Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why I Appreciate My Siblings

If you recall, we have a formerly-stray cat who was named Herbie Ferbie before anyone had a chance to do a personal inspection, and then he had five kittens which cleared that question up real fast.

One of the kittens is white.

I looked outside one day and watched Herbie nursing the white kitty and suddenly a curtain was pulled aside, the mists parted, and I clearly recalled my grandma Miller quoting a poem she'd learned in school, which means that this was coming to me from some 120 years ago, from Mommi's memory and mine.

I could just about hear Mommi saying it, in her cracking voice and German accent:

Kitty my pretty white kitty
Why do you scamper awehh?
I have finished my work and my lessont,
And now I am ready for plehhh!

The memory was followed by an immediate urge to share it with someone, so I found my phone, took a photo of the kitty, and sent the shot and the poem to my two sisters on our WhatsApp group.

Margaret said, "Love love love!!! Hadn't thought of that for years..."

Rebecca said, "Oh my. This is stirring up some dusty attic in my brain. Love it!"

One of the biggest blessings of having siblings is being able to share memories with someone.  To pull something out of the past, share it with them, and have them not only remember it with you but share their own perspective of the event, that is just such a gift.

I've had plenty of conflicts with both siblings and technology, but once we figure out the latter, it's a great way for us 50-somethings to connect with the former, especially if we live far apart.

And there's something about passing 50 that makes you appreciate siblings in a whole new way.

I've always been intrigued with the threads and themes that weave their way through our lives.  Sometimes they're bright and visible; sometimes hidden for long stretches.  What I really like is when you realize that a more-recent thread is actually attached to one from way back then.

I've always liked the verses from Ecclesiastes about casting your bread on the waters.

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

The verses took on a special meaning for us when we read them during our family worship in Kenya and Amy lit up like a Christmas tree and said, "There's our sign!"  So we adopted Steven and from a family of seven became a family of eight.

But it turns out the verse was special to me long before then.

A few weeks ago, we sisters had just had a conversation, precipitated by Dad's thorough gleaning of my grapes, about how it was such a terrible sin to throw away food when we were young.

Margaret wrote:
"Never heard the mush story! Reminds me of having a warm gooey Velveeta sandwich in my lunch for our 2nd grade field trip to Lake Ripley.  There was no way I could choke it down, and I think Mike Peterka was in similar straits so we snuck off and fed some surprised but grateful ducks in a stream.  I felt SO guilty.  And never told anyone.  Imagine my horror, a few months later, when you announced one day that there is a verse, Cast thy bread upon the waters, etc. and I knew I was doomed, and this verse was a sign from God that I would forever be haunted because of my wastefulness."

It was like seeing a thread go back a lot further than I had ever realized.

And of course we had a conversation about how our lives were saturated with guilt over normal kid stuff, and it is so nice to have siblings to validate your feelings.  Husbands are wonderful but can be completely bewildered about weird emotional tangles from your childhood.  Sisters were there. You don't have to explain a thing. 

I laugh harder over messages from my siblings than just about anything else.

If you're on Facebook, you've no doubt seen the videos of this guy named Ted Yoder who plays the hammered dulcimer [don't feel bad; I had never heard of it either].  Recently his videos went viral, as these things do on Facebook, and like every other current or former Yoder in the country I thought, "Yoder?!? From Indiana?!? I'll bet he's freindschaft!!"

My brother Fred sent me a link, so I asked him.  Our text conversation:

Me: I am very intrigued with this character and his music and the Yoder angle.  Is he freindschaft?
Fred: No idea.
[8 hours later]
Fred: Ted Yoder is Abie P Mattie's sister Sadie's granddaughter Lizzie's husband.
Me: Did you make this up?
Fred: If you really think you need to ask that, let's explore our connection with Abie P.
Me: Yes help me out here.  I'm not accessing this file.
Fred: Abie P was the great grandfather of all those Benders that are step related to us through Sim Detweiler's second wife Mandy.
Me: And there are little black dots walking around on the moon.
Fred: Dorcas Dorcas Dorcas...
[A week later]
Fred: I'm sure you could have followed the genealogy thing had I thought to mention Sam and Ella who ran the Das Amishen Essen restaurant or Polly and Esther who had the fabric store.
Me: Oh of course.  And Ketty Chupp with the hot dog stand.
Fred: There you go. There you go.

I like to think that with every passing decade I get a wee bit better at sniffing out Fred's error from his truth, even though it's as cleverly disguised as ever, and he still has that magic way of making me feel foolish and guilty for NOT believing him, even via text.

I am thankful for siblings and smartphones, which isn't something I thought I would ever say about either, back when we were first learning to know each other.

Quote of the Day:
[Sunday evening]
Me: I'd be more inclined to go to singspiration if there weren't so many congregational hymns.
Emily: I'd be more inclined to go to singspiration if there were more congregational hymns between 26 and 29.
[Long confused pause]
Me: OH! Hims!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How Women Treat Their Husbands

Based on scientific observations of women at garage sales and on Facebook, I have concluded that far too many American women don't treat their husbands with respect.

Earlier this summer I stopped at a few garage sales in a local smallish town.  First I impulsively bought a lovely antique dresser for the princely sum of $25.  After all, I was driving the van, and the seats were out, and there was the dresser, and we needed it for our stuff upstairs while Dad stayed in our bedroom, so I figured God wanted me to have it.

Mr. and Mrs. Garage Sale were both friendly and engaging people.

Of course I couldn't lift a dresser into the van by myself.  So Mr. Garage Sale came to help.  Mrs. did too.

Mrs. took charge of the whole process.  "Lift that end up!" she snapped at Mr.  "No! Down below!"

"This way!" "Up!" "No! Be careful!"

She hopped into the van and maneuvered while he lifted the bottom end and pushed.  She hollered commands the entire time and informed him how he was doing it wrong.

He tucked something underneath the dresser to protect it.  She yanked it away and tucked it in right.

He brought the one broken drawer and set it in.  She grabbed it and set it in correctly with an annoyed sigh.

The process was excruciating to watch.

I checked: no rings, so maybe they weren't Mr. and Mrs. after all.  It was obvious that they both lived there, though.  I was tempted to suggest to him that he deserves better than this and maybe he should just, you know, LEAVE.

Because I have a hunch that when "Mrs." talked to the dog, the neighbors, the cashier, the kids, or anyone else, she didn't TELL them what to do, she ASKED.

"Wanna come here, Freckles?"
"Would you mind picking up our mail?"
"Can you feed the cat?"
"Could you ring that up separately?"

But with Mr., it was all imperatives.  And all combined with the most obvious signals that he was completely inept and incapable, in sharp contrast to her full capability in every situation.

From there I went to another sale a few blocks away.  This time Mrs. and the teenage daughters were running the sale.  While I was there, Mr. pulled up in a pickup truck.

Mrs. hollered from behind the table, "Where were you?  We've been waiting for an hour!"

He replied, from the pickup window, that he had gone to a few other sales.

Mrs. and the teenage girls all turned to him in annoyance.  "Really? All right, whadja buy this time?!"

He told them.  A grill, I think.

My word, the huffs and sighs and rolled eyes.  "Can you BELIEVE him?!  Having a garage sale and going out and buying more junk?!"

Mr. looked defeated and humiliated.

I felt very sad.

If you click any wifey-mommy videos online, whether it's commercials, monologues in the car, or anything else, Christian or secular, you're going to see this same attitude over and over.

This DUMB guy.
Can you BELIEVE this?
What on earth is he up to now?
World, neighborhood, universe, everybody: Do you SEE THIS STUPID THING MY HUSBAND JUST DID?

And I think: this is your husband.  He is a person.  He becomes who you believe him to be.

You wouldn't treat anyone else this way.  Not your friends, the mailman, the cat.

If a teacher did this to your child, you would have them fired.

You do not own the key to the One Universal Right Way To Do Things.

His way is probably just as good as yours.

And if he buys a grill you don't need, you discuss this IN PRIVATE.  Like ADULTS.  Admitting that you have a few tiny faults of your own, but you can work this out, because you made vows to honor each other, and stuff.

Is it easy to make your husband's bumbling the brunt of a joke before others? Yes.  Have I done it myself? Yes.

But I repented when I became aware of it, and I am on a mission to not ever be a publicly-shaming, eye-rolling, Garage Sale sort of wife.

Starting with ASKING instead of TELLING.

Quote of the Day:
"Are you weirded out by possibly sticking a few clothing items in with food?"
--Ben, to Jenny, while packing for a camping trip to the Wallowas

Saturday, September 17, 2016

What Surgery Was Like

"Your first surgery?!  At age 54? You are a super human being!"

I heard that a number of times in this process.  It's nice to be called a super human being.

So this is my wide-eyed walk through my first and hopefully last surgery, which might be kind of TMI like LBJ showing off his scar to the press.  He also had gallbladder surgery, but obviously it wasn't laparascopic like mine.  Yikes.

I told myself ahead of time that surely if I've had two wisdom teeth pulled out and 5 babies pushed out, I can do this.  Here's what I found out:

How gallbladder surgery is like childbirth:
1. You know it's coming up and no one else can go through this for you.
2. You shouldn't read up ahead of time on possible complications.
3. You move slowly afterwards.
4. It's nice to have someone bring you tea and toast.
5. At least you get to keep your socks on.

How gallbladder surgery is not like childbirth:
1. Your fears are only for yourself and not for a baby.
2. Right up until you lose consciousness, you could decide to not do this after all and walk out the door.
3. You sleep through the worst parts.
4. You get to sleep a lot afterwards.
5. It's much easier.

My biggest fears:
1. That I would be awake but paralyzed during the surgery. [It happens.  I read it on the Internet.]
2. That I would wake up with a permanent headache like my friend's sister did over 30 years ago. [According to the Internet, that happens to plenty of other people too.]
3. That it would be scary to be anesthetized.
4. That I would have sleep paralysis, waking up.
5. That I would say crazy embarrassing things as I was waking up.
6. That the doctor would say, "Actually, we pulled out your gallbladder and there weren't any stones left in it.  Oops.  Too bad."
7. That I would react to anesthesia like my sister did, and barf uncontrollably afterwards.


All my life I've been afraid of the wrong things.

The scariest part was when the anesthesiologist held a mask to my face to breathe into and out of, right after I lay on the operating table.  The mask had a triangular shape made of a puffy plastic tube, meant to make an airtight seal on my face.  I had that panicky feeling I get when my face is in water [no, I'm not a swimmer] and I jerked my head and yanked the mask off.

The anesthesiologist was a very understanding woman who told me that if I hold it on myself, it won't be as scary.  I still had to deliberately talk myself through each breath, but it worked better, and about four breaths in, I was completely out.

I didn't wake up during surgery.

I didn't have to deal with nausea at all.

Nor did I wake up with a headache.

Actually, I had a very hard time waking up.  It was like the deepest of Sunday-afternoon naps, where you just want to sink down into the blissful sleepiness and stay there.  I was somewhat aware of Paul being there and getting briefed on my medications, and all of a sudden they wanted me to get up and go home.

What??  Noooooo.  I think I mumbled, "I ..." but they wouldn't let me.

So there was no danger of me saying loopy things, because I could barely form words.  I came home and was steered into bed, where I slept and slept until evening.

Not letting me sleep was the only way they were unkind at the surgery center.  Otherwise, goodness.  During the pre-op I put on this gown with what looked like a vacuum cleaner attachment ring at the side.  Then I sat back in a recliner and the nurse tucked a blanket around me and then attached a vacuum hose--it looked like--to the gown, but it blew warm air in.  Oh my word.  I should see if I can buy one on ebay for cold winter evenings.

I asked the nurse if it's like a vacuum cleaner where you flip the switch and it sucks air back out, but she didn't find that amusing.

The doctor told Paul that everything went exceptionally well and that my being a smaller person made the process much simpler.  He also said they sent the gallbladder off but will give me the stones at my first visit afterwards.

I thought: Why would they give me the stones?  Maybe I can line a little succulent garden with them.

Ben and Jenny are off backpacking in the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon. Paul and Emily are taking very good care of me.

Quote of the Day:
"One slip of the scalpel and you could be delivered."
--my brother Fred, on the risks of gallbladder surgery

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September's LFH

Abundance follows man of austerity

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
SEPT. 11, 2016

My hens didn’t start laying until my dad arrived.

I got them the night before Easter, given away by Coastal Farm and then hauled home, along with a sack of feed, by my husband, Paul, who knew I wanted to raise chickens again.

So the 15 chicks prospered and grew large, stepping around the field by the henhouse with a quiet but determined gait that reminded me of Amish ladies working in the kitchen before a wedding. If I named the hens after the particular Amish cousins they each resembled, I will not admit that here.

But they didn’t lay eggs. It was time, even reading the charts generously skewed toward the far end of the timetable. I found one egg in a nest one day and the kids found one in the field.

“Come on, ladies,” I said. “Please. It’s time. You really need to start laying.”

They ignored me, even when I spoke Pennsylvania German.

Then my 99-year-old Dad came from Minnesota for a six-week visit. This is the third summer he has done so.

Dad always has advocated moderation, simplicity and austerity. “Too much” was one of the worst sins, in his opinion. Too many crackers in your split pea soup, too much of Mom’s homemade bread, too much talking — all brought on his darkest frowns and his deep “Ach. That’s enough. Don’t go to extremes.”

You certainly didn’t need another new dress, and deprivation was far better than excess.

Today, Dad still refuses second helpings and new socks, and he has a pair of shoes he bought secondhand in 1964. He weighs about 100 pounds.

Yet, when he showed up at our house, things suddenly went wild with abundance.

A day after his arrival, he went out and visited the hens. I don’t know what he said, but that afternoon six eggs lay in the nests. It was the beginning of a flood of eggs that we have fried, hardboiled, used in baking, and given away, and still they accumulate in ever-larger baskets on the kitchen counter. I even had a disturbing dream one night that I went in the henhouse and hundreds of eggs lay all over the floor, the straw bale, everywhere.

Last summer the blackberries at all my favorite picking spots were sparse and hard. Was it that little bit of rain in July or was it some magic from Dad? He and his cane thumped determinedly to the bushes at the edge of various cousins’ fields, and the berries were huge and sweet and plentiful. I baked pies and cobblers, froze berries in sandwich bags, and even made blackberry jam and jelly for the first time.

Dad’s new book went a bit crazy, too. During his previous two visits, he spent hours on the living room couch with a padded lap desk across his knees, writing out his life story with pen and paper.

He chose the title: “A Chirp From the Grass Roots.” I let him tell his story on his own terms even though it seemed sparse on all the interesting details, in keeping with his life philosophy of eschewing excess.

I found a printer and ordered enough copies to supply his grandchildren, nieces and nephews, then I also made it available on as an e-book.

The book immediately sold so well I ordered a second printing and will soon need a third. Former students wanted copies, and perfect strangers, and even a woman from Sweden who saw it on social media. It’s painful enough to check the Amazon rankings when you’re a fragile author, but to find that your dad’s book is vastly outselling yours is far harder to accept graciously.

How does he do it, he of the careful salvaging of the good half of a wrinkled apple and repurposing of AARP envelopes?

Even the cats took up the mood of lavish abundance when he came. A cautious silvery stray cat appeared at our house some time ago. He never let us get close or pick him up, but he would sneak nervously across the porch and grab some food when the other cats had finished eating.

The children named him Herbie Furbie.

Then Dad arrived, and Herbie not only made himself comfortably at home, he also had a litter of five kittens under the porch.

Yesterday, two black kittens showed up as well, scampering stiff-legged under the picnic table. I have no idea where they came from.

Then the grapes ripened. Seedless and green, with a tough skin and sweet, slippery inside, these are meant for fresh eating, but they hung from the vine in such numerous clusters that we couldn’t have begun to eat them all.

Dad offered to pick them so I could make juice. It was a wonderful idea, except for the fact that I was organizing an all-day women’s retreat at church. But keeping Dad busy is a good thing, so out he went with a bucket looped on one of my husband’s belts across his shoulder, a rose trimmer, and his gray trilby hat.

I washed jars, assembled the steamer and prepared my speech.

The night before the retreat, I canned nine quarts of juice. The morning of, I got up early and did five more. More grapes sat waiting when I got home, so I filled 10 more jars.

Dad hollered, “This is just the tip of the iceberg!” and kept picking.

I filled every empty quart jar I had in the pantry plus pickle jars and jam jars and spaghetti sauce jars. I found a box of jars in storage, washed out the dust and spiders, and filled them with juice.

Buckets of steamed, limp grape skins went to the chickens. To make more eggs.

“I think this is about half of them,” Dad announced proudly. He kept picking, coming inside to rest between buckets, but always grabbing his cane and marching back out.

Thankfully, my friend Shannon needed grapes, so Dad and I filled two boxes and a 5-gallon bucket one morning and I dropped them off, feeling relieved.

That afternoon, Dad came in with two more buckets full. “I just found a really good cluster!” So I once again assembled the steamer, poured the grapes in a dishpan to wash, and bought two boxes of jars from my friend Sharon.

One could logically argue, I suppose, that nature is no more to be manipulated or influenced than a 99-year-old man who is used to doing things his own way.

But I like to think that there has been just a bit of magic in my summer, a fun collision of events, an unpredictable agency conspiring on his behalf.

Also, the pears are dropping from the tree in such quantities as I’ve never seen in 16 years at this house.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Diamonds, Grapes, Kitties, and Such Like

How does this color of grapes produce that color of juice?

After a week of misery, my gallbladder calmed down and I was able to help out and speak at Diamonds In The Dust, our church's first ladies' retreat.  The retreat was mostly Zelma Baker's idea.  She is a great organizer and delegater, but she really wanted me present-- because she doesn't like to talk up front, I think. Or else because she had this delusion that I know how to put on a retreat because I've been to so many.

Fact: showing up to talk is a very different operation from organizing an event from the ground up.

So Zelma said she had been reminding the Lord that I need to be well enough to be there--in case He forgot.
Zelma is standing over there, with the white sweater, facing this way.

Well.  He didn't and I was, and it was a good good day, with lots of hard but redemptive stories shared and also a lot of tears, which is a good thing when it's empathetic "Oh Sister, I feel for you," tears.

And the food!  Baked goods and yogurt in the morning, then for lunch chicken salad on croissants, other salads of subtle spice and flavor, desserts on multi-level plates.  It looked delectable.  I ate lettuce, since I am on a low-fat diet to keep my gallbladder happy.

Aunt Susie welcomed people and got them all registered.
Speaking of, I am planning to have surgery.  I prayed about this.  After I posted my exhaustion with advice and remedies, most people were very nervous about saying anything, but I still heard a lot of stories and cautions.  I tend to blow with the winds and agree with whoever I talked to last, so I told God to tell Paul what I'm supposed to do, and I'll do what he says.

Paul said he doesn't want me to ever endure another gallstone attack, and he doesn't want me to try home remedies and then be all worried about a flareup if we go visit Amy in Thailand or I have a speaking event coming up.

All right then.

My dad is still here but will be back in Minnesota before I have surgery.  He keeps busy picking my grapes, writing letters, and reading.

Dad's new book is selling well.  I put it on Amazon as a Kindle book and it's selling better than my books.  That is a strange sensation when you are an author with fragile self-esteem and you track the Amazon rankings and your dad is doing way way better than you.

Next thing someone will ask him to speak at a ladies' retreat.

What is it with fruit this year? The blackberries were prolific, the strawberries were plentiful, and my grapevines went completely crazy, twining clear around the lilac bush and producing hundreds of thick clusters of grapes.

Most of them are the green kind that are meant for eating.  They aren't like grapes from the store that you bite into.  Rather, you hold one up to your lips, pop the slippery inside into your mouth, and drop the outside peel on the kitchen counter.  Or that's how some folks in this house do it.

There are way way more grapes than we'll eat, so Dad has been picking them and I steam them and can the juice.

He is very happy about this task.  I am happy about grape juice, but every time he comes in with two more brimming buckets I have the sense of large waves about to swamp my canoe.

"Dess iss usht 'the tip of the iceberg!'" he yelled a few days ago, hauling in two buckets' worth.

On Tuesday night, when I was making supper and getting ready for Diamonds in the Dust the next day, Dad lost his glasses.  He thought they fell out of his pocket when he was picking grapes.

Have you ever looked for a pair of glasses in a tangle of grapevines and grass?

Each of us went out at least once and carefully separated vines, patted around, bent down and looked up.

Finally on my second or third try, there they were, hidden in a clump of grass under a sweep of vine.

I was very thankful.

On Wednesday I canned 5 jars of juice, went to the ladies' retreat all day, and came home and canned more.

Yesterday Dad kept hauling in buckets full, resting, and going out for more.

Finally I said, "Vee feel fon de grapes denksht sin faddich??"
He said, "Ich glaub ich bin bissell ivvah de helft."

[How many of the grapes do you think are done?
I think I'm a little over half.]

As you can see, I have been digging in back corners for more jars.  I'm almost ready to go borrow vessels not a few from the neighbors.

Last night I was very tired.

But we have lots of grape juice to keep the wolf from the door this winter.

In other news, a stray cat came by a few months ago.  The kids named him Herbie Furbie, and while he was brave enough to come sneaking by for food after the other cats were done eating, he was also very nervous and would run off when we tried to befriend him or pick him up.

But he must have decided we were trustworthy people, because he had a batch of kittens under the porch.

This is so typical of how our life goes.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Hosht du all my grape juice ksenna??
Dad: Ya ich hop.  Ich vayss net vee du alles geh-du gdicksht, avvah du dusht!
Me: [faint...because Dad is not one to give compliments, and compared to Mom I am a serious slacker.]

Translation--Did you see all my grape juice?
Yes I did.  I don't know how you get everything done, but you do.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Twist in the Gut and the Plot

It wasn't the nutritional yeast.  I know that now.

And San Francisco will most likely wait for us.

Three weeks ago on a Sunday morning I fried up a happy bacon and eggs breakfast like a good Trim Healthy Mama. Then I ramped up the THM engine and added a few slices of avocado and pulled out my jar of nutritional yeast to sprinkle over the whole works.

Instead of sprinkling gently, the nutritional yeast fell out in a big glop, probably two tablespoons of it.  Oh well.  Sunday morning, lots to do, and if a little is good, more must be better.  I ate it up.

An hour later Paul had left for his pre-service ministers' meeting, my hair was fluffed and up, and my stomach suddenly hurt.  Wow.  I scampered around putting pens in my purse and lunch in the oven.

Oh my word. This HURT.

Finally I told the kids to go on and I'd come later.  I went to bed and spent the next six hours in great and terrible pain.

When it subsided enough to think, I thought back over everything I'd eaten in the last day.  Was it the Mexican food from the night before? The eggs?

I looked up nutritional yeast.  Some people react to it with painful bloating and cramps.

All right then.  That explained that.  I felt very silly, and the next day I dumped the rest of the nutritional yeast in the trash.

*     *     *

Paul suggested we go to San Francisco for our anniversary.

Despite being a great planner, he isn't really the whisk-away-on-a-romantic-trip sort of person.  So when he suggested taking off to San Fran, I said YES.

Even though there was a LOT going on, like Vacation Bible School at church, and my sister and my dad coming, and harvest, and chickens and flower beds to take care of, and my sister leaving and Dad staying, and people streaming through my life, and our church's first ladies' retreat to plan for at the end of August.

I drew up a chart with all the living things that would suffer or die if uncared for for four days, and who was in charge of what.

First we talked about flying to San Francisco, and then we decided to drive, taking off after lunch on Sunday.

That Sunday morning I once again had two eggs.  I put kielbasa soup in the Instant Pot, prepped the buns, shepherded Dad out the door, went to church.

After church I started with another stomach ache that got worse as the minutes went by.  I didn't at all connect it with the episode two weeks before.  Some crazy indigestion.  We ate lunch, put our bags in the car, and left.  We tossed in an ice cream bucket at the last minute, just in case.

*     *     *

This is the thing about sickness and health issues: do you share the news of them? And how much? To whom? And when?

The question has a number of sides.  The TMI factor, for one.  Stomach aches and barf buckets. Indigestion.  Ewww.  How can this be anyone's business but mine?

But: how can anyone support, rally, care, help if they don't know?

Also: sharing brings advice.  Some of it you desperately need and want.  But when you're surprised by illness, dealing with the flood of well-meaning un-asked-for advice can be so overwhelming that you decide to keep your news to yourself.

Also: explaining is hard work.  People want to know particulars, because they care about you.  Or because they're curious, some of them.  And if they give advice and you don't take it, you seem ungrateful and snippy unless you explain and explain what you're going to do instead, and why and how theirs would be great advice except for this.

Clarifying ideas and experiences into words and sentences is hard work when you don't feel well.  So not saying anything can just be easier and more manageable.

But it can make you feel alone.

*     *     *
We headed south on Interstate 5.  An hour later I was in really really awful pain.  I started throwing up.  Thank goodness for the bucket.

Paul stopped at a rest area to dump the bucket.

And at a gas station.

And at a few other places.

I was in serious, serious pain.

We can't go on, we decided.

*     *     *
Illness and emergencies are an opportunity for people to say, afterwards, "You should have just...."

Medical situations bring out stuff you didn't know was there, and I'm not talking about the bile in the depths of your stomach that comes up via your wretched heaving on the gravel parking lot in Sutherlin, where you've pulled off to make a few decisions.

Paul, for instance, is brisk and decisive in 99% of life, but he is completely baffled and desperately uncomfortable and inadequate in medical situations.

Whereas my missed-my-true-calling self shows itself whenever a gash or ache or upset stomach comes across my way.  I'm immediately pulling on the sterile gloves and laying out my instruments and pulling pills and oils from the drawer.

Unless I'm the one who's sick or hurt.

Then some haunting ghost from the distant past takes over and I feel I have no option but to tough it out.

Because deep down is a belief that I will not be believed that it hurts.  And that only wimps ask for help.

That was one of a number of unpleasant things I found out about myself through all this.

*     *     *
So we got a motel in Sutherlin.  I have vague memories of one of us mentioning going to the ER in Roseburg, but somehow I couldn't stand the thought of being poked and asked and moved and x-rayed.

I also don't like making big decisions in an emergency.

So Paul helped me inside and I curled up in that lovely bed and was lost in a delirium of pain for a long time, and then I fell asleep.

Paul called our nurse friend Esta, who said it sounds like gallstones.  Then he went to Safeway and got me some apple juice and roses.

The next morning Paul called our doctor and made an appointment.  We canceled the anniversary trip and began a journey of a different kind.

*     *     *
I've read about and known people who go through chemotherapy or multiple surgeries, and it seems they are familiar with this mysterious System.  They know about scans here and ICU's there, about how to tell which is a good doctor, about insurance, and how to be assertive and demand what you need.

Me? I know about visits to a family doctor for asthma, bronchitis, and kids' broken arms and ear infections.  And giving birth, but that's different.

I've never really had to navigate the System.

*     *     *
Our doctor took me seriously.

"How often have you given birth?" he said.  "How did this compare?'

I said, "Two of my births were easier than this, and I didn't have easy births."

He believed me.

Then he sent us off into the System.  An ultrasound first, in an unfamiliar area of Salem.

I expected discomfort, gowning up, an icy sploosh of gel on my stomach.

Instead: a casually friendly technician who said no, you're fine, just have a seat here. And she had warmed the gel!

Little things make a huge difference in the System.

*     *     *
Two days later, we went to meet with the surgeon.

The word "serious" came up and bobbed around like a helium balloon left over from a party that blows with the air currents in the house.

Not just gallstones, but "serious" gallstones.  And a hint of pancreatitis, which can be very serious.  And an inflamed gallbladder.  Again, serious.

Most people, it seems, have small gallbladder issues for months and years before they become big issues.  This sudden and extreme is unusual.

Surgery is the solution, everyone in the medical system said.

I thought, "Steven is graduating on Saturday.  I HAVE TO BE THERE."  And then I schemed how I could make this work.  Hold off a few days, then graduation Saturday, surgery Monday.

The surgeon said, "You can't have laparascopic surgery with an inflamed gallbladder.  You'll need to wait six weeks and eat a very low-fat diet in the meanwhile."

Six WEEKS?!  Of eating almost no fats, which is just awful awful, and meanwhile the gallbladder could attack again at will, any time it pleases.

I wanted to burst into tears and cry for a long time.

And then the surgeon said he's going on vacation, so it might be more like nine weeks.

*     *     *
Sickness strips away control and capability.

Healthy, it's easy to delude ourselves into a sense of control over our lives.  Daily schedules, routines, duties.  Lists and plans. Do this, delegate that, make things happen.

Think of the almost absurd audacity of scheduling something two months out.  Yes, I can bring a salad to that party, organize that event, speak at that retreat, even fly to your state.

With control of place and time comes control of emotions.  Feeling in charge, giving orders, keeping life like it ought to be, or at least trying.

And then, just that quick, the control is gone.  Sickness brings a mental fog brought on first by the shock of things changed all of a sudden and then by the inevitable brain shutdown from just Not Feeling Well.

So I get up in the morning and try to prioritize what's absolutely the most important, because that's about all I can get done.

And then I do really spacey things like forget to turn stove burners off.

I'm easily overwhelmed at the best of times, but when I'm sick, everything looks monstrously overwhelming--such as the half dozen orders for Dad's new book that are sitting here on the desk.  Such an enormous, impossible task, figuring them out.

Forgive me, you people who ordered a book and haven't received it.

Emotional control also disappears with sickness.  Last night I recalled an odd memory from sixth grade, when I had been out of school for about four days with a bad flu. On the first day back in school we made stained-glass windows out of black construction paper and tissue.  Something went wrong with mine, and I started crying.  Mrs. Olson said, kindly, "Are you sure you're over your sickness?" and I thought it odd.  What did that have to do with crying over a frustrating art project? She said, firmly, "I don't think you're well yet."

Now I'm sure she was right.

I cry too easily at the best of times, but this last week I feel the emotional fragility that comes with sudden loss, physical pain, and big life changes.

It's just hard any way you look at it, to go overnight from sharp, active, busy, healthy, strong and sure of things to dull, slow, sick, weak, and uncertain.

I hate it.  But you know who just GETS it, who knows what to say, how to say it, when to make me laugh and when to commiserate, what advice to give and how to give it?

The people who have been through something like this themselves.

God isn't going to waste this.

*     *     *

So now I'm waiting.

Eating plain potatoes and longing for butter and sour cream. Analyzing every twinge in my side for signs of another attack.  Trying to re-schedule my talks in the next two months because I have no idea if I can be there or not.

I try to think through the what-if's and have a plan, since I still don't like to make big decisions in an emergency.

It's kind of like getting ready for labor, except it's not fun, and there won't be a baby at the end.

But I made it to Steven's graduation on Saturday!  Seventeen strong amazing uniformed young people on the platform, Steven the most handsome and amazing of the bunch, of course, and then he got his diploma and we were just thrilled.

I sat in the auditorium and thought happy thoughts about how far he's come.  I also thought, "Oh dear.  What if I have another gallbladder attack, here and now?"

But!  What better place and time to have an attack? Steven and all his friends would have swarmed around to help and transport me to the hospital.

But now that he's graduated, and I was there, I don't care so much what happens and when.

*     *     *
As per James 5:14--"Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord."--Paul and I met with the other church leaders and I was anointed with actual oil and prayed over.

So many times I've been the one praying for healing for someone else.

When you're the one anointed and prayed for, you feel touched and healed by Jesus in your spirit, no matter what the outcome is physically.

*     *     *
"I had no idea about any of this," said my friend Sharon this morning.

"You didn't say a thing on social media," said Amy when we Skyped last night, implying that this was out of character.

"I just didn't have the energy for all the explaining, all the conversation, all the questions," I said.

I will be honest: what I feared most was the barrage of remedies and products.  I've contacted a niece and a couple of friends about non-medical treatments.  My family doctor gave me a few parameters with natural remedies.

If you feel the need to share a suggestion, please let me just listen without explaining whether or not I'll use it, and why.

What I need and appreciate most is words of support.

*     *     *
A low-fat diet is mandatory.

So is humor.

A few days ago I faced the reality of what weeks and weeks of a low-fat diet looks like: punishment.  All my beloved peanut butters and alfredo sauces and bleu cheese dressings and whipped cream, forbidden.

[Just wondering if this might be a clue why I got gallstones in the first place...]

I said, darkly cynical, "Hey, I should call this a fast so I can at least get some spiritual credit for it!"

Ben said, "Mom, I can't believe you'd have the gall to say that."

As long as we keep laughing, we're going to be ok.

I don't think I'll try nutritional yeast again, regardless.

And Paul says we will definitely make it to San Francisco, someday.
Jenny made a paper chain for me to mark off the days until surgery.

Emily made me a pretty, low-fat salad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sunday's Column--Sisters

Bonds of sisterhood remain strong despite long separation

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
AUG. 14, 2016

The best thing, after 33 years, was that we were still us.

My sister Rebecca and I were born a year and three weeks apart. During those three weeks, she always gloated about her vastly superior age, chanting in our Amish-German dialect, for example, “I am 8 and you are only 6,” which sounds far less infuriating in English.

She was tidy; I was messy. She was responsible about housework. I tried to sneak out of doing dishes. She got along with people. I was all frustration and temper, even, on one memorable occasion in the fifth grade, taking the Lord’s name in vain at lunch break on the playground when Billy Allen, with his unbearable smirk, made fun of me for swinging and missing when I was “at bat” in kickball.

I remember exactly what I hollered back at him — not only the first and last time I ever cussed, but also “Why don’t you shut your fat face?” a useful phrase I had just learned from my brother Fred.

Rebecca always was maddeningly good when we were little, and she did things right, while I blew with the winds of impulse and fury and grand creative ideas. “But overall,” Rebecca says now, “I recall us being more like twins. I think I mostly saw you as an equal.”

By junior high, we had learned to be blessedly for, instead of against, each other. We both say the only way we survived being the only Amish girls in a public high school in Minnesota was by our sturdy support of one another.

All through high school, we shielded each other as the bitter winter wind whipped our dresses while waiting for the bus, left notes in each other’s lockers and discussed the day’s indignities, test scores and gossip over the supper dishes.

Living far apart for the first time was unsettling, especially when she was in college and I moved to Oregon to teach at a Mennonite school. Was I someone, apart from her? And if so, who?

By my second year in Oregon, our lives, so tightly similar in high school, were diverging. She was in her third year of college, busy with nursing and Campus Crusade for Christ. While her faith was as strong as ever, she felt called to leave our church and its culture to embrace a wider ministry and world.

Meanwhile, I was dating a Mennonite man and sensing a future in our faith tradition.

That year, we arranged for Rebecca to fly out for spring break, and for four days we stayed at a motel in Florence and reconnected as sisters and best friends.

We found, in those blissful days at the coast, that for every difference between us, we still had a hundred similarities. We explored the shops in Old Town Florence, walked on the beach, talked for hours, laughed a lot and made predictions about the future. She guessed I would marry Paul Smucker, which I did. I said she would marry someone named Malcolm Forbes, which she didn’t.

At night, we sat on the bed, ate celery and peanut butter, and watched “Gone With the Wind,” fiercely stabbing the celery into the peanut butter jar whenever the plot turned scary.

When Scarlett shot the insane soldier who came to the house, we leaped off the bed and made sure the doors were locked.

The next morning, we discovered we had left the keys inserted in the outside of the door that opened to the motel parking lot.

The two of us in 1983.  I'm on the left, Rebecca's on the right.
We had no way of knowing back then that she would spend most of her married life in the Middle East with her engineer husband, and I would spend much of mine in an old farmhouse in a restful rural setting in Oregon. We would each find our way apart from each other, and yet our lives would evolve with almost startling similarities.

Both of us married men who are exhaustingly driven and less emotionally attuned than we are. We both had families, lived with asthma and dealt with the genetic tendency toward depression in ourselves and our children. We both find ourselves constantly involved in helping others.

Back in the United States for her son’s wedding this summer, Rebecca had a chance to visit me, and I decided to surprise her by re-creating our visit to Florence 33 years ago. I found the motel online with its name changed but still sitting there by the Dairy Queen, and reserved a room. Her joy, when we pulled in and parked, made it worthwhile.

Not only did we catch up with each other for two days, but we also reconnected with those two young women from 1983 who were making high-risk life decisions and wondering how they would all turn out.

2016. Again, I'm on the left and Rebecca's on the right.
We didn’t have time for movies, but we still double-checked the locks for old times’ sake. We also ate healthful snacks, took pictures on the beach and gravitated toward secondhand stores.

She is still deliberate and tidy. I am still scattered and forgetful. I deal in the moment; she thinks long-term. But once again we connected on a thousand similarities, laughed at the same things, and empathized deeply with each other’s times of powerlessness and pain.

We ordered the same items off the menu, coughed with asthma and puffed our inhalers and, all unplanned, wore near-identical purple shirts the next morning. We didn’t eat at Dairy Queen this time, since sugary food triggers our asthma.

Riding in the car together, we recalled how I yelled at Billy Allen in the fifth grade and laughed so hard that tears ran down our cheeks.

“I wonder what those two young women would think of us now,” Rebecca said.

I think they would be proud of what we’ve survived and surprised at how much we are still them, still us.

We would tell them, if we could, that the big decisions of marriage and work and location mattered a lot, and we are both relieved that in spite of our naivete, we got those choices right.

But the little decisions of kindness, love and sacrifice are the ones that bring us daily joy, and we could have continued to choose them no matter where we lived or whom we married.

I think those young ladies would be happy to see that, while we are a lot wiser and more experienced, our personalities are still essentially as they always were, and even our weaknesses helped shape us into who we are today.

Surely they would also be glad to see that our relationship survived and that we continued to contact, support, listen, forgive and encourage despite years and miles and the differences that never went away.

Small, positive choices can accumulate into a really good life. To have a sister rooting for you through it all is a rare gift, and I am astonishingly blessed.

Dorcas Smucker is a homemaker and mother of six. She can be reached at dorcas­

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Picking Blackberries on a Summer Sunday Evening.

On the way home this evening, I had Ben drop me off at the edge of McCormicks' field because I wanted to pick some blackberries and walk home.  "Are you sure that's wise, in a white skirt?" he said.  I said it'll be ok, the picking is so easy and good there.

I was right.  The field is dry and harvested, and the blackberry vines arch out obligingly over the flat edge of the field and hang heavy with glossy berries, so I didn't have to go wading into the vines at all.

It is a really good year for blackberries.

We went to a hymn sing this afternoon, three churches coming together at the pavilion at the Rock of Ages .... oh dear, what is the current term for a home for older people who need care?  Not "Old People's Home", certainly, which is what they called it back in my mom's day when she did a year of voluntary service at such a facility and then entitled her scrapbook "O.P.H. Memories."

When I pick blackberries, I feel like Mom is with me in spirit. She was always happiest when picking berries, straw hat on her head, hauling us to the best patches on the backside of the farm, despite the threat of black snakes lurking under the bushes.

She would have loved to go berry picking in McCormicks' field.

So I talked to Mom about grace, because there are just so many blackberries in that patch, many more than I can ever pick or use.  Kind of like the vast supplies of God's love and grace, really, which she now understands better than I can begin to comprehend.
I thought, "But it's not fair, here I have more berries than I can begin to use, and so many people don't have any."

"But they all have access to God's grace, which is even better."


It was very hot at that hymn sing but, as Ben said later as we sat in the living room with the doors open and the cool breezes wafting through, he has a renewed appreciation for Oregon, having just been to a wedding in the East where things do not cool down so much at night, in summer.

Speaking of weddings.  I was going to tell you about one.  In fact, I pretty much promised it, a couple of posts back. But then I had a column to write and also went full-steam-ahead with Dad's book, which barely left time for showers and paying garbage bills, and certainly not for posting about weddings.

Yesterday I was at a funeral.  Esther Boss was the kind of friend that I saw maybe once or twice a year, but we always sat down and had an intense conversation in Pennsylvania Dutch, cutting to the heart of things from the second paragraph on.

She was getting treated for rheumatoid arthritis, and then they discovered she actually had bone cancer, and in five days she was gone.

So I went to her funeral, along with everyone else who felt like she was their friend. Hundreds of us.

In the food line [Mennonite funeral= a good meal] Vivian Turner said that at the end of that one post hadn't I kind of promised...? a post the next day...? about a wedding....?

Well, yes.  I had.  But I kind of hoped no one had noticed, because I'd never followed up.

"Was there something extra special about this wedding?" said Vivian.

Well...YES!  There was!!  I mean, what wedding isn't special, but this was a YODER wedding.

I didn't tell her all this, but I'll tell you.

Dad was 37 when he got married; Mom was almost 34.  Just for perspective, Dad's sister Edna got married at 17, which was a lot more typical in that day and the Amish culture than marrying in your 30s.

So this sort of started a trend of not being in a hurry to get married.  Of the six of us siblings, Marcus and I were the youngest at about 22.  Fred was in his 40s.

Then came the grandchildren.  Annette got married in 2005, and then after long years her sister Janet married in 2012.

Then, as they say, "crickets."

And then Rebecca's youngest son, Derek, announced his engagement to the amazing Grace, and they invited us to their wedding in Indiana in May.
Yoders talking, inspecting shoes, drinking tea, etc.
A bunch of happy Yoders gathered there, including we three sisters and our children.  To my complete delight, our six kids gathered from the earth's corners and our sub-family was all there.

The pastor talked about the sheer unlikelihood of these two people existing, meeting, marrying.  Rebecca the Amish girl meeting and marrying Rod from Seattle.  Grace's dad escaping the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as a child and eventually meeting his wife.  Derek meeting Grace from Indiana even though he grew up in Yemen.

Statistically and logically, these threads couldn't and shouldn't have come together like this, on this day.  But they did.

So the day was infused with great joy.

After the wedding we had part of two days with just Paul and I and our six.  Maybe I'll tell you about that and maybe I won't.

As Mom used to say: "Ich vill nix promisa," which meant "I don't want to promise anything" and was the equivalent of "We'll see."

The first shipment of books made it to Oklahoma ok, and Dad had a book signing yesterday at the Yoder reunion.  People kept texting me pictures throughout the day.

That was also a happy and impossible occasion.

Uncle Johnny and my dad.  My cousin Laverta took this prize shot.

Quote of the Day:
"Do you ever wonder if you're just a joke in someone else's family and you don't know it?"
--someone in this family

Monday, July 18, 2016

My Dad's Memoirs

My dad, Amos Yoder, was with us the past two summers and spent much of his time sitting on the couch and writing his life story, longhand, on notebook paper and the backs of old advertisements for urine-odor removers.

I couldn't find any shots of him writing his book, but here are two photos of him doing other things. We writers go a bit crazier if we don't do anything but write, you know.

He wrote about life as an Amish boy on an Oklahoma farm and how he was called away when World War II came.  What he thought would be a year of Civilian Public Service turned into five.  After that came two years in Paraguay, teaching, college, marriage, a family, and more teaching and farming.

I told Dad I’d take care of getting his writing into a book.

Emily spent many hours typing it all up, then I spent many more hours formatting, proofreading, finding a printer, and taking all the steps on the path from handwritten pages to finished book.

That path is a lot longer and steeper than it looks, starting off, but if it’s the right route for you, you will find people and websites to hold your hand and help you over the rough places and through the blackberry vines.

This week, I finished that project.

I was tempted at times to make the book into my image instead of Dad’s, or to make it more interesting, or to shape the events into how I would tell them, or what I wished they would have been at the time.  But I knew that would destroy the integrity of the telling and the authenticity of the book, so the only edits I made were to standardize the spellings and clarify the date of one event.

The title is Dad’s as well—A Chirp From the Grass Roots--and the cover was based on his ideas.  My friend Ellen Gerig supplied the photo. It's about 200 pages long.

So these are his words, about his life, told in his way.

Dad will be 100 years old in November, God willing.  Later this week he’ll be in Oklahoma at a reunion for his sister’s family.  The book will be available there and he’ll see it for the first time.

In August—God willing, again—Dad will be in Oregon.  I’d like to have a book signing event for anyone who’s interested in meeting him and getting a book.  Not a big splash, since if you read his book you’ll see his horror of making too big a fuss about things, but just an opportunity for people to stop by and get a glimpse of history.

Because really, he is a piece of history.  Think of everything that’s happened and been invented in the last 100 years, from the Korean War to the Depression to Elvis and Scotch tape and floppy disks—he watched it all.  He was ten years old when Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic.

If you’d like a physical copy of A Chirp From the Grass Roots, they will be $8 each and available from me.  Email me at for details.

You can also get an ebook on Amazon.  Right here.