Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Case of the Disappearing Dog

Last night, right before their bedtime, Ben and Steven realized that Hansie the dog was missing. I got the children together and tried to make sense of the situation. Yes, he was here earlier today, yes, he went swimming with them in the creek for a little bit and then went home. Yes, they had taken off his invisible-fence collar to cross the road and no, they hadn't put it back on. No, he didn't follow them on their bikes when they went on a ride after supper. But now he’s gone. We went all around the house, looking and calling, and he was nowhere around.

It was time for bed, so the children got into their sleeping bags on the trampoline (where they sleep all summer) and we prayed for Hansie.

And then I went in and tried to work on my article and it was a completely lost cause. Few things put me in a foul mood like a deadline and no inspiration, but nothing makes me go completely, irrationally frantic like losing things. Recently I lost a roll of stamps I had just bought, and it nearly drove me to distraction until I found them one drawer up from where they were supposed to be.

Well, a dog is much bigger and more valuable than a roll of stamps, and suffers much more if it is hit by a car and left beside the road to die, so I was fit to be tied. So instead of working on an article I was furiously typing things like, WHERE OH WHERE IS THAT STUPID DOG?? AND WHY DIDN’T THE BOYS PUT THAT COLLAR BACK ON HIM WHEN THEY GOT HOME?? AARRGGHH.

All night I had dreams of losing Hansie and finding him again. About 4:00 in the morning I had the sudden brilliant thought that when he came back from swimming he tried to go through the culvert and was stuck there. And I would have to crawl into the snakey muck and get him out.

Morning finally came and Hansie was still gone. The boys said he had been by the steps when they came home from swimming, so he probably wasn’t in the culvert. Had he run off to his old home in Brownsville? Had he gone to chase nutrias by the creek? Had someone stolen him? And was he dying beside the road somewhere, struck by a dump truck? But why would he do this? He had never run off before.

I called the neighbors. No one had seen him.

Ben and Steven got on their bikes and went on a long circuit through the neighborhood, calling. Nothing.

They came home and I told them to take a break and then go walk along the creek. Meanwhile, among a thousand other thoughts colliding in my head, I kept thinking vaguely of this news story a few months ago, where two or three children disappeared and people looked all over for three days and then found them in the backyard in the trunk of an old car.

So, since I kept thinking of this, I said, "Steven, just for my peace of mind, please run out and check inside the van."

Pretty soon Steven came running back in. He was laughing. "Mom! He was there!"
"What???"
"Hansie was in the van!"
"You’re joking."
"No!"

Sure enough, there was Hansie on the front porch, blond and happy and waving his tail hard enough to knock you over. I was not dreaming. He was real. God be praised.

Amy remembered then that she had carried in several loads of pies and stuff from the van, since she's cooking for a harvest crew, and later while she was grilling hamburgers she noticed that one of the van doors was open. She shut it but evidently never noticed what had hopped into the van in the meanwhile.

Quote of the Day:
"Life is good and God loves me: I figured out what to write about, Hansie is found, and I lost a pound."
--me, to Paul, later this morning

Monday, June 26, 2006

Go Beavs!

If you read Amy's story about Paul taking the children to a football game, you know that Paul is a fan of the Oregon State Beavers.

This evening "his" Beavers won the college baseball World Series.

Even the Duck fans in this house are happy for him and them.

Quote of the Day:
(Yesterday in the 4-year-olds' Sunday school class)
Ashton: When we went to Brittney's house, the biggest rat in the world was in their house!
Brittney: No, it was in the garage.
Ashton: And the trap was hooked onto his nose!!
Brittney: Dad put green pellets out to poison him.
(Paul on Mars Hill had to compete with this little exchange. I'm afraid Paul lost.)

Pop Quiz

This is the quiz we gave to the guests at Amy's party. See how many you know, class. Your score will not affect your grade. A prize to anyone who gets all 10 right.

1. What was the weather like when Amy was born?
a) misty and cold
b) warm and windy
c) hot and still
d)cold and calm

2. Amy’s favorite blanket was:
a) yellow
b) green
c) pink
d) multicolored

3. Amy saved her blanket from which terrible fate:
a) getting chewed up by a dog
b) getting thrown in the trash
c) getting burned in a fire
d) getting stolen

4. At age 10, Amy’s favorite books were:
a) the Nancy Drew books
b) the Danny Orlis series
c) the Boxcar children series
d) the Mandie books

5. At age 11 or 12, Amy’s passion was:
a) dogs
b) cats
c) horses
d) reptiles

6. At age 9, Amy scared her parents by:
a) climbing onto the roof
b) walking to the hills without telling anyone
c) spilling boiling water in the kitchen
d) hitting Matt on the head with a rolling pin

7. Amy’s favorite musical group/singer is:
a) AHQ
b) BarlowGirl
c) Jaci Velasquez
d) Casting Crowns

8. Ten years from now, Amy wants to be in:
a) Oregon
b) The Middle East
c) Poland
d) Africa

9. Ten years from now, Amy wants to be:
a) mothering 4 children
b) writing books
c) teaching English
d) sacking seed

10. Amy’s favorite color is:
a) green
b) pink
c) purple
d) black

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Surprising Amy



Some time ago Amy posted on her blog that she is never surprised and she would love to have someone surprise her sometime. Well, Emily and I are both a bit slow on the draw when it comes to hints but this one was broad enough that we actually caught on. We have to surprise Amy for her 18th birthday on June 25, we decided.

Hushed conversations and hurried lists in a notebook buried deep in a desk drawer followed. We tossed around dozens of ideas and finally settled on one. Paul was taking Amy, Emily, Ben, and Steven on an overnight canoe trip down the Willamette River on Friday and Saturday, June 23 and 24. We would invite all her friends and family to be at the park/boat landing in Peoria at 7pm on Friday and there we would have a party all ready and give her the surprise of her life.

Paul said he would try to pace the canoes and meals so they would land there at the right time, and their excuse would be that Emily would suddenly need a bathroom break and would insist that she wanted a proper restroom and not blackberry bushes. However, this proved unnecessary when Amy asked about restrooms at the beginning of the trip and Paul said they would stop at every place with restroom access, which of course included Peoria.

You have to realize that Amy is the hardest person on earth to surprise. She notices everything, she reads everything, she isn't afraid to ask questions until her curiosity is satisfied. I thrive and survive on lists, and I thought I would die or go crazy before this was all said and done, since I had to keep this whole bird’s nest of people and food and supplies in my head and couldn’t have any lists lying around.

Even then we had a close shave. I was calling the youth group people one day to invite them while Amy was gone, and got her friend Phebe’s number from her mom. Her mom and I also chatted a bit about trying to surprise Amy. That evening Amy was in the office and suddenly hollered, "Hey Mom, why do you have Phebe’s phone number written down here?"

Ooooooh my. Panicky wheels spun in my head and then I said in a minister’s-wife voice, "Well, I needed to talk to her about something that her mom and I were talking about, and it was a private matter so please don’t ask any more questions."
So of course Amy asked, "Was it about ‘Harry’?"
I said, "I’m not free to say." I thought, "YESSS! I got her nicely down the wrong track!"

The only other near-miss was yesterday when Paul was packing the food for camping and pulled an ice cube tray out of the freezer and said, "Do you need these for tonight?" Thankfully Amy didn’t hear because I’m sure she’d have asked what’s happening tonight.

They were planning to leave at noon but were an hour and a half late because the brakes gave out on the truck at the warehouse, so I was frantic inside and trying to be calm outside.

As soon as they were on their way I clicked into high gear, brewing gallons of iced tea, cooking up a chip dip, and running to town for balloons and a cake.

Matt helped me load all the supplies in the cars and unload them again at the park. People assembled. Paul called and said they’re pretty close. (He wasn’t in Amy’s canoe so apparently could speak freely.) A bunch of us hid behind the bushes at a bend in the path near the boat landing. We heard the canoes scraping on the landing. Amy came marching up the trail and we burst into a triumphant "Happy Birthday."

Amy was absolutely flabbergasted. Completely and totally surprised.

Emily and I high-fived. We did it.

It was a fun party. Paul and the kids went on downriver. We piled everything in the cars and went home, still amazed.

Quote of the Day:
"This has to rank among the major accomplishments of your life."
--Paul's sister Lois

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Yemen and Eugene

My brother-in-law in Yemen has a young employee who was driving to another town on company business not long ago and was stopped by a policeman who was tipped off by someone else that this guy had connections with Americans and had money on him. The young man refused to pay the policeman a bribe and ended up in prison. Things got steadily more ugly and at this point he is still in prison, no one is allowed to see him, and no one really knows how he is.

A similar thing happened some time ago to another young man my sister and her husband knew, and when that man got out of prison, all of his toenails had been ripped out. We hope and pray that this isn't happening to the young employee, but for all we know he is enduring much worse.

Each time I've been in Yemen, I've been struck by the corruption and the Stories: hazy, vague, fearful tales swirling through the ladies' afternoon parties or hinted at in a chat with a neighbor, about a cousin's friend and the terrible things that happened to him, or what happened to the brother-in-law who got on the wrong side of a powerful family. These things almost never make the news, but they live in hushed retellings behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, an 83 year-old woman named Carol, who has been coming to our writers meetings in Eugene, died on Sunday. She was sweet and determined and talented, and was working on a book about singing. It appears she had a stroke maybe as early as last Tuesday, and she lay beside her bed, alive and helpless, for up to four days until she was found.

It gives me the chills to think of what she went through, alone and dying. And it blows my mind to think that despite having five children she had no one in her life to check up on her every day or to notice that something was wrong.

How disconnected have we become as a culture if this can happen to a clean-living, competent, middle-class woman? Interestingly enough, this sort of thing would be inconceivable in a place like Yemen, where grandparents stay with the extended family and are cared for until they die.

Odd, isn't it?

Quote of the Day:
"Well, if Mom dies, at least we'd still have several cooks."
--Ben, when we were talking about a young man with no mom and his bad eating habits

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Couches and Stuff

Last night Paul and I loaded up the three youngest children and hooked the trailer to the van and drove to Portland to look at some furniture we had found on Craigslist.

The first set we looked at was a dreamy Ethan Allan set that (they claimed) had cost $5000 new. You could tell it was really excellent stuff--the fabric, the weight, etc. Unfortunately it was over 8 years old and a bit pilly on the seats and faded by the sun.

So we went off to see set #2. I was a bit dubious because on the photo it looked checkered rather than plaid, but when I saw it up close it was beautiful and I fell in love with it. It was in wonderful condition.

So we bought the set. And in the process I learned the story behind it. "Jim," the owner, said that he and his ex-wife had bought it for $2500 which included a $200 stain guard. They always took really good care of it--they didn't let the kids eat on it, and he and his wife always put a blanket on the couch and sat on it if they wanted to eat in the living room.

But then they divorced and the new wife didn't want to have furniture that the first wife had chosen. "Just a girl thing, I guess," said Jim, sadly. "We tried a different color scheme, with new lampshades and stuff. Didn't work. I hate to see it go, but . . ." he shrugged.

I am happy with the furniture but the story behind it makes me so sad. Sometimes I feel like I'm the last person in America who thinks divorce is any worse than, say, having your car stolen and who bursts into tears at airports when little children get handed off to the flight attendants to (hopefully)be delivered to Mom or Dad at the other end.

Jim said his son attends a Christian school, which indicated to me that they have some sort of church affiliation. And I wonder, where was the church when this man was divorced from one woman and married to another before his child was in first grade?

The liberal writers in our newspaper often make me angry, but I have to admit that a few of them were right on when they said that it doesn't make much sense for Christians to make lots of noise about legalized gay marriage destroying the institution of marriage because Christians have almost destroyed it themselves without any help from anyone.

Meanwhile, we have "Jim" who is obviously trying to keep his new wife happy, and who never realized that one of the many costs of divorce would be selling a beautiful $2500 set of furniture for $600.

Disclaimer: I am well aware that I have never been married to a man who drank, beat me up and slept around. If you have, you have my sympathy and I am sure you responded the best you knew how. I am speaking in generalities here, that the church has somehow lost its way in this area.

Quote of the Day:
"I'm just glad it's going to a good home."
--Jim, about the furniture set

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Strawberries

Today I took Ben, Steven, and Jenny over to the new berry patch at Horse Creek Farms. It was everything a morning in the berry patch ought to be: cloudy with occasional sunshine, no rain, not too warm, not too cool, lots of berries, plenty of nibbling, cooperative children, saying hello to people I knew, mad dashes for the Port-a-Potties.

We kept our berry-patch traditions: The preteen boys asked each other, "Hey, is your bottom covered yet?" and cackled with great amusement. I wore my old t-shirt that says "Strawberry, California" on the front. I tried to motivate the children by telling them that every time they pick 50 berries, they get to throw one at me.

Some time ago, Mark Roth suggested I give some more parenting tips here, so the berry-throwing tidbit is my tip for today.

Quote of the Day:
"See, he doesn't wanna have this faraway relationship."
--Jenny, holding forth knowledgeably on Matt and his dating decisions

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sniff

I was cleaning the attic this evening and decided it's time to get rid of the carseat. It seems like just a few weeks ago I put it up there. Jenny had outgrown it, but it was a good carseat and for all I knew I'd need it again in a year or two. But Jenny is seven and it doesn't make sense to keep it any longer.

I also got rid of the crib. We bought it when I was pregnant with Matt. I was still deathly sick that Saturday, but Paul was determined to get me out of my depressed inertia, so he bundled me, a bucket, and a box of Corn Chex into the Datsun and off we went garage saling. I think we paid $15 for it, and five children later the time came to put it in the attic.

The crib was held together with four metal rods about three feet long that slid into holes and slots at the four corners. A couple of years ago, two of these rods were commandeered to fix the push-lawn-mower handle that kept bending. And now, as I said, Jenny is seven and by the time the grandchildren come along I'm going to want a newer crib with the slats closer together.

It seems like only the day before yesterday when Matt was into animals and his room overflowed with books and magazines: Reptile Digest, Animals of North America, Encyclopedia of Animal Life. And it seems like yesterday when we put all those books in the attic. This evening Matt climbed up there, looked them over, and said I can give them all to Goodwill.

Hand me a kleenex, somebody.

Quote of the Day:
Person on phone: Is your mom available?
Matt: No, actually, I think she's married.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Matt's Post

Ok, so I'm biased, but I think my son is insightful and funny.

Quote of the Day:
"Seriously people, some computer geek could make a virus . . . and destroy the computers of all the Christians who have a tender conscience!"
--Matt

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Audition

It seems every time one of Paul’s musical family hears Steven sing, they tell me he does very well and we need to develop this gift of his.

I have to take their word for it because I have no way of knowing and to me all of my children sing beautifully.

I was disappointed that last year our school once again didn’t find a music teacher beyond a young man who helped the kids prepare for programs. So I decided, on Paul’s sister Rosie’s advice, to pursue a children’s choir for Steven to be part of. I find this sort of thing very intimidating because I am so ignorant I don’t even know what questions to ask or what to look for.

My hunting eventually led to a long conversation last week with a woman from the Oregon Children’s Choir who gave me lots of information and arranged for Steven to come in for an audition today. "He’ll need to sing America the Beautiful," she said, "so you might want to go over that with him."

Gulp. Panic. How would I teach him a song in less than a week? Emily found a Wee Sing kids’ tape with America the Beautiful on it, I wrote the words on a recipe card, and we made do with that.

This morning Steven sang for me in the kitchen at least three times before we left, and he still didn’t feel ready so I played the tape in the van and he sang along, each time rewinding at the end of the song as I precariously changed lanes on Interstate 5 or navigated the maze around the Ferry Street Bridge.

Finally we found the church and the little chapel on the second floor, where a very nice woman named Tama welcomed us and led Steven to the piano. She had him do some scales and other exercises. She kept complimenting him, which sounded good, but I didn’t know if she was just being nice or he was actually doing that well.

Then she had him sing a song of his choice, and he sang Lord We Lift Your Name on High. And then with a smile and nod she said firmly that he sings very well and has right-on pitch, she rates the exercises and he got 5-out-of-5 on all of them, and she’d love to have him in the choir.

I was ecstatic, not only for Steven but also suddenly feeling vindicated for a lifetime of shame and embarrassment and not passing choir tryouts and having the teacher tell me in front of everyone that I was singing wrong and not knowing how to sing the do-mi-so notes at Calvary Bible School. (Which was probably reading a bit more into it than necessary.)

And after all our panic and trouble she never did ask him to sing America the Beautiful.

Quote of the Day:
"The mission of the Oregon Children’s Choir is to provide opportunities for talented youth in the Eugene/Springfield metropolitan area to perform select choral music. Goals and objectives are to:
Enrich the cultural life of the local community.
Enrich the cultural life of Oregon.
Promote the cultural image of Oregon.
Expose choristers to music of many cultures."
--the brochure

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Book Signing

Today I had my first-ever book signing at a bookstore. A couple of weeks ago I was at Gateway Mall and impulsively stopped in at a B. Dalton bookstore and asked what it would take to have them stock my book on the shelves. The clerk talked a bit about their criteria and then asked me what I had in mind. When I told her who I was, she nearly leaped over the counter for joy, which was very gratifying. "Oh, yes! We'd love to have your book here! We'll even do a book signing for you!"

So today I arrived, as green as grass, and there at the front of the store was an 8-foot table covered with a purple cloth and with a display of books and a big Meet-the-Author! poster on top.

I sat on the chair behind the table and waited, feeling extremely exposed and vulnerable. I tell you, it is a strange feeling, sitting there alone and watching people and waiting. If I do a crossword puzzle, will I look aloof? If I catch people's eyes, will I look desperate?

Three people had seen the poster previously and came just to see me. (Smug smile) Three or four more were walking by and suddenly stopped and "Oh! It's you!" and then talked and/or bought a book. One woman with four children stopped, looked at the book, and said, "I need to buy this. It's so good to see a mother of six that looks relatively sane."

Most people walked by and ignored me.

I sold eight books. The manager said any more than two is a successful signing. I am not John Grisham yet, I guess.

Quote of the Day:
"I guess Wilbur and Orville were big dreamers too."
--Ben, this morning, when Steven wondered what a book signing is and I said it's when you sit by a store and people come by and say, "Oh, I've been wanting to meet you and I want to buy your book!"

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Getting a Tan

Back in the day, my sis Becky and I would go out in the back 40 on summer Sunday afternoons and lie in the sun. She would lie still and composed for hours and get a nice tan. I would fidget and swat at mosquitoes and get sticky and hot and feel blinded by the sun.

To this day, no matter if I hold still or not, I am unable to tan. I burn, freckle, and splotch, but I don't tan.

Today Becky is still so nice and tan, and her Arabic is so fluent, that the native Yemeni's around her often think she's Iraqi or Syrian.

I am still so pale that people often think I'm sick or anemic.

Now summer is here with its short sleeves and sandals, and my daughter delicately informed me the other day that my legs are really distractingly white.

The logical solution here is to reach for the fake-tan lotion. Unfortunately, the cheap kinds in years past made me look like I had chicken legs, or so my daughters delicately informed me.

Last year Amy invested in some L'oreal Paris DERMO-EXPERTISE NEW SUBLIME BRONZE Self-Tanning Lotion Streak-free LIGHT-MEDIUM SPF 15 with Vitamin E For smoother skin.

She didn't like it so she gave it to me. I dug it out of the cupboard the other day and smoothed it on, and now my arms are nice and brown and maybe, just maybe, I am no longer a distraction when I wear sandals.

But I still haven't worked up the nerve to use it on my face.

Quote of the Day:
"If the government really wanted to persecute Mom they'd make secondhand stores and garage sales illegal."
--Ben