influence starts with just showing up

By Dorcas Smucker For The Register-Guard
Posted Jun 10, 2018 at 1:02 AM

I think Paul enjoys being the dad of this family.
[photo by Amy]

We went to a friend’s wedding last month, driving to Roseburg on Interstate 5 and then through Winston and out a winding road toward Lookingglass to a sunny backyard full of white chairs and happiness.

Paul, my husband, was in a rare nostalgic mood. After the reception, he drove us around the area to see the famous manhole cover in Lookingglass and all the places his family had lived when he was a boy.

“We used to hike that hill on Sunday afternoons,” he recalled, pointing east from a narrow lane. His parents, Wilton and Anne, had bought a farm in the Lookingglass Valley and mostly grew hay after an attempt at farming ryegrass that had to be hauled two hours to Harrisburg for cleaning. The farm didn’t have a house on it, so the Smuckers rented an assortment of houses in the neighborhood and then moved out as they were sold.

In addition to the houses, the hills and the haying, another theme kept repeating in Paul’s recollections.

“My dad built that building.”

“Dad built that shed, I’m pretty sure.”

“Dad and Steve and I built that pole barn.”

Their construction business had begun almost by accident after a freak snowstorm collapsed many of the roofs in the area. Wilton was a man of many skills, so he and his sons started a new job of building sheds in addition to farming. The boys would prepare the site with post hole diggers, and Wilton was adamant that the hole should be the same diameter all the way down instead of widening at the top. In fact, Steve used to say that Wilton could dig a hole that was wider at the bottom than the top.

Many years later, Paul told me that he has so many good memories of building with his dad. I asked him, “What would you guys talk about?”

He said, “We didn’t talk much.”

I didn’t understand. How could you have good memories if you didn’t have conversation?

Paul went on, “We worked together. He taught me everything I know about construction and a lot of other things.”

All right then. This was apparently a concept like gravity or the Trinity that I had to accept by faith because I couldn’t possibly understand it.

In the early years of our marriage, when we lived in Ontario, Canada, and came back to Oregon for a visit maybe every two years, Paul would always look forward to talking with his dad. We would arrive to Anne's hugs and happy exclamations and to Wilton’s reserved greetings, and then Paul and his dad and maybe a few brothers would sit in the living room and holler in their phenomenally loud voices about ryegrass prices and car insurance.

Paul was convinced that this counted as meaningful time with his dad, bonding and connection and relationship.

I thought it was very strange.

This photo was taken at Emily's graduation party.
I chose it because of all the dads it contains, discussing harvest I'm sure, because that's what dads do.
Though better at affirmation and emotional connection than his dad was, Paul still never resembled the cool spiritual dads in the Focus on the Family magazine that I compared him to, the ones who spontaneously prayed blessings over their kids or played hilarious pranks or sat on their adolescent daughters’ beds and gently talked about boys and prom dresses. Paul mostly ignored the earnest voices telling him to bestow a blessing, reach the children’s hearts, provide an identity, and model some impossible mix of mush and manliness.

Last week, our oldest son Matt flew to Oregon for a Smucker family gathering at a camp in the mountains east of Lincoln City.

Matt lives in Washington, D.C., and works as an engineer, but he comes home for visits at least twice a year. He and I stay up late and I ask about his work, his future plans, nice girls in his life, cooking, church, and of course his feelings, if he has any.

Matt and his dad, however, sit in the same living room where Paul used to talk with Wilton, and they not only talk in too-loud voices about ryegrass and insurance but also about Bitcoin, SpaceX and politics while I listen from a distance.

Strange as it might be, I’ve learned that this is sometimes what father-child bonding looks and sounds like, and I need to accept it by faith and trust the mysterious process.

Matt and his siblings respect, love and deeply appreciate their dad today. “How does that work?” I asked.

“I always know he will help me,” said Jenny, our youngest. “When I had a flat tire at Linn-Benton the other day, I knew I could call him and he would do something.”

“Dad is a fixer and planner. His favorite thing is helping people,” said Emily.

“He taught me the connection between work and money,” Matt said. He went on. "I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who said, ‘History is made by those who show up,’ Maybe we’ve made it too complicated. I think so much of it is just showing up and being there.”

Paul might not have been all that the magazines and I thought he should be, but there’s no question that he showed up. He worked hard, read stories, answered questions, packed the van, drove the van, fixed the van, made rules, built bunk beds, played games, planned trips, had discussions, took us all to church, and helped the kids figure out their finances.

Our six children are all sensible and hard-working adults. We moms and our sympathy and hugs are important, but there’s a powerful influence in a resolute dad who shows up for his family every day and does what needs to be done.

Forty-five years later, the Smucker-built sheds around Lookingglass are still standing, straight and strong.

Here Paul is serving a pizza supper to the kids who came and helped weed the hedge and haul off blackberry vines.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Revisiting Anne of Avonlea

I found an old copy of Anne of Avonlea a few weeks ago and decided to re-read it. I've never liked this cover because of all the PINK and hello, we all know that Anne never wore pink because of her red hair.

She used to say that when she got to heaven, she'd finally wear pink. I always thought that was so sad and decided that life was too short to not wear pink if you liked pink. So my daughters with reddish hair and freckles wore all the pink they wanted.

I had kept the book because we bought it when Stirland Lake High School was closing, back in 1992 or so, and then we loaned it to the school library at Round Lake.

But it is time to say goodbye, because even with lots of packing tape it's falling apart, so I read it one last time. And I am more impressed than ever with Lucy Maud Montgomery.

For one thing, Lucy Maud somehow wrote wonderful fiction while raising a family, running a house, and being a pastor's wife.  People said she would often be muttering dialogue to herself as she marched down the street to the post office or the butcher. I had a recent conversation on Facebook about how much I resent women [such as Ann Voskamp and Ree Drummond] whose lives have many similarities to mine but whose writing success has been astronomically more.

But Lucy Maud doesn't rouse the same resentment. I think I would have liked her a lot.

While you are psychoanalyzing that, I will go on to say that once again, I loved how she creates so many memorable characters, and she makes such insightful and funny observations about life through her characters' voices.

In Anne of Avonlea, she talks a lot about singleness.

"Then I shall die an old maid," was the cheerful response. "I daresay it isn't the hardest death by any means."
"Oh, I suppose the dying would be easy enough; it's the living an old maid I shouldn't like," said Diana.

Mrs. Andrews observes:
"I don't see that Anne needs any more education. She'll probably be marryng Gilbert Blythe, if his infatuation for her lasts til he gets through college, and what good will Latin and Greek do her then? If they taught you at college how to manage a man there might be some sense in her going."

Davy the little foster boy says
"Why don't YOU get married, Marilla? I want to know."
…she answered amiably…that she supposed it was because nobody would have her.
"But maybe you never asked anybody to have you," protested Davy.
"Oh, Davy," said Dora primly, shocked into speaking without being spoken to, "it's the MEN that have to do the asking."
"I don't know why they have to do it ALWAYS," grumbled Davy. "Seems to me everything's put on the men in this world."

Miss Lavendar:
"I'm really a very happy, contented little person in spite of my broken heart. My heart did break, if ever a heart did, when I realized that Stephen Irving was not coming back. But, Anne, a broken heart in real life isn't half as dreadful as it is in books. It's a good deal like a bad tooth…though you won't think THAT a very romantic simile. It takes spells of aching and gives you a sleepless night now and then, but between times it lets you enjoy life and dreams and echoes and peanut candy as if there were nothing the matter with it."

Lucy Maud had a few broken romances before she married at age 37, so I would think she had plenty of conclusions about singleness.

Then, as a pastor's wife who once told a reporter that those women whom God wanted to destroy He would make into the wives of ministers, she probably had plenty of thoughts about church, like this:

[Anne and Diana discussing the candidates for minister:]
"I hope they won't call Mr. Baxter from East Grafton here, anyhow," said Anne decidedly. "He wants the call but he does preach such gloomy sermons. Mr. Bell says he's a minister of the old school, but Mrs. Lynde says there's nothing whatever the matter with him but indigestion. His wife isn't a very good cook, it seems, and Mrs. Lynde says that when a man has to eat sour bread two weeks out of three his theology is bound to get a kink in it somewhere…"

Mrs. Lynde is certainly the character that says out loud what everyone else is thinking.

…"Dora is a lovely child, although she is…kind of…well, kind of …"
"Monotonous? Exactly," supplied Mrs. Rachel. "Like a book where every page is the same, that's what. Dora will make a good reliable woman but she'll never set the pond on fire."

It's interesting to see Rachel Lynde's progression through the books. In the first one, we hate her along with Anne when she disparages Anne's red hair and her looks in general and then her temper.

But the interesting thing about LMM's skill is that her characters are a mix of good and bad, and she has very few characters that are entirely one or the other. Which is much more real life than many characters in today's novels that have either no flaws or no redeeming factors.

Marilla recognizes this duality when she floats the idea of Rachel Lynde moving in so Anne can go to college.

"She says she'll have to go and live with Eliza and it's breaking her heart to think of leaving Avonlea. A woman of her age doesn't make new friends and interests easy. . . . the thought came to me that I would ask her to come and live with me. . ."
"Do you think...are you would like it? Mrs. Lynde is a good woman and a kind neighbor, but...but..."
"But she's got her faults, you mean to say? Well, she has, of course, but I think I'd rather put up with far worse faults than see Rachel go away from Avonlea. . . I think it could be managed so that Rachel and I wouldn't clash at all. . . she could have the north gable for a bedroom and the spare room for her kitchen as well as not. . ."

I love that mixture of bluntness and consideration, and even though it came from Marilla you know it was actually Lucy Maud putting words in her mouth. I'm sure there was much she couldn't say, especially with being a minister's wife, and this was a sly but acceptable way of saying these things out loud.

I wish I could have met Lucy Maud Montgomery and had a conversation over tea. Successful or not, I'm pretty sure I would have liked her a lot.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Berry Patch

Today I went to Horse Creek Farms to pick strawberries. I turned at the hand-painted signs, one corner and then another and another, off the paved road and onto a gravel lane, and then along a bumpy track beside a ryegrass field.

It was only the second day of the season, and the berries were large, plentiful, and perfectly ripe. It took only a short time to pick two ice cream buckets full.

I kept running into people I knew. Gina and her children were at the edge of the patch when I arrived. I picked alongside Shannon's children toward the center of the patch, and 12-year-old Benson told me he'd just read in one of my books about picking strawberries in Minnesota.
[Lots of extra credit points for Benson.]

Shyla was picking into the cutest little bucket.
Benson and Carson
I ran into even more friends and their children when I was checking out, and I showed Teresa a shot of the youth group and her daughters on their trip to Canada, painting at Beaver Lake Camp.
Sherry checks out Elissa and Carita.

"Are you all by yourself?" at least two people asked me.

"Yes. I'm at that stage of life now," I said. And I looked around at all the moms with children out in the patch and wondered if they had any inkling how special this day was, this moment, or this task.

Not so terribly long ago, I used to corral everyone who wasn't busy at the warehouse, prod them into the van, and go to Harry's Berries or Horse Creek Farms to pick 50 pounds or more of berries.

Invariably, one child was lazy, an older sibling was bossy, somebody had to pee, the toddler was dirty,  someone spilled a bucket, and I tried to drum up energy and enthusiasm for us all.

Also invariably, some older person in the patch would say sweet and sentimental things to us, like how wonderful a family we had, and how lovely it was that we were all out picking like this--comments that seemed vastly more flattering than the current behavior and attitudes warranted.

I always thought it was kind of odd.

But today I looked around at the acres of green leaves in the sunshine, the bright miraculous berries hidden below, the beautiful families out gathering together--competing, talking across the rows, helping the toddlers--and I wanted to say, "You guys! This is just the most amazing thing ever! You have no idea!"

Instead, I took pictures.
Corwin had earbuds in, which helped him pick faster of course.

To the Berry Patch Moms: You are doing it right. This is how it's supposed to be, right down to the squished berries on your children's knees and the slow 10-year-old and your own impatience to get the job done. Picking berries together in the sunshine will give your children a solid core and a valuable advantage that will never leave them. 

After the last container of berries is in the freezer, please sit down with a dish of ice cream and fresh sliced berries. Take a bite, close your eyes, taste and believe. It is a miracle, and you are making it happen.

You simply can't go wrong with taking your children to Horse Creek Farms to pick strawberries.

I was told that these young men biked all the way from Halsey to pick for their mom.


Quote of the Day:
"I'm thinking about what strawberries cost in Manhattan and crying a little inside.
On the other hand, there are tons of people from here who've never been in an Oregon strawberry patch eating warm berries and going home with buckets-full to eat and freeze. So I'm very blessed :)"
--my young friend Esther O'Campo, after she saw a few berry pictures on Facebook

Friday, May 25, 2018

Mrs. Smucker Deals With the Large Corporation

I really hate dealing with huge, soul-less entities such as government agencies, airlines, medical establishments, the great Amazon, and cell phone companies. I hate hunting for the number, making the call, and picking through endless options that never lead you to a real person, only to more recorded options.

And all the while I have this Big Problem that I need a Solution for, and they are the only ones who can provide it.

Feeling like a tiny and desperate bit of voiceless nothingness dealing with a large and impersonal machine, I have shed tears of frustration over replacing lost drivers' licenses, applying for passports, selling books on Amazon, and changing tickets.

[Amazon is The Worst.]

Always, I felt like there was no actual person anywhere in that vast corporate entity that would speak to me, person to person. Or, if a real person finally answered, it was always someone from India with such a pronounced accent that I couldn't understand half of what they said.

Recently, to the great sadness of many of us, the newspaper that carries my column, the Eugene Register-Guard, was bought out by a large corporation called GateHouse Media. They own a gazillion newspapers and are based somewhere far away like New York.

The first sign of change for me came in the form of two identical letters containing two identical forms telling me that I must fill out these forms before I can be paid. They were the most obtuse forms you ever saw, with many blanks to fill in, conflicting directions and stern warnings.

I did my best but was utterly lost.

However, writing letters has always been my way of dealing with life.  I sat down and wrote out my many feelings and frustrations in an email, knowing that if it ever reached its destination, it would be scanned by robots and I would never receive an adequate answer.

 But it felt good to write it out, so I typed and sent the following email:

Dear GateHouse Media--

This is adding insult to injury. Not only did you buy out our beloved Register-Guard, but now I have forms to fill out before I can be paid for my column. Forms that make no sense, forms that were surely invented at Guantanamo as a supplement to waterboarding.

I suppose I am a vendor, since I received these ghastly forms in the mail. What is my vendor #? How is it obtained?

And "requested by"??? What does that even mean? I think you guys are requesting that I do this, but I have a feeling that's not what goes on that line.

And why am I receiving a paper form if I am supposed to send it to an email address?

And what on earth is with that 10-digit reference number, in bold type no less? I have no idea what this is all about.

Seriously, for a media company, your communication skills do not portend well for the Register-Guard's future.

With sincere confusion,

Dorcas Smucker

I felt better then. And of course they didn't email back.

Today, a bit desperate to get payment for my May column, I found a number and called them. Of course no one answered, and I left a message.

But not long after that my phone rang! It was a real person, named Sandy! With an American accent! 

She told me, with just a bit of amusement in her voice, that she personally got my email the other day and she'd like to be of help to me.

Then she explained everything, in detail and with great kindness.  

I am serious.

I am feeling just a bit silly but still happy to be wrong about that particular corporation.

Quote of the Day:
"You have to have that 10-digit number on your invoice, because we have thousands of people we pay every day, and if there are duplicate names your payment could go to someone else!. . . Although I guess there's not much chance there's another Dorcas Smucker in our system."

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mothers Day Column

I stood in the morning chill and sold my mother’s fabric.

She is well-settled in heaven, I am sure, yet her presence felt near and real as I arranged her collection of vintage linen tea-towel calendars and laid out the calicoes from the 1990s, all country blues and mauves in tiny florals.

I also arranged my own fabric collection on the plastic tables in my friend Patti’s driveway.

Mom left baskets and tubs and boxes of fabric when she passed away, and dresser drawers stuffed too full to open. I dug through her stash for my favorite pieces and added them to my own vast collection, which accumulated in the attic and sewing room and, eventually, in places where fabric didn’t belong, such as the chicken shed and laundry room.

Like Mom, I had purchased each piece with specific ideas of what it might become. Also like her, I magnetically attracted other people’s outdated castoffs, in which we saw scrap quilts and stuffed toys and ruffled pillows.

Finally, though, I admitted I had so much fabric it was actually stifling my creativity, so when Halsey had its annual garage sale day, I asked Patti if I could set up at her place. Then I measured, bundled and priced hundreds of fabric pieces — knits, quilt fabrics, denim, velvet and much more. Much as I hated to let it go, I felt Mom would understand.

As I handled the pieces my mother had purchased and enjoyed, I remembered her.

Like many mothers and daughters, she and I had a complicated relationship. A private soul, there was so much she could never say out loud, communicating instead in hints that I seldom caught. In contrast, I always felt compelled to clarify everything in plain words for the world to hear, which she found horrifying. She was impatient with my dreamy impracticality and frustrated with my sketchy work ethic.

As a child, I internalized her dismay into dark conclusions about my value and her love for me.

Yet we always connected in our enjoyment of crafts, stories, humor in simple things and bargains.

One of the best gifts she gave me, near the end of her life, was far more valuable than all the skills she taught and all the fabric she left. We had a conversation in which I was finally able to tell her about the hardest parts of my childhood and how abandoned and unloved I felt. By quietly listening, she gave me permission to say it out loud. Then, calmly and without defensiveness, she affirmed that she understood how it had affected me and went on to explain what had been going on in her life then, and in her marriage and the church community. She had loved me very much, she said. But she was completely overwhelmed with trying to survive. She was so very sorry I got the messages I did.

As an adult and a mother of daughters, I could finally understand and heal.

Parenting is far less a checklist of dos and don’ts than it is a glaring demonstration of who we are. We mother out of our tangled unresolved issues combined with a fierce love and a determination to get it right. Often, we are only beginning to figure out adulthood ourselves, and we desperately want to do our best with our babies. Meanwhile, we also struggle with finances, take care of elderly parents and work too hard.

Our kids pick up unintended messages from the messiness of our lives.

“There’s no point in talking about it,” I’ve heard people say, “because it’s done. You can’t go back and undo the past. Deal with it and move on.”

Yet I found, in the conversation with my mother, that when she let me revisit the past and explain how her actions had affected me, and then clarified without being defensive, it was as though in some mysterious way we went back and redid things, as they should have been done.

“My brothers and I talk about our childhood a lot,” a woman told me recently. “But we can’t talk to our mom, because she starts crying and says ‘Oh, I was such a failure.’ And then we focus on comforting her, and it really isn’t helpful.”

So when an adult daughter asked to speak to me recently, I had a chance to put my philosophy into practice. We sat down with a pot of tea and I listened quietly, which is far harder than you’d think.

“I always felt like you thought I was incompetent, like I didn’t have what it took,” she said, “with chores or doing homework or anything. Now, I’m always trying to compensate in weird ways, like I still don’t see myself as having what it takes.”

It hurt.

I thought of Mom, doing this for me, and I didn’t burst into tears and insist on being reassured. Instead, I acknowledged what had happened to her and then carefully explained who I was at that point in my life, what was happening, what I was afraid of, why I did what I did, and how I would do it differently today.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” my daughter said as we sipped our tea. “It really helps. And it’s almost like going back and redoing things, even though that’s impossible.”

At the garage sale that sunny Saturday in Halsey, I watched with delight as women with my mother’s passion and determination marched in with large handmade shopping bags and gathered armfuls of fabric.

My daughters walked all over town, sniffing out bargains, then came and watched my sale so I could eat lunch. They were as pleased as I was over the shy little girls who picked out pretty pieces from the scraps I was selling by the ounce and proudly paid the 30 or 50 cents by themselves.

Mom would have loved it all.

This complicated task of mothering is not something we will ever do perfectly, but I’ve found that enjoying the things we have in common, whether it’s tea or quilts or garage sales, will help us find our way through our relationship tangles.

Most of our influence as moms will be unintentional, and we should work not so much on shaping our children as on becoming the person we want them to be.

We can’t undo the past, but giving our children permission to talk about our mistakes and misdeeds is one of the best gifts we can give today, a way of reaching back and gently rearranging how things were to how they should have been.

Monday, April 30, 2018

ABC Day 30--What about Amos? [Your FAQs Answered]

This is the final installment of our April Blogging Challenge. Thanks so much for staying with the four of us. It's been fun but we are all ready to move on to blogging only when we feel like it.

Last Saturday I spoke at a luncheon at Bethany Church of Franklin, a lovely little country church south of Cheshire that reminded me so much of the little church in Minnesota that we attended and where Dad still goes. Both were originally Methodist churches and built in the 1800s, so maybe all the little rural Methodist churches of that era were built to the same pattern.
Bethany Church. Just beyond it is a near-identical church that was built when
the members divided over methods of baptism.

This is from a cookbook and the only picture I could find of our old
church in Minnesota. It has been added on to several times
but you can see the original church and steeple in the center.
Another similarity was that they both had one big room in the basement that was always subdivided with curtains for Sunday school. However, the basement of the Oregon church always flooded in winter.

That bit of history has nothing to do with this post, but the lovely luncheon ladies had a bunch of questions for me and wanted updates on various things. The questions were almost identical to the ones they asked at the retreat in Montana a few weeks ago and at Emmaus Lutheran a few weeks before that.

So, just in case you've been wondering too:

1. I hear the Register-Guard was sold. What does that mean for your job?

The RG has gradually let go of its freelance columnists, one by one, over the last ten years-- Maryana Vollstedt the recipe columnist, Bill Sullivan the hiker, and others. Recently, after being in the Baker family for 91 years, the RG was sold to GateHouse Media, and I think about a third of the employees were let go. I asked my editor what this means for me, and she said she hasn't heard, and that I should keep writing until I hear otherwise.

I don't like the uncertainty of this, and I've been thinking a lot about how long I should continue the column if they don't lay me off first. On one hand, it's great to have an established venue and deadlines, so I actually get something written. On the other hand, it's been 18 years. That is a really long run. Our children—otherwise known as my reliable story generators—are all grown up. Maybe it's time.

The ladies at Saturday's luncheon said they're going to write to the paper and tell them to keep me on, which is great for job security.

We will see.

2. How many kids are still at home?

At the moment, the three girls are at home. Amy came home last fall after almost four years in Thailand. She and Jenny are in college. Emily is working at our church school.

As for the guys, Matt is still in Washington, D.C., Ben lives in Corvallis, and Steven lives at the fire station in Junction City.

3. How is the daughter that was sick for so long?

That would be Emily, whose health is still a bit fragile but who has powered through and made a very good life for herself and figured out how to work around her energy limitations.

4. What's happening with that cabin?

Paul has gradually been restoring and installing windows and doors. Before the windows were in, he covered the openings with plastic, so I was able to heat the cabin and work out there a lot this winter. I really really [really really!] like it. There's something about having a dedicated space for writing that makes you sit down and WORK without getting distracted.

These days, in addition to about four new building projects at the warehouse, Paul is working on the floor of the loft, putting in the wood that used to be above the bagger at the warehouse. He's trying to preserve the famous footprint, so that will be special.

After that, he'll put the pretty restored old wood on the "downstairs" floor.

5. What about that novel?

La la la LAAA I CAN'T HEAR YOUUUU. Oh look! Squirrel!

6. Has Steven been back to Kenya?

Not since 2011, but we would all love to go back for a visit and he would like to go back to work there someday. No specifics yet.

7. Whatever happened with that incident where you were out chasing chickens in pajamas and a guy in a truck was taking pictures?

The pictures never showed up on social media or anywhere else, thankfully. It turned out that if you type a certain neighbor's address into Google maps, it actually points you to our place. So it might have been a case of mistaken identity.

8. How is your dad doing, and is he coming out for the summer?

Dad/Amos is 101 years old and by all reports has had a good winter. My sister Rebecca just spent a few days with him and took him up to Duluth to see the sights. At this point we don't plan to have him come to Oregon this summer. He was getting so fragile, and I think he needs to stay home. But we'll probably go visit him.

9. What's happening with all your fabric? And just how much is "a lot"??

I'm not ready to divulge just how much fabric I own. Actually, I have almost as much as ever despite doing a bunch of sewing the last couple months.

However: If you want to see an unspecified percentage of my stash, come to the Halsey yard sales this Saturday. I'm going to borrow a friend's garage at 1320 West 4th Street and I will offer a "lot" of fabric for sale. Please come buy it.

10. Do you have other writing projects going on?

Articles, yes, here and there. Books, no. But I have a few ideas percolating.

Quote of the Day:

Ben: What have you been cooking recently?
Steven: I made honey mustard chicken last night.
Ben: Did you use butter or bouillon?
Steven: Actually I used both!
Ben: That's actually better. Last time I separated out the fat afterwards and used it to make grilled cheese sandwiches and to put on bagels.
Steven: Really??
Ben: Yeah. It's got some curry in there…it's actually pretty good.

Mom: [thinks] My boys are talking about cooking!!!!!!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Day 26--ABC--21 Shocking Things Your Pastor's Wife Will Never Say Out Loud!

1. She never applied for this job.
2. Some of the ideas in that sermon came from her. She won’t ever take credit for them.
3. She might influence sermons, but she has very little influence on church and leadership decisions. But sometimes she loses friends or sees her children struggle because of leadership decisions.
4. The #1 lesson of her life is trusting God with all the things she can’t control.
5. She doesn’t like everything about every sermon, whether it’s her husband’s or another pastor’s or the visiting speaker’s. But she acts like she does, knowing the courage and vulnerability it takes to get up there and preach.
6. She loves to hear positive reviews of her husband’s sermon or how he handled a situation.
7. If you have a criticism about leadership, you should talk directly to the pastors. She doesn’t want to be a liaison, passing your complaints on to her husband because you’re scared to go talk to him.
8. She can tell when her husband wanders off his notes, and she prays hard and maybe panics a little. No doubt you do too.
9. She might be making a grocery list or sketching plot ideas for a novel, and not taking sermon notes, in that little notebook. But she looks awfully attentive, doesn’t she?
10. 20% of the people take 80% of the time and energy. Or maybe it’s more like 10/90. Many of the 80-90% are energy replenishers. God bless them.
11. Those gift cards at Christmas are far more valuable than the Olive Garden dinner they represent.
12. People sometimes talk to her about “the church,” and its shortcomings and outdated policies and unwelcoming atmosphere. These things are out of her control, yet she feels vaguely responsible, and tries to explain and justify. It is awkward.
13. She is pretty sure that if you have a complaint about “the church,” God is calling you to do something about it. You have what it takes.
14. Friendship with other women in church can be complicated because of the discussions in #12, loyalty conflicts, and confidentiality issues. But it's hard to find energy and time for friendships outside of church. She can be lonely.
15. She is mostly a good person but she has moments of being malicious and cynical.
16. She needs a life and role that are totally separate from church. So don’t begrudge her the nursing job or photography hobby.
17. She knows that the least spiritual-looking person in church might well be the bravest and kindest and the one who has overcome the toughest odds.
18. She prefers real flaws to fake perfection.
19. If you write her an encouraging note, she will read it over and over and cry and tuck it in a cookbook for safe keeping. 
20. She wants her children to be allowed to be normal children rather than PK’s.
21. You might be a character in a story in a password-protected file in her computer.
22. She empathizes with Pilate’s wife, Abigail, Priscilla, Esther, Jezebel*, and every other Biblical wife of a man in leadership. 
*Yes, Jezebel. Sorry. Sometimes you just want to take charge and fix a situation.

Monday, April 23, 2018

ABC Post 23--Everything You've Wondered About That Funny Thing On My Head

For today's post, I'd like to address the most common questions I've been asked about head coverings. 

1. Would you be offended if I asked a few questions?

No. Not at all. As long as you are considerate of the hungry baby in this shopping cart, and as long as you don't reference the Amish Mafia tv show.

2. What is that thing on your head?

It is a head covering and a religious symbol. We are Christians who are part of the Mennonite denomination. We believe in obeying the Bible, and this practice is based on verses in First Corinthians 11:3-16—primarily verse 5.
". . .every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head."

So the custom is two-fold—having long hair and wearing something on it.

Here's the entire passage from the NIV Bible--

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c] head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

3. Do you wear it all the time?

The idea is to be ready for prayer and prophecy (speaking truth about God) at any time. Generally, though, we put it on when we get dressed for the day and take it off when we get ready for bed.

I know women who wear a scarf at night, since we all tend to pray a lot when we can't sleep.  But that's up to the individual.

4. You wear a black thing and I see women with white caps. How does that work?

Every congregation decides what their members should wear. The traditional Amish and Mennonite head covering has been a white cap, a holdover from European tradition. When a Mennonite talks about a "covering," they're usually referencing a white cap. In Amish novels, they call it a "kapp," pronounced "cop."

Our congregation in Brownsville chose to have more options for head coverings, so I wear a black piece of fabric called a veil.  Sometimes my daughters wear different kinds of scarves.

In the Amish and Mennonite world, head coverings are symbolic not only of honoring Christ, as in the Bible passage, but also of where a woman belongs in the vast Anabaptist spectrum. How big is her covering? Is it a cap or a veil? Does it have strings? These all tell a story.

Lots of variety here, but we are all eating together.

Women wearing veils.
5. When does a girl or woman start wearing one? Did you give your daughters the option of wearing it or not?

I was an Amish child, so I wore a kapp the first time I went to church, at six weeks old, and it was never really an option for me until I was an adult and deciding if I wanted to leave the church or stay. 
I married a Mennonite man, and we have been part of a Mennonite church ever since.

The Mennonite custom is to begin wearing a covering when you come to faith in Jesus for your salvation or, if not then, then for sure when you get baptized.
Young men and women at our house. Some of the girls like lacy black veils that fit snugly on the back of the head.
Trusting in Jesus, baptism, covering, and becoming a church member are all decisions that a young person makes for themselves, but they're kind of a package deal. We would discuss these things with our daughters but tried hard not to pressure them.

In our congregation, covering is required for women members, so they didn't have the option of being a member but not covering. 
Our daughter Amy likes to wear a black scarf tied bandana-style.
6. I don't think that passage is meant for the church today. Do you still consider me a Christian?

There's quite a bit of variety among Mennonites on how we answer that question. I had a roommate once who felt that once a person came to know Jesus, they should figure out within two years that they need to cover, or they're not really saved.

Different congregations have different expectations for how you need to look in order for your husband to be invited to speak.

Personally, I appreciate Elisabeth Elliot's books even though she never wore a head covering, and I have family and friends who are wonderful Christians but don't follow this practice.

7. So why bother? 

If you feel like God is asking you to do something, you should do it. Sometimes it's the right thing for the place and time and people he's called you work with and minister to. Sometimes he will ask you to do things that he doesn't seem to ask of anyone else around you. That is His business. You will be blessed if you obey.

8. So you've been blessed?


For example, I think it gives me credibility. I write for a newspaper in Eugene, Oregon—one of the most unchurched cities in the country. I often write about my faith. I've had other Christians ask me how I get by with this, and the only answer that I can come up with is that non-Christians in Oregon tend to be skeptical of anyone claiming to be Christian, but wearing distinctive clothes and a veil somehow convinces people of my authenticity.

In 18 years of writing about family and church and faith, and quoting Bible verses, I've never been told that I should tone down the religious content.

9. Can I come visit your church? Do I need to wear a cap?
Yes, you are welcome to visit. No, you don't need to cover. If you are a woman and want to wear a hat or scarf, out of respect for our customs, we will appreciate it. And we like it when guys remove their hats.

10. In studying the Bible, I think I should cover my head. My church and husband are opposed to this. What should I do?

You have to be cautious, because a covering is symbolic of being under authority. So it doesn't really make sense to go against your church and husband's wishes in wearing one.

My advice would be to discuss it with them, find out their concerns, and then do your best to find a solution you can all work with. For example, you might wear a hat or scarf to church services, and cover your hair when you have your private worship times at home.

11. I used to wear a chapel veil when I went to a Catholic high school. Is this the same idea?

Yes. Women have worn hats and scarves and veils for worship services for hundreds of years, and it's only recently that the practice has died out in Christian churches. This is also why men always removed hats indoors, in restaurants and such, and women didn't. And it's why, when people still did invocations at graduations, the guys took off their mortarboards and the girls didn't.

12. Don't you get tired of the rules? What would happen if you suddenly decided to wear your hair down and not wear a veil? Would you get in trouble?

My hair and veil are two small pieces of a very large package that includes our investment in church, Paul's role as a pastor and mine as his wife, how we understand the Bible, our role in the community, family traditions, cultural norms and expectations, and much more, all of which we chose to be part of, being adults of sound mind.

I am very unlikely to suddenly decide one day, willy-nilly, to go off to town with my hair cascading down my back, hairpins clattering in all directions, like the girls in Amish novels do. That is just weird.

Let's say you're a nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital. What are the chances you'll suddenly decide to throw off the rules and come to work in ICU smoking a cigarette and wearing a Les Schwab Tire Center uniform?

That would just be weird.

13. You apparently believe in your husband's "authority." Isn't that oppressive?

We believe that Paul and I are equal in value before God but have different roles and responsibilities. I feel like my husband and our church have made sure that I have a voice and am treated like an "heir together of the grace of Christ."

So I don't feel oppressed.

Not all women are as fortunate, but in general I think Mennonite women are less oppressed than a lot of "worldly" women.

Mennonite women don't have to fit an impossible body model to be considered beautiful. Being a wife and mom is considered an honorable and admirable occupation. They are encouraged to be creative. If they like having babies, it's fine if they have a lot. Mennonite men
for the most part get married, stay married, are faithful, and are expected to support their wives and families well. 

More types of head coverings.
14. Is it ok if I ask you more questions in the comments?