Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pitiful People

Nothing is as pitiful and pathetic as someone sick with the flu, hot and sleepy and miserable. This fever and sore throat bug has been ravaging our family and today it's Paul and Jenny that are bleary-eyed and flushed, and Matt doesn't look so good either.

Paul has been lying on the couch, pretty much dead to the world, for about three days. This evening his temperature was 103. He's the type that pushes himself to keep working even when he's sick, so when he lies around wrapped in blankets, I know he's SICK.

I can handle sick children and rather enjoy making motherly noises over them and bringing cold drinks with straws, but there's something about a strong, capable guy laid flat with the flu that just upsets my little world. Paul and Pitiful should not be in the same sentence. It's just wrong.

Quote of the Day:
"It was so boring. Everybody talked about obvious things and contemplated them like they weren't obvious."
--a certain teenager, talking about a Sunday school class she visited

Friday, December 29, 2006

Bonnie and Choice

This evening I got a phone call from my SIL Bonnie who was calling all the way from Florida where her family spent Christmas with her twin sister Connie's family.

Bonnie called to tell me that she was in a little Amish restaurant, and in the restaurant was a Choice Books rack, and on the rack was a copy of. . . my book!!

Bonnie, like many other people in my life, knows that I have been waiting anxiously to see if Choice will carry my book on their racks, since getting endorsed by them means that the numbers fly off the charts instantly, since Choice often orders thousands of books at one go.

So Bonnie, bless her heart, saw my book in this little Florida restaurant and not only called to tell me about it but also made a sales pitch for it to the people at a nearby table.

I like Bonnie.

Quote of the Day:
"Why did the guy die? Because he saw a bag that said 'marshmallows' on it so he ate them but actually the marshmallows were made of mud!!"[shrieks of laughter]
--Bonnie's 5-year-old son Trevin, who likes to make up jokes. I like him too.

Small World

Yesterday a guy named Lamar and his mom, Ruth, from Harrisburg stopped in. Ruth whipped out a letter and showed it to me. It was a Christmas form letter in red ink, and at the bottom it said something like, Do you happen to know Dorcas (Yoder) Smucker? She wrote a book. . .etc etc.

The letter was from Allan and Loyce Knutson of Grove City, Minnesota, who are the parents of Larry, who I graduated from high school with. And Allan happens to be a first cousin to Ruth.

So that was our small-world moment for the day.

Since the world is that small, maybe someone can help me locate something.

When I read through the Psalms, every so often a verse will jump out at me and dance through my head in a little song. "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion," for example. Or "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people."

But it seems no one else ever knows these particular little songs. The reason I know them is because we used to have a record of a group called the New Creation Singers, and they sang all these Scriptures set to music.

I would love to get hold of a recording of these songs, but I have been unable to find them anywhere. If you Google New Creation Singers, you get several more modern groups but not the one I remember. And Mom and Dad's record burned up in their house fire in 1987.

My memory is a bit sketchy but here's what I know: they were a small folksy group in the Midwest in the 70's. My brothers went to hear them once in Minnesota, and came home with a record which had a picture on the front of a wheat field with a young woman in a long granny skirt, holding a guitar, plus possibly another person or two.

I have no idea how well-known this group was, or how good they were. I naturally thought they were cool because my brothers did, but they must have had something solid to them if I still remember their songs 30 years later.

If this rings a bell with anyone, I'd love to hear about it. And if I could get a recording of their music, that would really be wonderful.

(Edited to add: WOW. Both the Internet and you Shoe readers are amazing. I got an email from Andrew, the accommodating community relations guy at Barnes and Noble who evidently not only hands out chocolate to authors but also untangles us 40-somethings from the Web. He sent me a link, I followed it, and there were all these New Creation recordings from the 70's, now turned into cd's. I clicked on a button to listen, and out came all my old favorites, clear as day. Two cd's are ordered. My thanks to Andrew and everyone else who went searching for me.)

Here's the link.

Quote of the Day:
"If a guy asks you out at Bible school, you better tell him he might not want to because he might have an article written about it."
--Emily's advice to Amy

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vacation from Vacation

Christmas vacation is wonderful but sometimes it's a bit much, as any mom knows. But it looks like today I'll get a break from the normal, which is not entirely a good thing.

Paul, Emily, Ben, and Steven are off to Willamette Pass to go skiing, Paul's Christmas gift to the children. They left early this morning, then returned after about 5 minutes because Steven forgot his coat. I had him get his sunglasses while he was here, then Paul remembered his goggles as well. Then they were barely out the driveway when Paul remembered his "ski key," a $40 item that lets them use the lifts, or something like that.

Matt was going to go skiing as well, but he and Jenny are sick. Matt holes up in his room and sleeps, and Jenny sleeps on the couch, flushed and pathetic-looking. So I don't hear much from either one.

And at 9:30 Amy leaves for six weeks of Bible School at BMA (Biblical Mennonite Alliance) Bible Institute in Indiana. She and three of her friends are driving, and classes start next week.

So I will no doubt spend my quiet day worrying about the skiers breaking their legs, taking temperatures, and feeling all teary and nostalgic. Amy is a sweetie and I will miss her. But she will be as close as her cell phone, and I can send her care packages, and I keep telling myself--

Quote of the Day:
"At least it's not the Emirates, at least it's not the Emirates, at least. . . "

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in Prison

Yesterday we had a nice relaxing dinner at home with "just us" where, remembering my brother's family and their loss, I thanked God fervently that we were all here. And we stuffed ourselves with ham (from the Herdmans' food basket in the drama the other night) and other good food. And we wrote down our predictions of what Christmas will be like ten years from now. (Paul guessed three in-laws and six grandchildren.)

After dinner Paul and I went with two other couples to the Santiam Correctional Facility in Salem, where we stood in the dining hall and handed out cookies, cards, and address books to over 300 inmates.

Santiam is at the bottom of the correctional funnel--the guys there are about to be released. "100 days!" one of them told us. Most of them were very grateful and returned our wishes for a merry Christmas.

The hardest part of it was seeing young guys that looked Matt's age, or younger. I had to wipe a few tears when they came through the line. What have they been through, and what will their future be like?

Then there was the booming bearded man who stunned us all by saying:

Quote of the Day:
"You guys Mennonites? I was born Mennonite; grew up in Holmes County, Ohio. My father was a pastor at Martinsburg Mennonite Church."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gotcha Day

Today it's two years since Steven came to America, so we again celebrated his Gotcha Day with a Kenyan meal. We decorated with carved animals and lesos (versatile dyed cloths), wore a few Kenyan garments, and tried to serve "real" Kenyan food. We plan to make this a Christmas Eve tradition.


Steven frying sakuma.

Making chapatis with a rolling pin from Kenya.
Jenny dishing up beans.


Our menu:
chai (sweet black tea with hot milk)
ugali (cornmeal mush with a play-dough consistency)
rice
chicken in gravy (since I can't duplicate the chicken sauce in Kenya)
sakuma (chopped collard greens fried with onions and tomatoes)
cooked pinto beans
bananas
fresh pineapple
chapatis (kind of like tortillas)

Steven always wishes we could have omena with ugali. And what are omena?

Quote of the Day:
Emily:They're these little hard fish with eyes that stink--the fish, not the eyes.
Steven:They do not, they're yummy!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Drama

Our family was heavily represented in the church school's Christmas program the other night: Paul MC'ed and ran the lights and sound. Amy directed the performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," (if you haven't read the book by Barbara Robinson, go do so now), and she was also Mrs. Bradley, Ben and Steven were relatively minor characters, Jenny was Gladys Herdman/the angel of the Lord (and cute as all get out and whatever else you'd expect a mom to say) and Emily stole the show as Imogene Herdman.

When I say she stole the show, I don't mean that she hammed it up and was all cute. I mean that it was downright scary how she simply turned into Imogene. When she went into the anteroom, she was still Emily with hair slicked back and a pretty blue dress. When she came out in her sloppy clothes with a long hank of hair hanging in her face and a mean look in her eyes, she was Imogene. She wasn't Emily playing Imogene, she WAS Imogene. And she stayed Imogene while she backed Alice Wendelken against the wall and threatened to push a pussy willow down her ear, and while she burped the baby Jesus, and while she cried beside the manger.

And then she went back in the anteroom and emerged as Emily, proper and smiling and lovely.

Tell me, what do we as proper Mennonite parents do with a daughter who is a born actress?

(Edited to clarify: a musical gift, for example, is easier for a Mennonite to develop in the larger world. Steven's choir is very straightforward--nice songs, polo shirts, khakis. Drama, however, gets much more complicated. The girls and I went to see Once Upon a Mattress at the local community college Amy and Matt attend. It was billed as being great entertainment for children, so of course I imagined how it would be to have Emily act in something like this. Well. It was full of innuendo in the dialogue, and the king was a lecherous skirt-chaser, and the girls' gowns were cut down to there and further. Is it possible to find an acting outlet for her that doesn't send the message that it's ok to compromise all your principles for the sake of art and talent and a good story?)

Quote of the Day:
"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"
--Jenny/Gladys/the angel of the Lord

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Callers

I've taken a rash of mortgage-telemarketer calls today. Every caller had a distinctly un-American accent. Yet almost all of them, if I let them get that far, told me their "name," which was always very down-home American--Adam Smith, Bob Wilson.

Only of course, it was, Hello Meesuz Smooka, my nem eez Bob Weelson.

Why on earth do these people, who are probably named Ashram or Pradanth, feel compelled to tell me they have some mid-Iowa name?

They'd be much more interesting to talk to if they actually told me the truth--for example--"My name is Marjar Paroji and I live in India and I am spending all night making these calls to help put my brother through college even though I hate my job." Then I'd listen. And if they were selling something worthwhile on commission, I might buy it just to help them out.

But I'm not gonna listen to a guy who claims he's Adam Smith and obviously isn't.

Quote of the Day:
"Probably your thing for your hair would work."
--Steven, eyeing my hairnet while figuring out how to catch minnows in the creek

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dorcas Enchanted

In the book, Ella Enchanted, a fairy places a spell on baby Ella, and until the spell is broken she is doomed to obey every command she is given.

Of course her wicked stepsisters take advantage of this, and tell her to give her the necklace her mother gave her, plus lots of other horrible things, and she does them even though she doesn't want to.

(Yes, this is a modern and much-revised Cinderella story.)

I can relate to Ella way too well. When I am in the presence of a stronger personality (most of the population, it seems), especially one of these people who automatically tells everyone else what to do, it's like I'm under a spell and I have to do what they say.

It is awful. And I get furious at myself. But I have no idea how to break the spell.

Paul and I as minister-and-wife are trying to deal with a difficult situation in our care, and we are in way over our heads, so today I made some phone calls trying to find someone more experienced that we could consult with. I called one counsellor, and his wife answered. No, they don't discuss situations over the phone, she said, and in a honeyed voice she started to set me up for an appointment, today, before she gave me the slightest clue about what their approach would be or if this was really what we wanted. It was like I was under the spell of the snake in Ella Enchanted. "Are you free in twenty minutes? We have an opening then," she coaxed in soothing tones. Honestly, it was like something was compelling me to drop everything and go and I had no choice. Finally by a great mental effort I forced myself back to reality, yanked my mouth open, and explained that I can't possibly set up an appointment without discussing it with Paul first.

Too weird.

Back when Jenny was a baby I went to Arco for gas one day and the young male attendant told me that no, I cannot pay outside even though I have a baby in the back seat. So I unbuckled Jenny and went in to wait in line. And this nice sweet lady came up to me and asked why I hadn't stayed in the car with my baby. I said the attendant said I had to pay inside. She was upset. "They're supposed to take your money out there if you have small children!" Then she patted my shoulder and honeyed me and told me to go right back out with my baby and tell that attendant I'm paying out there. Well, of all the foolishness, now that I was already inside, but like a dumb sheep I wandered back outside and tried to explain to the bewildered young man what I was up to. And then I went home and was mad at myself for two days.

My sis Becky tells me that it is ingrained in Middle Eastern Muslims to do exactly what they're told, without questioning anything. In fact, many suicide bombers are chosen randomly off the street and told this is their destiny: to go on that bus in ten minutes and yank this cord and blow themselves to "heaven." And they do it. Some time ago a Palestinian woman was caught just before she was about to set off a suicide bombing. The Western media questioned her extensively as to why was she going to do this, what was she thinking, didn't she consider her children? And the only answer she could give was, "But they told me to do it. They told me to."

Unfortunately, I can sympathize all too well with that woman.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: What exactly is 'lowing?'
Matt: Mooing.
(pause)
Matt: But it just doesn't sound right to sing, 'The cattle are mooing. . ."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Internet Issues

Thursday night we had a ferocious windstorm that knocked down trees and power lines. Our lights blinked a few times but thankfully came back on and stayed on, unlike our neighbors' which stayed off for several days.

But the storm did something to our DSL, so we didn't have internet access.

I called for Matt the great fixer and turned him loose in the office. I prefer not to know what he does at these times--for all I know he chants strange incantations over bubbling pots of newts and frogs back behind the computer.

When he was done we could again access our email through dial-up, but we couldn't access the web.

I hadn't realized how dependent I was on being connected. Friday made me nervous, by Saturday I was downright jittery, and by Sunday I felt like I was having a caffeine withdrawal. But we kept waiting, since we figured it would heal itself when the rest of Harrisburg got its power back.

This morning (Monday) Paul was going to call Qwest. Meanwhile, I figured out that the fax didn't work and the old wall phone in the office didn't have a dial tone. Hmmm. I began crawling around the office, following this cord and that one from beginning to end, muttering strange incantations.

Finally I ended up under my desk where the phone cords plug into the wall. Cautiously I unplugged the white cord and plugged in the green one. And. . . .IT WORKED!!!!

I checked my blog and read the comments, feeling like I was sipping a cup of hot tea after a long cold night. I checked Matt's Xanga, Amy's, Emily's, and the Daily Dose of Imagery. I caught up on Marina and Byran and Robin.

And then Matt came downstairs and I told him, smugly, that I had fixed the internet problem, and how I did it.

He thought for a minute, looked a bit sheepish, and said,

Quote of the Day:
"Duh!"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

3-Kleenex Alert

You really should go here and read Amy's latest post.

And then go here and here to congratulate the happy couple.

Glo-o-o-o-ria!



Last night Steven and the rest of the Junior BoyChoir sang at the mall (Valley River Center.) Steven and three others sang the descant in one song, and I am not sure how to pronounce that or tell you what it is, except that they injected a lovely "Gloria!" here and there when the others were singing something else. Lots of people stopped to listen, and I was proud enough to burst. In the top picture, he's in the back row, fifth from the left. And front/center in the bottom picture.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Boys!

Last week Ben and Steven vacuumed the van with our little Shop-Vac which has to be cleaned out periodically, and this evening after I did some laundry I tackled the dusty clean-the-vac job.

I took everything apart as per instructions and dumped the dirt in the trash and shook out the filter. I also inspected the hose. It was plugged. I started digging. Out came a clothespin, a navy blue velvet bow/barrette, and a plastic sandwich bag. And lots and lots of straw, dirt, and dust.

So, as I have done what seems like a million times, I sat the boys down for a Basic Facts Discussion. What is the purpose of vacuuming, after all? And what is the science behind this motor and hose? Yes, indeed, and what happens when we suck up items that are far too large for the hose?

They made all the right noises. Ah yes, it all makes sense now. They will remember next time, really they will. Nothing bigger than a marble, yes, they can understand that.

But I am so tired. I am just so very very very tired of going over this sort of thing. Have I failed in some basic and elementary way that they keep doing such stupid things? Am I not punishing enough, softie that I am? Am I somehow supposed to predict these events and head them off at the pass?

To their credit, they seldom repeat their mistakes. They just come up with very creative new ones.

But the thing is, THEY OUGHT TO KNOW. Come on now, you had no idea you shouldn't carve your name into this pan of brownies? Or put a serving spoon covered in sticky rice directly into the dishwasher? Or take the trash barrel to the road when there was still this enormous collection of garbage piled right here by the door?

Will somebody please tell me they're going to grow up into reasonably responsible people? And that I'll live to see that day?

(You can see some typical pictures of Ben and Steven on Emily's blog.)

Quote of the Day:
"I learned a long time ago that if you want to carve initials into frosting you carve someone else's and not your own."
--Emily

Yoder Trivia

Recently my sister Becky went sleuthing for a turkey, not an easy task in Yemen, where Americans have been known to spend $60 for a bird for Thanksgiving. This year, by a series of connections, she found an embassy family with a turkey for sale. And the family's last name was, of all things, Yoder.

So Becky had fun connecting with these Yoders, and afterwards she wrote this:

I thought you might be interested in some Yoder trivia. As I have written some of you, we recently discovered that there is a couple here working at the American Embassy by the name of John and Susan Yoder. When they found out I was a Yoder they very much wanted to connect. So last night we had them here for supper.
John calls himself and his dad, who is a judge in Wash. DC, "Yoder junkies". They look for Yoders wherever they go, on the internet, on movie credits, books, etc. The two of them even took a trip to Switzerland to look up the Yoder roots.
In Switzerland they found a chapel dedicated to "Saint Yoder" and this is the story that came with it: In the first century after Christ a monk by the name of Theodor came from Rome to the area of Switzerland to evangelize it. When the locals took the name Theodor and made it German?? it sounded more like Yoder and gradually it became "Yoder". This monk then either had a lot of children (monks weren't celibate then) or the people liked him so much they began to take on the name of Yoder. He supposedly did miracles and was very loved by the people and was eventually made a saint.
This chapel is covered in paintings of his miracles as well as with pelicans. Supposedly the pelican is the "Yoder bird". The reason is that it is a self-sacrificing bird, known to rip out it's own flesh to feed it's young if there is no food around.
John also had stories of Yoders being martyred. His dad has a large painting of Yoders being thrown off a cliff for their faith. He also had a story of some Yoders who were captured by the Romans and made to be soldiers. When they refused to destroy a village as they were ordered, they were all executed and thrown in a mass grave. No one knew where this grave was until St.Yoder in one of his "miracles" discovered the grave and gave them all Christian burials.


Quote of the Day:

The Yoder sisters are funny girls
They make all sorts of jigs and swirls
Sometimes they're sad and sometimes they're glad
But very seldom they're very mad.

Each of them has a lot of trash.
If their mother sees it she makes it hash.
They each have a box to put it in,
And on top of one is a big safety pin.

--Becky and I, when she was 10 and I was 9. As you can see we showed great promise at this young age. Amazing that neither of us went into poetry writing for a career.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"So you're Paul's wife?"

This is one of the most accurate essays I've ever read about what it's really like to be a pastor's wife.

(Thanks to Matt for sending it)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Weighty Matters

Since I need to keep up this tradition of next-day clarifications about weight:

At the signing on Saturday I got the usual strange comments about my size--"Why did I picture you as very matronly and very heavy?"

Or this:
Customer: You don't look at all like I expected you to look!
Me: Let me guess. I'm supposed to be bigger.
Customer: (giggle) Well. . .you know. . .comfortable.

I found that very interesting because that is the exact word the Yemeni women use for a woman who is the "right" size, and the one Yemeni lady who pinched and poked me all over declared that I was not comfortable, and she felt sorry for my husband.

The mystery in all this is that I am actually not that small. I probably weigh 20 pounds more than my sister Becky, and I could stand to lose a few.

However, I had a bit of an epiphany the other night. See, a lot of my weight has been melting toward the southern hemisphere the last ten years, if you get my drift. And when I'm signing books, I'm usually behind a table or counter, so all people see is the northern hemisphere!

What an AHA! moment. No wonder they think I'm skinny, if that's all they see.

But why I'm supposed to be 200 pounds remains a mystery.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, I wanna be rich, so can you sign my homework slip?"
--Ben, after he found out that an autographed book of mine was for sale on Amazon for $110

Monday, December 04, 2006

Signing with the Stars

On Saturday night I had the privilege of being one of 38 Oregon authors at the annual Authors and Artists Fair at the Eugene Library, a major event that often draws 3000 people. I was feeling rather proud about all this until I found my designated spot--right beside Jane Kirkpatrick!

Well, way to be humbled. I set out my one book while Jane and her husband Jerry set out stacks of about 15 different books, and before they were done setting up they were mobbed with fans. And on the other side of me, Joe Blakely, who I seem to land next to at book functions, was also beset by the hordes while he was still taking plastic wrap off his books. So I sat there sadly and ate my pumpkin bar.

But, guess what, pretty soon I was too busy to notice how Jane and Joe were doing or finish my bar, because nice wonderful people started coming by and saying hello and "Please don't stop writing" (did they all somehow sense how often I'm tempted??) and even buying books!

Andrew, the talented signing-coordinator from Barnes and Noble who gave me Godiva chocolates came by and introduced me to his wife.

Shirley Tallman showed up in her wonderful early-1900's costume and thanked me for linking to her website after we met in August. She couldn't believe how many hits it generated.

Our neighbors from several miles down Substation Drive, the Imuses, came by. I have biked past their place many times but had never met them.

Various friends from the Red Moons writing group stopped with encouragement and good wishes.

To my complete and utter amazement, a man with a slightly crooked nose came by and asked if I remember him. Oh. My. Goodness. It was Mr. Newman, who taught a write-your-life-story evening class I took at Lane Community College almost ten years ago. One of the horrible experiences of my life was when he took one of my stories and absolutely ripped it to shreds (verbally) in front of the whole class. It was trite and cutesy, he said. It was shallow, it didn't say anything, I was trying too hard, what on earth was my purpose in writing this. I went from there to my friend Rita's house and cried stormily into her sympathetic ears. One of the harder things I've done was to hold my head up high and go back to that class the next week.

And here was this same man humbly complimenting me on my writing. "You write what the spirit is all about," he said. I scrambled frantically for a response, feeling that he wanted me to say that I learned a lot in his class, but I couldn't bring myself to say any such thing, so I just smiled and thanked him, and now I need to figure out if I've really forgiven him from my heart.

I was hoping to meet Jan Eliot, but I didn't have time. But I did see Val Brooks, who was the inspiration for Val in Jan Eliot's comic strip, Stone Soup.

Paul and the three youngest children came to give me a break halfway through the evening. I took the children and went downstairs to say hi to Bob Welch, who still remembered Jenny from three years ago when he wrote that she had a smile as bright as the September day. Oh, did she ever love that.

Every writer I met passed Mom's high standard of "nice and common." I hope I did too.

Jane Kirkpatrick's husband is a small, quiet, unassuming, white-bearded man and not at all a tall, dashing western-romance-novel hero. For some reason I found this comforting.

And I never did finish my pumpkin bar.

Quote of the Day:
"I didn't think I would connect with you. Our lifestyles are so completely different. But I do."
--a wealthy-looking lady in a black coat

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I'd Say She Succeeded


Quote of the Day:
"I was just trying to discreetly ruin the picture."
--Emily

Surprise!

Yesterday I got a call from Jason Schrock who lives a few miles up the road from us and who is, like my husband, both a minister and involved in grass seed. (Only his grass seed business is many times bigger than ours.)

Jason said he was wondering if I could help him out a bit. Now Jason isn't the sort of guy who asks for help too often, particularly from me. So, mystified, I said, "Well...sure."

He said, with no preliminaries, "See, we need someone to go pick up Laura at the airport tonight."

Pick up Laura at the airport???!!! I tried to calm my racing heart and said I would be delighted.

You see, Laura is Jason's daughter and my sister-in-law and good friend. She lives in Poland, and everyone thought she would miss her sister Judy's wedding on Saturday. So Jason slyly arranged for her to come and didn't tell anyone except his wife.

(And me!)

Unfortunately, Laura was unable to leave on schedule because Warsaw was socked in with fog. (Snow they know how to deal with, but not fog.) So she went back home and finished her housework and left the next morning.

Then she flew to Vancouver, BC, where they had just had the biggest snow in many years, so her flight to Portland was cancelled. (Fog they know how to deal with, but not snow.)

I found this out when I was already half an hour down the road, headed to Portland to pick her up. So I went back home, and Laura found a motel.

This morning Laura flew to Portland and I picked her up, and we talked all the way to her sister's house, where her non-emotional sister screamed very satisfyingly, and then to her parents' house, where her other sisters claimed they just knew she was coming and were very happy to see her.

I am the sort of person who is never in on the newest dating couple or who is pregnant or who is involved in some kind of scandal. So it was very gratifying and fun to be in on this secret.

Quote of the Day:
"Smucker men are good leaders but they're just so humble."
--Laura, in the car. We covered lots of topics in 2 hours including, of course, our husbands.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Weighty issues

Since I like to make next-day disclaimers about weight: in case you wondered, yes, that dog in yesterday's picture (Hansie) weighs more than the girl scraping the windshield (Amy). I don't think he weighs quite as much as the car (Honda).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Boys

After I wrote the last post, especially the item about my boys gaining 50 lbs., I heard my mother's voice in my head saying, "Vos tsella Leit denga?" or "What will people think?"

In case you were worried, my boys are not vegging, Game-Cube-playing, Dorito-snarfing blimps. (Well, they do snarf Doritos when the get the chance.) They are very active, very hungry, normal-sized boys.

Steven is still making up for the calorie/protein deficit of his Kenya years, when he would at times sneak into a neighbor's cornfield and eat raw corn off the cob because he was so hungry. (I cannot tell you how much I wish I could have been his mom back then.)

Ben has hit his growth spurt, when everything about him seems to be popping and shooting randomly in all directions: his height, his voice, his appetite, his acne, his elbows, his thoughts, his feet. He still wears regular jeans rather than huskies, but he has to undo the button on the waistband now and then, which is why I try to steer him toward apples & peanut butter rather than ice cream.

* * *

All of our older children went through a stage at about 12 years old where all their logical-Smucker genes deserted them and they seemed astonishingly unreasonable. Then they outgrew this, to our great relief, and again became sensible, thinking people. During that stage Paul was known to say, to their enormous annoyance, "That's beside the point!"

Well, the other day the current adolescent in this stage was supposed to rake and gather leaves and he wanted to wear his new coat. I said no. He argued. I insisted. After all, the leaves were full of walnut slime and the occasional dog droppings. Finally Matt joined the discussion, taking my side. The younger brother offered his reasons. And Matt countered:

Quote of the Day:
"That's beside the point!"
(Grasps his head in his hands, grimaces, emits a painful moan.)
"I. . .can't. . .believe. . . I just said those words."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving

Today I am thankful for:

clean water from the faucet
apples
hot tea in the morning
flannel pajamas
our house
food for my children (especially for Ben and Steven, who together have gained almost 50 pounds in the last year)
a computer
opportunities
friends
Paul
our children
God's astonishing grace in the hard times

And of course I am thankful for YOU, whoever you are, stopping by the Shoe today.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tear Up the Planks. . .

. . . we admit the deed. Yesterday Emily and I decided to post on each other's blogs. So that post about rules was actually written by her, and you can find me trying to sound like Emily here.

We like to live dangerously.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rules

Sometimes it feels like all I ever do is make rules, and enforce rules, and listen to my kids (er...Children) whine and fuss that the rules aren't fair. Finally I reach the end of my rope and call my husband, only to have him tell me that I shouldn't have made that rule in the first place. "But I thought you wanted me to make that rule" I wail.
"I never said that." he says.
argh
I hate being wrong.
And then there are those times when I make a rule and forget to enforce it. My daughter Emily loves to tell the story of how she used to refuse to eat her "mommy goulash" (this was during our poor days) and Paul would tell her that she couldn't eat anything until she ate her supper. So Emily wouldn't eat it, and when it was time for her to go to bed she would causally walk up to me and ask what she could have for a bedtime snack. I, of coarse, would totally forget that she wasn't supposed to eat anything until she ate her supper, and tell her to go eat a cookie.
Oh yes, those little joys of motherhood.

Quote of the Day:
It would be more accurate if "goulash" was spelled "goolash". You know like goo-lash.
~Ben

Paraphrased Proverbs

There are three things that are too wonderful for me, yea four that I do not understand:
The way of Bible Club sponsors showering the children with little prizes, the way of such prizes oft being fat sticky plastic cold-jellyfish spiders which are intended to "walk" down the wall, the way of boys putting such spiders in their pockets among lint and papers and grass seed, and the way of such pockets to not be emptied before the jeans are put in the hamper.

Quote of the Day:
"AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!"
--me, checking pockets. One of these times my heart is going to give out and the boys will come home from school to find me comatose on the laundry room floor with a blue sticky spider in my hand.

Friday, November 17, 2006

DVT

Our young friend Carrie was hospitalized recently with Deep Vein Thrombosis (a long clot in the main vein in her leg) after a long nonstop drive from Idaho to Oregon.

One way to prevent this is to get out and walk every so often. Another way, says my nurse/world traveller sister, is to take an aspirin every 4 hours.

Just thought you might want to know that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Third Graders

Yesterday I had the privilege of talking to 60 third graders at a public school in Eugene about What It Is Like To Be a Writer.

My sister in Yemen says that when she is out in a dirty village doing a medical exam on a poor pregnant woman, she has a feeling of "this is what I was created for."

To my surprise, I had the same feeling talking to those third graders. They were attentive, interested, and appreciative. I talked about how God can use the bad things in our lives and turn them into something good. (Yes, I talked about God in a public school and think I managed to do it in a non-offensive way, having learned lots of diplomacy skills from my husband) (But really, how could I talk about my writing journey and not mention God?) I mentioned my name, which I always used to hate, and how I used to think if I wanted to be a writer I would use my middle name, Elaine, because I could never be successful with such a weird first name. And now people come up to me and tell me how lucky I am to have an unusual, memorable name.

I also said I had lots of feelings when I was a child (unlike Paul, who has never had very many feelings) and so I got my feelings hurt a lot and cried a lot when my brothers were mean to me. And now I am a writer and Paul is not. How about that. And all those hurt feelings now help me as a writer because they made me more compassionate and people feel that I understand them.

After my talk the children had way more questions than I had time to answer.

"What is the best thing about being a writer?" they wondered. "Do your hands get sore from typing?" "Do people recognize you in public?" "Are your kids in sports?" "Today is my birthday." "My mom's name is Elaine." "How old are you?"

Ok, so they weren't all questions exactly.

My absolute favorite comment was from the little guy in the second row who seemed small and thin and sensitive. He raised his hand and said:

Quote of the Day:
"I'm like you because I have lots of feelings too, only it's my little brother that's really mean to me and not my big brother."
(I said, "I understand. And you are going to be a very compassionate person when you grow up.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Postum

My dad has always been something of a purist in what he eats and drinks, which may be why he will be 90 this month and still cuts and stacks his own wood.

Dad didn't drink anything with caffeine, so he would buy this stuff called Postum. It looked like instant coffee but was made of burnt grain or something and reminded me of what the "ersatz" coffee must have been like that Corrie ten Boom drank during the war.

Dad would stand in the kitchen and stir all kinds of mysterious things into his Postum--blackstrap molasses for one thing--and create a steaming brew that we wrinkled our noses at and made disparaging comments about behind his back. (Joke: What book of the Bible is like Dad? Answer: He brews.)

Well. Fast forward many years and you have me, enjoying a hot drink now and then but, with hormones and blood sugar going crazy, forced to limit caffeine and sugar or I get headaches and/or can't sleep. So coffee is out as an evening drink, and decaf seems to keep me awake too, and hot chocolate has too much sugar, and I'm tired of herb teas.

So. I. went. to. Safeway. and. bought. a. jar. of. Postum.
I. rather. like. it.

Dad is allowed to have a good chuckle at my expense.

Quote of the Day:
"We don't have caffeine-free coffee. All we have is decaf."
--a worker at Arby's

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Aawww...

It is very windy this evening--100mph winds out at the coast, power out in Brownsville, gasp for breath walking across the church parking lot. Paul had parked the Honda in the Pioneer Villa parking lot, since he was going to the prison later, and he forgot to set the parking brake and when he came back the car had blown/rolled back 30 feet.

So, we came home and the children hopped out of the van and dashed for the house. Well, Jenny was almost getting blown away, so Ben the big, acne'd, voice-changing 13-year-old paused in his mad dash and slowly walked sideways up the sidewalk like an Egyptian hieroglyph and shielded his little sister the whole way.

This is the same guy who got his church pants all muddy and who broke the rear-view mirror in the Honda today.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, I am growing up, ok?"
--Ben

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gratitude

My friend Sharon K. has a friend whose husband died, I believe within the last year. This friend, says Sharon, says we don't appreciate our husbands enough. If we knew what it's like to lose him, she says, we would kneel and kiss his feet every night in gratitude.

Two days ago, the water heater quit and Paul fixed it. Yesterday, our internet connection quit and Paul spent an hour on the phone fixing it. He also took Ben, Steven, and three of their friends to McDonalds and mini-golfing for Steven's birthday.

Sharon's friend is right: I don't appreciate my husband enough.

Quote of the Day:
"The best Quote of the Days are something you just say on the spurt of the moment."
--Ben

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Friends

Our friends Gaylord and Kay Knepp left late this morning after being here since Sunday afternoon.

They're working with Northern Youth Programs in Ontario and are on a "PR" trip, informing various churches about the work and purpose of NYP.

I was thrilled to learn that not only are they coming to Brownsville Church, but spending an extra day with us.

Kay and I go way back, since her dad is my cousin. (A sad note: Kay's grandma, who is my Aunt Ennie (Anna), passed away the day Knepps arrived. Ennie was in her 90's and my favorite aunt on that side of the clan). Back when we first went to Canada, we lived on one side of a duplex and Gaylord and Kay lived on the other. They had one child then, (Dallas) and we had Matthew.

They now have 8 children and brought 6 of them along. I enjoyed watching theirs and ours get reacquainted, with the requisite crazy-face pictures on their digital cameras.

Yesterday Kay and I went out for the day while Gaylord babysat. We hit a few secondhand stores and went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, where I talked about Leonard and cried, and she listened and said all the right things. Then, since she didn't know anything about all the espresso shops she kept noticing, I took her to Morning Glory in Harrisburg and introduced her to cappuccino. And then we laughed and reminisced about the time Paul and I were living in the "bush," in Canada, an ice-cream-less wilderness, and when we went out to civilization Kay was determined to treat me to ice cream and we ended up buying a little container of fancy ice cream at Safeway and eating it in the van with pens for spoons.

After we came home from town I cooked up a very simple supper and served it out of the kettles, something you do only with someone who feels like family.

Kay is way more internet-savvy than I am, so we spent a bunch of time on the computer, where she showed me that someone with a link to Amazon is offering a book of mine (autographed!) (collectible!) for $110. I am still flabbergasted.

We also talked a lot.

Good friends are a gift.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: Sorry I was late, guys. I was making up characters in the shower.
Amy: You always have the most interesting reasons for being late and everyone else has these really boring reasons like 'I didn't see what time it was.'

Perks

Remember I said there are perks that follow the hard work of writing? The Mennonite Weekly Review linked my latest article to their coverage of the Amish school shooting. This sort of thing would not push everyone's buttons but it is great incentive for me.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ironmom

My friend Robin is in my writers group in Eugene. Tomorrow she is swimming/running/biking in the Florida Ironman. She is a stay-at-home unschooling mom of two--although lately with her phenomenal training she wasn't at home as much, since she was biking to Portland and so on. She claims she was once overweight and unathletic, and her story of how she reached this point is instructive for us all. She did it very methodically, she says, a step at a time. Americans want instant results, says Robin, and getting in shape simply doesn't happen instantly. We suspect there's a book in this experience, sometime, perhaps a how-to for reaching seemingly impossible goals.

You can read about Robin here.

Quote of the Day:
"It's kind of weird having a teacher that's shorter than me."
--Ben, referring to Amy of course

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Writing and Results

I have been working at my November column for about three days. This involves the mental equivalent of picking burrs out of socks, cutting the hairs off the vacuum cleaner beater bar, sweeping cobwebs out of the attic, and cleaning the oven, hour after cross-eyed, carpal-tunneled hour.

I sent the article off this morning. My editor liked it. My sigh of relief nearly sent all the papers whoofing off the desk.

And now I can get back to my real life and do the laundry and bake some food for my neglected family.

Yesterday I had tea with my friend Anita, who mentioned that her banker had heard me speak at a recent Harrisburg/Junction City Chamber of Commerce meeting. She found it surprising that I not only speak at such meetings, but enjoy it.

The truth is, in case you didn't catch on, writing is not fun. It is grinding, dirty work. But once I've paid my dues by finishing my column, I thoroughly enjoy all the benefits that follow. I love selling books and public speaking and seeing my name in print. It is great fun to be written up in the Mennonite Weekly Review or the Sword and Trumpet. Fan mail is the cherry on the sundae.

So, do I write only because of the fun results? No. I write because God nudged (shoved) me in that direction and hasn't let up yet. I would keep writing without the perks if it was what I needed to do (as I do in other areas of life, such as being patient with nasty people, a difficult task with no visible benefits).

I do take inventory quite often to make sure that I would still have a life and identity if I lost all these perks.

Meanwhile, I plan to endure the agony of writing as long as I'm supposed to, and I plan to gratefully enjoy the benefits and blessings that follow as long as they continue.

(And to all you struggling writers out there: I wish the same for you and will give you any boost I can.)

Quote of the Day:
"I thought this was a store just for men."
--Steven, when we stopped in a Jerry's for paint. Jerry's is a mega-hardware/building supply/guy's paradise.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Investments and Returns

Today Justin (good friend, former seedsacker at our warehouse, and Paul’s former student) showed up at church with Marina, who is from Ohio and whom Justin is Officially Courting.

"I feel like I already know you," I told Marina.

And over Sunday dinner we discussed the fact that as a family and church, we feel like we kind of "own" Marina and Justin. They’re not just an entity to themselves. We’re all invested here, and we’ll all be watching.

See, we have been keeping up with Justin’s life through conversations, email, his blog, his mom, and now Marina’s blog.

In a similar vein, I felt like Jenny was the whole church’s baby when she was born 7 years ago. It seemed like everyone in church helped me survive that horrible pregnancy. Various women brought supper in for weeks, Paul’s mom and Dorothy did laundry for me, Barb cleaned my kitchen every Saturday for a while, everyone prayed for me, Paul gave pre-sermon updates on my condition, Louise bought me a beautiful maternity outfit, Bonnie gave me a little newborn-size outfit to keep my eyes on the goal, and on and on.

And when Jenny was born the church threw a big shower for her. I felt like everyone joined us in loving and welcoming her. And dear old Ralph Holderman buttonholed Paul after church one Sunday and said, "I just want you to know that I think your baby is unusually cute!"

Similarly, I feel invested in every graduate from our church school, every young person that is baptized, every child I teach in Sunday school, every young person my children hang out with, every young mom that comes to me for advice.

A very urban-professional friend of mine read my column last spring about our ladies’ retreat at the coast and confessed to me that she could hardly imagine being part of such a group. "I have to admit it sounded almost smothering," she said.

Not everyone at our church is comfortable with sharing their lives publicly, and that’s fine. I admit I have my moments when I want to move to Tahiti and live in a grass hut on the beach and not see anyone for about six months.

But most of the time I think there are enormous benefits to sharing your life with a group and having their collective skills and wisdom to draw from when you need it.

I hope Justin and Marina don’t feel smothered. I hope they feel cared for and supported and cheered on.

And I can’t wait to have a good chat with Justin’s mom after Marina leaves. (Bwahahahaha!)

Quote of the Day:
"Aunt Dorcas is full of insightful truths."
--Jessi. (I like Jessi. Today is her 19th birthday and I feel like I kind of 'own' her too.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Canning

I am done canning grape juice. I think.

Last month I got 16 quarts of juice off our little vine south of the house. I hoped for more, if someone had extra grapes to give me.

In the old days people canned grape juice by filling a jar half full of stemmed, whole grapes, adding some sugar, and filling the jar with water. And then canning it in boiling water of course. It was then ready to strain and drink at will.

I bought a steamer several years ago. It is a wonderful invention. You put a gallon of water into the bottom section and a whole pile of grapes into the strainer section at the top. In the center is a large kettle-like piece with a clever volcano-like thing in the middle that lets the steam percolate up from the bottom and then collects the juice that drips down without letting the juice drip into the water.

A little hose with a clamp efficiently puts the hot juice into the jars. I put the lids on and they seal with no more fuss, usually. This method makes a delicious concentrate—1 quart canned juice turns into 2 quarts of drinkable.

My friend Regina borrowed my steamer a few times and gave me a couple of big buckets of grapes in return. I canned them.

And Norm and Sara gave me about 5 buckets of grapes. So I canned them too.
I figured I was done then.

Then Norm and Sara wondered if I could use still more. Sure, why not? They gave me another 5 buckets full. I got 4 dozen jars from Paul’s sister Lois, who has three fewer young men at home than she had a couple of years ago.

I canned the grapes and then scrubbed all the purple drips off the kitchen and figured I was really done.

Then my friend Verna told me there’s a bachelor in Halsey with grapes going to waste in his backyard. Oh my, I can’t let this happen. I spent an afternoon picking and an evening canning. Then I scrubbed the kitchen again. This time I was done.

But no. Paul’s mom told me that Richard and Trish are gone hunting and their grapes are going to waste. Do I want them? I said no, I’m finished.

Well, a true Yoder by birth cannot sleep at night if there is food going to waste. Reluctantly I called Anne back. No one had taken the grapes.

Two days ago I drove to Trish’s and picked 5 buckets of grapes. Yesterday I went to Eugene and got 6 dozen jars from a woman who had read my last article and thought I might need more jars. Bless her.

Then last night I stood at the sink and washed grapes until my legs ached and steamed 23 more quarts of juice. I now have 146 quarts.

I also made 26 quarts of tomato juice, since someone had offered me 3 buckets of tomatoes and I couldn’t say no.

I told Paul to tell me I have to stop canning. He took me by the shoulders and said firmly, "If anyone offers you more grapes, or tomatoes, or apples. . ."

I interrupted him. "Well. . . maybe not apples. . . "

Quote of the Day:
"Are we about done cleaning the kitchen? And don't tell me to look around and see because when we're 'nearing the port' to you we're already in the port and unloading to me."
--Ben

Monday, October 23, 2006

Emily's Notebooks

Emily has always loved notebooks. Spiral school notebooks, cute round notebooks with cats on the front, funky pink notebooks with thick black spirals and a high-heeled shoe on the cover, diaries with locks, tiny notebooks on key chains.

Recently she resurrected a round pink notebook (with a long illustrated story in it--read more here) out of the box of memorabilia in the laundry room.

On our last road trip, I think she had three different notebooks along--as I recall: one for stories, one for a diary, the other for notes and ideas.

She loves notebooks for Christmas and birthdays, and spends her hard-earned money on the newest and latest pink-striped, hard-cover notebooks.

This evening Emily took a notebook inventory in her bedroom. Then she came downstairs. "Guess how many notebooks I have, Mom."
"Nine?"
"Nooo, way more than that."
"Twenty??"
"Way more."
"I give up."
(Grin) "I have seventy."


Quote of the Day:
"I thought these things are supposed to be fun, and they just eliminated that with those two cautions."
--Ben, when his new disc-shooter package said, "1. Never shoot at people or animals. 2. Always use with adult supervision."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Tech Stuff

For those of you who keep getting three copies of Life in the Shoe from FeedBlitz, I just went crawling around in the bowels of their website and tried to remove two of the three subscriptions. I hope it works.

And since I am so techno-savvy and all, I started a website today, since my friends such as Tom and experts at writers' seminars have told me for years I need to do this. I must say that directing Tom to my website is like baking a sour cream lemon pie and taking it over to my SIL Bonnie's place. Here it is.

Quote of the Day:
"When I leave home you're going to have to pay someone for tech support."
--Matt, after advising me about MySite.com. I told him maybe he's pursuing the wrong field, since he's the kind of guy we would all like to have on the other end when we call tech support. He can explain computer stuff to me without making me feel stupid--a rare gift.

More Writing Class Results

Here are the rest of the blog posts from writing class.


By Stephy
On the way home from school, I ride in a big van that takes a bunch of kids home that live in the same area as I do. Sometimes on our way home, lots of funny things are said, interesting conversations are had, and various topics are heatedly discussed. We argue about anything from whether or not mermaids are real to whether Superchick is stupid. A couple of days ago, I’m not sure how we got on the topic, but Justin said something about how Jenny thought he had girl lips. That made Trenton remember that he heard that one of Amy’s aunts thought she had turkey lips. Then Trenton piped up that he thought I had horse lips. What are horse lips anyway? Then my brother, sticking up for me said, "Don’t worry Stephy, you don’t look like a horse." That was comforting. Then Isaiah pops up and says "Horses are pretty." He said it so matter-of-factly and not trying to be funny that it made me laugh.
Then, one day Ben had Kyle’s water bottle and was trying to take a drink from it without touching his mouth to it. There wasn’t very much water left and so he was squeezing and shaking it to try to get all of the water to come out. He wasn’t succeeding so Kayla told him to squeeze harder. He heeded her advice and squeezed harder, I think a little too hard. That resulted in the lid popping off and all of the water falling down on him. He gave a little yell and then said, "Well, I guess I won’t have to take a shower tonight!" You can tell that in the bus (or you can call it Jerome*) the rides home are never boring!
*We named the bus Jerome after some football player whose name was Jerome Bettis but had the nickname of "the bus."


By Drennan
Bible Memory Camp
At our church, we do something called Bible Memory Camp. It is for kids ages 9-14. The ministers pick about 50 verses out of the Bible, and you have to memorize them. Then you have to say them to one of the ministers with less than three mistakes per passage.
I went to camp the first time last year. We left at about 1:00 p.m. We went in 3 different vehicles. First I was in the car with one other guy, but when we were about halfway there, something happened at Mr. Smucker’s warehouse. So we rearranged and squished together and fit two more people in the van.
The second day we were there was the most fun day. The guys got up at about 7:00a.m. It felt like it was about 20* because of the wind. It did get warmer, but it was still cold when we went out and jumped waves. That was lots of fun.
The last day we were at camp we had a sand castle contest. There was four different teams. My team made what we called King Kong’s Kool Kastle. One of the other teams made a starfish. Bible Memory Camp was one of the most fun experiences that I ever had.


By Steph C.
This past summer I went on a camping with a friend and her family. We went up to Blue River Reservoir. Three was one specific day that was the best out of the whole week…and that would be the last day. That day I went tubing with Dave and his wife Kathy, his two sons Jared and Nic, his nephew Chris, and his niece Carissa. Dave has a really, really nice boat so we took his boat tubing. We hooked the rope to the tube and then looped it around the knob on the boat then the boys, Jared and Chris, got on the tube because they were a little to big to fit in the hole. Once they got situated Dave took off! The boys were being thrashed around and were almost falling off. It was amazing that the boys never fell off! Chris did once but that was because Jared pushed him off. Dave was going crazy with the guys and I was telling Carissa I didn’t want to go after all when the boat stopped…It was time for me to make my decision. Carissa was tugging at my arm telling me to hurry up and Chris was handing me the life jacket. What else could I do??? So I put the life jacket on, and jumped in the water. When we got situated in the hole we gave Dave the thumbs up sign and he took off! Oh my goodness…I never had a ride like that before! My feet kept going underneath Carissa’s legs and I was sitting on her legs and it was painful Carissa thought it was great and kept telling Dave to go faster and faster. I honestly thought I was going to fall out!!! They boys were laughing hysterically at us and then I was laughing and Carissa told Dave to speed up again! We were literally flying across the water and we kept going over all these waves that the boat was making and water kept hitting us in the face and I kept biting my tongue! Finally we stopped and it was the boys’ turn. They went for a little bit then we girls went again. This time I didn’t resist. I was the first one in the tube. Finally we were all done tubing and we went back up to camp and about an hour later I went home. What a great camping trip!!!


By Justin
Th incident of the kitchen geyser happened at youth camp. It was in the morning and after breakfast I, along with a few other guys, volunteered to do the dishes. Everything was going fine and we had almost finished. Heath was going to wash some dishes that couldn’t go in the dishwasher. He turned on the faucet and some water was leaking out of the handle. He decided he was going to fix it. He found a screw driver and was working away when all of a sudden the handle popped off and water went shooting wildly toward the ceiling. Everyone stood there with their jaws dropped not knowing what to do. Meanwhile water was spraying all the way to the ceiling and making a huge puddle on the floor. Finally someone got the water turned of before damage was done to anything. I guess the good thing was that the handle did end up getting fixed, just not quite the way we all expected.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Writing Class Results

I am teaching a writing class to the older children at Brownsville Mennonite School, and their first assignment was to write an interesting blog post (as opposed to "yo all my shweet PeEpS i no its been a long time.") which would then appear on an actual blog: this one. So here are four of their posts. Feel free to comment on any of them.

By Preston:
The First and Last Flight
One cool, sunny Saturday morning I went out to fly my model airplane. Me and my dad tested all the things necessary to make it go. Finally after a long process of making sure everything was ok, it was ready for takeoff. The plane zoomed of the field and it flew really nice. The engine was running smoothly and it was turning good. Then all of a sudden it happened. I was flying and when I turned the plane, it got into a twirl. The plane went down down and crashed in the field below. The fuselage was all broken and the wings were too. The tail, the rudder, and the engine were all okay. Overall flying the model airplane is very fun.


By Ben:
Imagine that you are in a valley. Now imagine that there are 3’000 foot cliffs at each side. That in simple terms describes Yosemite National Park, and if you’ve never been you should, and here are some reasons why. Back in June, Dad and I went down there. We had a great time just looking at the scenery. Looking up at those massive cliffs just about gave me the woozies. Also in Yosemite are many beautiful waterfalls, including Upper Yosemite Fall, a 1,500 ft waterfall.
Another thing Yosemite is famous for is its bears. Although we didn’t see any they used to be a huge problem because people would feed the bears, so sometimes they would raid cars in an attempt to get food that was left in there. Another little interesting thing about the bears there is that even though they are Black Bears, they range in color from blonde to cinnamon
red to black. So, if you’ve never been there you are really missing out.


By Kayla:
Our Camping Trip
Around three weeks ago Dad took Shane, Kyle, Bryant, Tyler, and me camping. Mom would have gone, but she was sick with a bad cough and headache. We drove along the McKenzie River to Blue River Reservoir. The scenery was beautiful.
We got to our campsite at about 7:30 in the evening, and had to set up camp. Shane and Kyle helped Dad with the tent while the younger boys sat around the campfire. I helped by getting the blankets and food out. The nice warm fire felt real good since it was so cold.
The next morning we ate our breakfast of blueberry muffins that Mom had made for us. Dad then took us down the Reservoir farther, and we went fishing. The water was real cold, but the weather was nice except the morning was cold. The boys caught five fish in all. I didn’t get lucky and catch one, although I had several bites. The couple next to us gave us six fish so we came home with eleven fish total.. Dad and my brothers got to clean the fish. I didn’t help because all the guts and blood were to disgusting. We had a great weekend camping with Dad.


By Emily:
Last Wednesday, as I was eating lunch, the light in my desk turned off. My first thought was that the electricity went off, but as I looked around the room I noticed that almost everyone else’s light was still on.
It turned out that Justin had absentmindedly kicked the back of his desk, jarring the plug behind it. Since Justin, Preston, and I sit in one long desk separated into private offices by dividers, this made all three of our lights turn off. Another swift kick made them turn back on.
The boys must have thought this was pretty cool, because for the rest of the day the lights kept blinking on and off and on and off and on and off. Every once in a while the lights wouldn’t come back on when the desks were kicked and the whole row had to be shaken violently. On one such occasion I got my fingers pinched. When I complained Preston said, "Well, sometimes you need to sacrifice your fingers for the light."
But something was changing. The more the lights turned on and off, the easier it became to make them go on and off. By the next day the slightest bump of the desks would plunge us into darkness. It was time for drastic action.
We pulled the row of desks away from the wall and looked behind it. The poor plug was dangling half in and half out of the outlet. But we couldn’t go behind and plug it in, because our way was blocked on one end by the bookshelves, and on the other end by the filing cabinets.
About this time the teacher came and asked what we were doing. We told him our problem. He had a solution.
Walking to the other end of the room, the teacher fetched Bryant, a spry first grade boy. He lifted Bryant over the back of the desks, where Bryant proceeded to plug the offending plug back into its outlet. The lights came back on, we pushed the desks back in, and Bryant was squished. Just kidding! Actually, the teacher lifted Bryant back out first. And the lights have never blinked out since.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Those Amazing Seedsackers

I have written before about that intrepid band of men called Seedsackers. Now one of them has branched out into. . .RAP

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Maybe I'm Just Shallow

I have a theory that no matter how heavy and serious literature is (fiction, poetry, articles, essays, etc) it should be basically understandable the first time you read it. Later readings may reveal deeper and deeper layers, but it should be readable at first go.

I base this on, first of all, Scripture. Especially if you read it in a current version of your first language, you can sit down and read without pausing to scratch your head and say, "Huh?’ and backtrack in bewilderment.

Time and further study of Scripture of course reveals depths unseen at first read, phenomenal symbolism with the temple and sacrifices and all kinds of things. But first God made it accessible even for the depth-challenged among us.

I have an issue with much modern poetry on this point. I’m fine with mystery and subtlety, but please give me words that I can actually read, not:
Calibrate and cynicism
And cats painting
A mother’s denial
Reticulates

In high school and college, we read The Great Gatsby and For Whom the Bell Tolls and Huckleberry Finn, and learned to dig and scratch like hens for Themes and Symbolism and Deep Hidden Meanings.

Then I took a literature class in which we read Tristan and Iseult, and at the first discussion all the recent high school graduates started talking about all the Subtle Themes and Deep Hidden Meanings they had found. And the teacher said, "Listen, it’s first of all a story. Learn to enjoy it first as just a good story."

Now that was liberating.

On a slightly different angle, right now I am on a Jane Austen kick and just read Mansfield Park for the first time.

Personally, I found it a good read, with passages that made me laugh or think, but I was disappointed in the ending--not because things didn’t turn out right, but because to me it reads as though her editor was emailing her every day that she was way past deadline so she quickly tied up all the loose ends and sent it off.

I don’t read that much fiction but when I do it’s often Lori Copeland or Lori Wick or something else that happens to show up around here that I can read in a hurry and finish in a day or so. I don’t especially like either author but sometimes I just want a quick story to digest. This is very poor preparation for reading Jane Austen.

There’s not much action in Jane’s books. Minute events are expanded into whole chapters. We have the garden, and how it’s laid out, and what the weather is like, and who walks down which path with whom, and who they meet, and what they say, and what happens while one fetches the key to the gate. Another chapter revolves around which necklace to wear to the ball. Long conversations composed of lengthy flowery sentences cogitate about the minutest details of life. The plot advances as effectively as any modern one, actually more so. But it’s obviously from a different time period and a different pace of life.

So, we wade through 367 pages of this, waiting, waiting, waiting, for Edmund to finally, finally, finally, come to his senses and realize that Mary Crawford is NOT the girl for him and Fanny IS, (DUHHH, Edmund!), and I confess that we are hoping for some really flowery rapturous paragraphs where he finally sees the light and apologizes and tells her how wonderful she is and what an idiot he was and how fitting she will be as a clergyman’s wife and begs her forgiveness and so on, and she finally feels loved and cherished and vindicated. Considering how they can go on about taking the carriage vs. walking, this exchange should take two or three pages at least.

He does rattle on for almost six pages about how disappointed he is in Mary Crawford. But he doesn’t yet think of Fanny in any romantic way. And so we wait for the Big Declaration. And do we get it? No. All we get is this:

"Scarcely had he done regretting Mary Carwford, and observing to Fanny how impossible it was that he should ever meet with such another woman, before it began to strike him whether a very different kind of woman might not do just as well—or a great deal better; whether Fanny herself were not growing as dear, as important to him in all her smiles, and all her ways, as Mary Crawford had ever been, and whether it might not be a possible, an hopeful undertaking to persuade her that her warm and sisterly regard for him would be a foundation enough for wedded love.
I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion. . . I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire."

Aarrgghh.

So maybe I’m just shallow and all the literary people out there are sighing with disappointment like my English teacher, Mr. Rubis, did in 1980 when I suggested Moby Dick should be condensed, but is it so much to ask that a novel have a good tasty satisfying ending?

I’m sure there are Deep Things that I completely missed in Mansfield Park, but why not give even a shallow reader a reward for plowing all the way through?

Quote of the Day:
"If you don't come right now I'll put 5 bows in your hair!"
--Amy, waiting in the bathroom to comb Jenny's hair. Jenny tends to dawdle but doesn't appreciate a lot of fluff and frou-frou in her hair

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Too Much Internet Time Today

Today I found an article that said:

Could 4, 5, even 6 kids become suburbia's new status symbol?

Hmmm. . . .imagine a choice of mine actually being fashionable?!

And then I found a test to see what your spiritual gift(s) is/are. Mine, according to that, are first knowledge, then teaching, then mercy.

Now what on earth do I do with that information, besides continue to tell my children that moms know everything, a handy shutoff valve when they distrust my credentials.

Some time ago I gave a talk at a church and one woman buttonholed me afterwards and gave me a "word from the Lord" that my spiritual gift is teaching and I should pursue it further and I forget what else she said because I was too distracted by her face. She looked young and old at the same time, Asian and Caucasian, and simply confusing. Her face was smooth as glass, but now and then she blinked just right and a hint of very old-lady bags appeared under her eyes. Finally I realized I was talking to a woman who had just had her face thoroughly tucked. She was trying to sound so very spiritual but I'm afraid most of her lengthy speech was lost on me.

I don't mean to be sarcastic about spiritual gifts but I have never been quite sure what slot I fit into and furthermore, what to do about it if I find that I have the gifts of, say, knowledge and teaching and mercy. I still need to get the tomatoes canned before they go bad and teach Jenny to pick up after herself.

Quote of the Day:
"AAAAH! Ewwww! I squeezed its guts out and it's still wiggling!~! Eee-he-he-he-hew!! I seriously popped its guts out!!"
--Emily, when she stepped on a spider

Monday, October 09, 2006

Offer for Writers

I heard Dick Bohrer speak at an Oregon Christian Writers meeting a couple of years ago, and today I got this email which may be of interest to the writers out there who have yet to hit Oprah's list and thus appreciate all the freebies they can get. I reprint it with his permission:

I am a long-time member of the Oregon Christian Writers and an occasional speaker at meetings. Remember when, in our spring meeting, I put notebooks on a table and gave away textbooks I'd written for the college students I'd taught?

Now I'm putting everything in my larder on the internet at no charge in hopes that you will download them and find them useful. I have eight juvenile school mysteries (five of which were published by Moody Press) in my J. Edgar Beanpole series: Football Detective, Volleyball Spy, Soccer Sleuth, Night Watcher, Stage Snoop, Basketball Hawk, and Sink It! Sink It, Becky P. along with They Called Him Shifta, a murder mystery I wrote following my three years teaching in Ethiopia).

I've also put 24 lessons on how to write stories for children, 24 on how to write feature articles and 24 on how to write your opinions (letters to editors, reviews, columns, etc.). These are free for you to use.

In addition I've put three of Dr. John G. Mitchell's commentaries (John's Gospel, John's Letters and Romans) as well as two Bible studies with questions (Luke's Gospel, Leviticus-Hebrews). Dr. Willard Aldrich's "The Battle for Your Faith" and my paraphrase of John Newton's Letters are there. In addition is "The Bible at a Glance," a breakdown of all 66 books in an interesting form.

I'd be delighted if you would download these and tell your friends. What I've learned through 40 years of teaching and my editorships of two newspapers and "Moody Monthly" magazine (Jerry Jenkins was my boss), I'm gladly sharing with you.

By way of note, I still have a few copies for sale of the feature writing text ($14), the opinion writing text ($17), Easy English fun and games grammar text ($13), and "Hey! Christian Kids, Let's Write Some Stories ($14). These prices include postage. Write me at 2174 SW Mossy Brae Road, West Linn, OR 97068.

My website's name is:
www.professordick.com

Dick Bohrer

dickbohrer@comcast.net

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Steven

Back in the days when I was trying to learn Oji-Cree and was very proud of myself when I could go to Sara Kenequanash's house and buy three strands of beads without speaking any English, I learned that there are something like 7 levels of language proficiency. The beginning ones of course are the basic "hello" and "thank you" and "I need a loaf of bread, please." The final one is when you understand puns and get jokes and subtle meanings.

Steven's English has improved tremendously in the almost-two years since he came. And knowing what I did about language proficiency levels, I was very happy to overhear this conversation in the back of the van this morning:

Quote of the Day:
Ben: Are we making cider tomorrow?
Emily: Yes.
Steven: I'm all excidered!

October Letter

Here's today's Letter from Harrisburg.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Amish Stuff

Paul's nephew, Byran, recently wrote this on his blog:

The Amish Got it Right
I am a Mennonite after all, so I'll comment briefly on the Amish school shooting. In short, they're making me proud to be an Anabaptist.Say what you want about the Amish and their lack of spirituality, but they have truly lived out Jesus in a powerful way during this situation by showing virtually immediate forgiveness and even actively loving (that's nonresistance in action) the family of the man who killed their little girls.


I agree with Byran.

There have been plenty of times when I was ashamed of my Amish heritage--sometimes with good reason--but something about this episode has made me proud of it.

A tragedy makes us find points of connection. I think every mother of young daughters in this country is like me--seeing her little girls lined up against that blackboard. We see our little boys, terrified, leaving their sisters behind. A recent death in the family makes us remember the disbelief, the stillness, the pressing sadness. On a page of tributes on the Lancaster newspaper's website, people talked about how they loved to visit Lancaster County. To me it seemed that they grasped for whatever point of connection they could find. And those of us with Amish in our history or distant relatives among the bereaved feel compelled to let everyone know.

I'm not sure why grief makes us do this...perhaps we want to reassure ourselves that our deep feelings are justified.

For some reason, seeing the pictures and reading the news has set me forth on a sea of Amish memories. I can vividly picture the wakes and funerals and meals afterward when my grandparents died. I remember the long German sermons. I can still hear the group of young people who sang while we buried Grandma Miller. The girls' black shawls flapped in the wind and they sang in high voices a "fast" song, unlike the slow church chants, a song about angels, "die Engel."

I remember what it was like to be in the funeral procession, both as a child in a buggy, with the non-rubber tires rasping on the road and with the horse behind looking into the little window in the back of the buggy, giving Becky and me the giggles; and as an adult in one of the "veltlich" (worldly) cars following slowly behind.

I am thinking in German much more than normal, and remembering words I thought I had forgotten, such as "die Laut" (the casket). I remember the endless line of people who filed by Grandma's casket, women in black dresses, men in black suits. They came and came and came. I knew they had all been in the house somewhere--but where? I remember the meal after Grandma Yoder's funeral, when there must have been 400 people packed into one smallish house, and walking across the living room, holding 1-year-old Amy, was a 15-minute ordeal. "Excuse me." (Wedge my shoulder between two people) "Excuse me." (Squeeze between two more.) At one point I was stuck and while I waited for an opening an old woman behind me started feeding Amy off her plate, without asking me or making any fanfare about it.

Like I said, I'm not sure why I'm reminiscing like this. Am I trying to prove that I qualify to grieve with them, or what?

The truth is, when a child dies, it's not "us" modern people and "them" folks in their buggies; it's all "us." Losing a child is losing a child, Amish, Muslim, Catholic, or anything else. We are all justified in reading the news and weeping.

And any of us who have ever chosen forgiveness over hate can claim a connection with these Amish families and gain strength from their example.

As we would also, they will need our prayers for a long, long time.

* * * * * *

And as I found with Leonard's death, there can be touches of humor in the darkness. Today I read that a reporter tried to dress Amish and sneak into one funeral. A policeman was suspicious because she was wearing --hang on--a pink dress. I threw my head back and laughed out loud, remembering the sea of black at Grandma's house.

And I also remembered today how my BIL Rod, the high-powered MIT-educated Englischer, looked at Grandma's funeral-meal, backed up against the wall, looking out at this room, packed with black, with what looked like terror in his eyes. I have seen Rod crack jokes with Yemeni tribesmen with Kalishnikovs in their hands, but I've never seen him look as ill at ease as he did at that funeral. Then a little elderly woman came up to him and said, "Now who are you?"
He said, "Uh, Rod 'Smith.'"
She looked confused. "Who are your parents?"
Rod said, "My parents are Chuck and Nancy 'Smith' from Seattle, Washington."
The woman looked at him in great bewilderment. "I don't know them," she said.
Rod fled outside and sat in the van with Paul.

(Rod, that's how I remember it. Add your corrections if you wish.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Amish Victims' Fund

A fund for the victims and families of the Amish school shooting has been set up by the Anabaptist Foundation (and recommended by our friend Merle Burkholder, who knows about these things, so it's solid and reputable). Click here.

And for an interesting perspective on grieving for five children, read my SIL Laura's blog. (Click on 'show original post' when you get there.) She, also, knows what she's talking about.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Amish Tragedy

I seem to be constantly drawn to the computer to read all the updates on this horrible event at the Amish school in Pennsylvania.

Two little sisters have died, aged 7 and 8. I keep thinking of Becky and me at that age, way back when, in our little Amish dresses at our little Amish school. To experience something like this would be unthinkable for any child, but to have absolutely no context, no words, no concept for this kind of violence. . .unimaginable.

The world seems a bit less safe, our children a lot more precious.

And I'm stunned at how some people just don't Get It. One reporter, on a video clip I saw, said, "Some of these parents didn't find out til 6 in the evening where their children were! Do you think the Amish will finally realize that it's time to join the modern world and at least get telephones and automobiles?"

I thought, Duh, Lady, do you really think the modern world will look more appealing now, instead of less??

I talked to Becky in Yemen this morning, and she had CNN's world news report on while we spoke, and she was amazed at how much time they devoted to this tragedy. So this news is all over the world, and maybe something redemptive will come out of this if people see an example of Christian forgiveness and hope.

Portrait


Last night we had our family pictures taken. (Yes, the children wore their school shirts.)

Then we went out for Chinese food at a buffet called China Sun.

Quote of the Day:
"I just realized it's impossible to eat jello with chopsticks."
--Emily

Monday, October 02, 2006

Screen Saver

Every so often someone will put a scrolling screensaver on our family computer, and then someone else will come along and add to it, and someone else will change it a bit, and so on.

Recently someone wrote:
Go Ducks! woohoo!!

Someone else erased it and wrote:
SOME THINK THE BEST ONES ARE THE DUCKS . . .
I THINK THE BEST ONES ARE THE SMUCKS

A third person added:
that could be true but I think the Ducks
are even better than the Smucks

And a fourth person finished it with:
oh no! oh no! that can't be true
for ducks are ducks but Smucks are YOU!


(I love this family of mine.)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Today is my niece Annette's 27th birthday. She was the child who first made me an aunt and she has been very special to me ever since. It has been fun to watch her grow into a beautiful, articulate, and Godly young woman, and it has been heartwrenching to see her suffer through her brother's death.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNETTE!

May your day bring you joy, and may your suffering somehow make you "come forth as gold."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Frances

I shed a daily dose of tears, usually when I sit down for my Bible time, for my nephew who died almost three months ago. And then I go back to laundry and phone calls and everything else and am reasonably ok.

Not yesterday. His death weighed heavily. Partly it was because I talked to my SIL Geneva and she said Leonard's sister Annette was having a hard week. And partly it was just, well, who knows why.

In the evening we went to church, since we have special meetings all week, and Frances V. was sitting behind me. Afterwards she said, "How are you?" politely and I politely said fine. A minute later she looked at me very intently and said, "Dorcas, how are you?"

Well, that opened all the faucets. I sniffed and dabbed and talked. Frances stroked my arm and told me God is with me, he really is.

And then she said that I was on her mind all day, that she sensed that I was carrying something heavy and prayed for me.

She's right. God is with me, he really is.

Quote of the Day:
"Why do we have too lisin too one prson for 90 min"
Jenny, in a note on the back of the church bulletin. Honest, our sermons are not 90 minutes long.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Book Signing

On Saturday night there was a book signing at Barnes and Noble. This was the display right inside the front door.


This is the fortunate author, in the outfit her daughter picked out (since she couldn't decide what to wear), pen in hand, free decaf vanilla latte at her elbow, and business cards (to make her feel professional) and Kisses in a Smuckers cup available to customers.


There was a steady trickle of interested people. Despite the absence of lines stretching down the sidewalk, the author was happy. She was especially happy, at the end, when the event coordinator gave her this:

And she was really really happy when she came home and found that the box has two layers!


Quote of the Day:

Customer: Oh! But you're so much smaller than I had imagined!

Me: If you don't mind my asking, why exactly did you think I would be bigger?

Customer: Oh, well, because, well, you've just accomplished so much!

Me: Hmmm. . .

(Afterthoughts) So Karen Kingsbury is 6-3 and 250 pounds??. . . Maybe if I eat all those Godiva chocolates I'll be as big as people think I ought to be.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Many Hands

Today was the annual church cleaning and I was (yelp of panic) put in charge of cleaning the sanctuary.

High ceiling fans, acres of upholstery, hundreds of miniblind slats, endless woodwork. I figured I'd be there all day, along with the others assigned to the same job.

I arrived at 8:30 and Ana was there soon after. I began washing the pulpit with hot water and Murphy's Oil Soap. Ana started washing one bank of pews.

Arlis, the lone man, brought his ladder and started dusting the lights with a long-handled feather duster.

Carrie and Frances came and vacuumed and washed pews.

Sharon and Teresa started on the miniblinds.

Around 10 we had coffee and donuts.

I washed the woodwork all around the perimeter, then started on the windows.

At 10:30 I was astonished at our progress.

By noon we were all done. All the windows, all the pews, all the miniblinds. The entire carpet was vacuumed. The communion table was pushed back in place. And Teresa had put pretty fall-leaf arrangements on the windowsills.

What amazing things happen when we all work together.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: Mom, at your wedding did you have last-minute doubts or did you have peace from God and unfathomable joy?
Amy: My goodness, the questions you ask at 7:30 in the morning.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Confession

Somebody play Taps and strip me of my MennoMom badge, but. . . I hate canning.

I hate the whole process--washing, cutting, cooking, straining. And manhandling these huge kettles of boiling water or tomatoes. And washing jars. And having every surface in the kitchen full of jars, kettles, and bowls the size of washtubs.

And don't get me started on the cleanup, chiseling dried bits of corn or tomatoes or applesauce from the floor, the table, the side of the stove, and my shoes. And washing tubs that are way too big for the sink. And cleaning the screen tube thing from the Victorio strainer of a million shreds of apple peel stuck in those little holes.

As in writing, I hate the process but love the product: dozens and dozens of fat jars lined up in military rows on the pantry shelves. Now that I really really like.

Quote of the Day:
(After Amy made a grocery run and found some bargain tubs of Peter Pan peanut butter)
Emily: You know you're a big family when you buy things labelled, "Great for day care, schools, restaurants."
Paul: And when you actually buy six of them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Dutch Cd

I have my John Schmid cd playing, since the rest of the household isn't here to protest. But as Matt says, "When I hear that cd playing, I hear Leonard laughing."

Last Christmas I played "In Dutch" after Christmas dinner and all of us Dutchies laughed like crazy. I especially remember Leonard losing it after, "Da-hame hen mir un alde Gons, sie choomped ins vassah un shiddled ihra shwans."

That translates into "At home we have an old goose, she jumps in the water and shakes her tail" which proves that Leonard had a true sense of Dutch humor and "got" what the "Englishy" in the family merely sat and looked perplexed about.

Gotta go cry.