Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Anthropology

One of my indulgences when I am in a big group is watching people and playing at being an amateur Margaret Mead.

I hadn't been in a big group of Mennonite youth like the bunch at Bonners Ferry since the Beachy Youth Fellowship Meetings in—goodness, was it 1980? I was utterly fascinated, then as now, with the fashions, the rituals, the interplay, the pecking order, the complicated dynamics under the surface. Only of course, back then, I was in the middle of things--utterly self-conscious about my clothes, seeking kindred spirits, scoping out the guys, and making snide comments about the fashion doll who had sewed shirts for her boyfriend to match all her dresses. This time I could watch, comfortable and amused, from the vantage point of middle age.

How things change, I decided. And how much they stay the same.

Mixed-gender dynamics have not changed a bit in all these years. As the various vanloads arrived, the girls greeted each other with enveloping hugs and wild shrieks that could be heard all over the gym and fellowship room--"SANDRAAAA!!!" The guys of course punched each other and laughed roughly.

In the cafeteria, the Established Couples ate at little tables on the side while the other guys and girls congregated at their own tables and peeled the foil off their hot sandwiches. The girls ate daintily and engaged in happy conversation while the guys slyly checked out the girls then wolfed their sandwiches, wadded up the foil, and chucked it at their friends.

How quickly, in such a group, the rebels find each other, the Nice People exude warmth and acceptance and inclusion to all, and the Cool Girls sashay in with dresses that make all the others seem dowdy.

One of the purposes of cape dresses*, I have often been told, is to free women and girls from the tyranny of fashion. But fashion must be hardwired into the genes, because even cape dresses pass through their own very distinct fashion phases.

Back in Iowa at the Fellowship Meetings, gathers were in. And "ties." All the cool Indiana girls showed up with gathers on their sleeves, their waists, their necklines, their yokes And most of these gathers were embellished with little fabric bows. No one from our church had as yet dared to try any of these, so we looked on in envy and felt backwards and plain.

How times have changed. Gathers are as "out" as polyester doubleknit. The current look is straight and sleek, from neck to sleeves to waist and clear down to the hem, with the occasional exception of a ruffle at the bottom. Not a gathered ruffle, but a drapey curved number that adds a chic little swish to the dress. Or a pleated ruffle. Or simply a band of fabric turned the other way so the stripes run horizontally.

As for length, long is in. The cool Pennsylvania girls played volleyball in dresses that swished their shoetops. "Mid-calf" was the prescribed length for us, back in the day, and we convinced ourselves of very loose definitions for "calf" and "mid" so that most of our dresses were not far below the knee. This weekend, I don't think I saw a single dress that was shorter than the dictionary-definition mid-calf.

Then there was the matter of camouflaging. In our day, we really didn't try to hide the fact that we wore capes, but when long sleeves were required, we got by with short-sleeved dresses by wearing long-sleeved sweaters over them. These girls camo'd their cape dresses with remarkable numbers of layers. Over a cape dress went a t-shirt, perhaps a polo, sometimes even an Aeropostale hoodie or a jean jacket. All layers stayed on through meals, volleyball, and uncomfortably warm temperatures in the sanctuary. Paul, who knows nothing of these nuances, was surprised at how "few" of the girls wore cape dresses. Amy and I laughed him to scorn, since we could tell at a glance what was a genuine skirt and what was a cape dress in disguise.

But then, who am I to chuckle in amusement at these young ladies? How well I remember how I wore a navy-blue long-sleeved polyester double-knit dress with a 3-inch-wide belt to the Fellowship Meetings on a hot, humid Iowa night--because it was as cool as I could get.

Yes, well, before long these young people will be all paired up and concerned with far more important things than impressing each other and wearing the latest fashions. And their children will look at their old photo albums and fall all over each other laughing.

*a dress with an extra piece of fabric over the bodice, from shoulder to waist, often the prescribed uniform for Amish and Mennonite women

Quote of the Day:
"Oh my goodness, that was like so yours!"
--one girl to another, during volleyball

P.S.

In yesterday's post, I was going to tell you about The Last Line On My Handout but I forgot. Then Matt wrote about it here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Weekend in Idaho

As I write this we are driving through Washington's desolate sagebrush near Pasco, home of truck stops and sad, lonely houses out in the middle of nowhere. We're a little over halfway home from our weekend in Idaho.

A record number of young people turned up for the youth retreat--100, I heard, an astonishing number for such an out of the way place. They came from Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Arizona, Alberta, and some even flew in from Pennsylvania and Ohio, invited by Bible school friends. Most of them were some sort of conservative Mennonite, with subtle variations in shade and tone.

Overall I was very impressed with the caliber of kids. Of course there were the few who slouched in late for sessions or texted each other during the sermon, but mostly they were mature and friendly and fun. A number of them thanked us for coming, of course an indicator of quality and character. A few girls hugged me before they left; I liked that.

The church there at Bonners Ferry put an astonishing amount of work into the weekend, with organizing everything, feeding everybody, and all the other work behind the scenes. Everyone I met was warm and welcoming, and at the end they gave me a big basket of beautiful new cream-colored towels and a big cinnamon-scented candle. Wow. I guess they didn't figure Paul would be interested in candles and towels, so they gave him a check. We are grateful.

A new thing for us was doing this with our older children. When Paul and I used to travel with the A Capella Harmony quartet doing PR work for Mexico missions, the children were seldom along, and I don't often take someone along when I speak locally. So it was very interesting to experience this as a family and to see them blend into the larger group.

One woman told me that my girls looked comfortable in their own skin, like they didn't have to prove anything, a compliment that made me very happy.

Paul had never preached this many sermons in such a short time in his entire life. From Friday evening to Sunday evening he preached five sermons, had a talk with just the guys, and had two question-and-answer sessions. He talked about "walking worthy of our calling" and it was all good in my opinion but by the end of it all of his little quirks were jumping out at me, like the way he stretches out and emphasizes the word "If" when he's thinking of a hypothetical situation. "IIIIIIIFFFFFFF your parents don't understand you......and IIIFFFFFF they think you're being disrespectful. . . "

I had never done something like this before, so I was more nervous about my one talk to the girls than Paul was with his whole basket of sermons, but it went remarkably well. I had asked the Oregon girls to please make sure they looked at me with rapt attention, so they sat front-and-center and made lots of eye contact, bless them.

However, I shouldn't have worried, because I didn't see any of the 55 girls whispering or yawning or writing notes. And many of them thanked me afterwards. And they applauded, which made Paul a bit jealous. Nobody applauded for him, he said. (Hee hee)

Good times. Thanks for your prayers.

Quote of the Day:
"Fine."
--Ben, who stayed home to feed the animals, whenever I called and asked how he, the goldfish, the lambs, the dog, Grandma, the days with his friends, and the Gospel Echoes banquet were going

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Off to Idaho

Today's to-do list includes finishing two dresses, cleaning the van, and packing Paul's shaver. Tomorrow our family* along with a bunch of youth from church all head to Bonner's Ferry, Idaho, for a weekend youth retreat.

*except Ben is staying behind to feed the animals. He'll sleep at Grandma's.

This is a first for Paul, to be the Featured Speaker at an event like this. He'll be speaking six times, a lot for one weekend I think. Unfortunately, life didn't obligingly slow down for him this last week so he could study. And then he'd be on the computer, supposedly preparing, and I'd walk by and he'd be figuring out warehouse finances on Microsoft Excel. I told him he's acting like I do when I have an article to write.

There's one session where I'll be speaking to the girls on "What I wish someone would have told me when I was your age." I very seldom give talks to girls of this age, and I am finding that it's a very different thing than talking to your own daughters one on one--harder to say some things, easier to say others.

I also have fears of being so boring that the girls whisper and look bored and giggle among themselves, which I think would be worse than having people fall asleep, which happens almost every time I talk to older people. (As one person told me, "You have a good voice for putting people to sleep. No! I mean--well, I didn't mean it that way!")

Yes, well, here I sit typing and there are bags to pack. I know our church is praying for us as we go; your prayers are appreciated as well.

Quote of the Day:
"Are you next in line to talk to Mom?"
--overheard outside the bathroom door. I've heard there are women in this country who actually get to take leisurely baths--imagine.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Prayer Request

Today would have been my nephew Leonard's 24th birthday.

Say a little prayer, would you, for all of us--parents and siblings especially, but the grandparents, cousins, friends, uncles, and aunts are having a hard day too.

Thanks.

Monday, March 19, 2007

To the Rescue

Our friend Tom just came galloping in on his noble steed, his armor glinting in the sunlight and he fixed my header and put my other website on the sidebar. I can't remember if I'm supposed to give him my handkerchief now or what--how about a kleenex from my pocket? No, seriously, I am very grateful. Tom, I hope God blesses you good.

Googling Results

The name of this blog is Life in the Shoe, even if it doesn't appear in the header above. (I've tried to fix it and even republished the entire blog but it still won't show up. Help would be appreciated.)

Anyway, I engage in vanity Googling now and then. You never know what will show up, that's for sure. The other day I Googled "Life in a Shoe" to see what variations of the same idea are out there (quite a few, it turns out) and one thing that came up, on an idea page for teachers, was this:


There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread,
She hugged them all soundly and sent them to bed.

Make a shoe stencil. Have students trace two shoes. Staple the shoes around the edges. Punch holes and lace shoes up with yarn. Make gingerbread shaped children to place in shoe. Have students count the "children" as they put them in the shoe.
Have students illustrate the poem on shoe shaped paper.
Discus "life" in a shoe. Elicit a discussion about how it might feel to live in a shoe. Make a language experience chart.
Make broth and serve with bread.
Dramatize the poem.


Apparently this nursery rhyme has gone all PC on us and now the woman hugs her children soundly instead of spanking them. Which makes the rest of the above header obsolete ("don't judge her as harshly as I used to"). I'm surprised they still don't get bread with their broth.

Tonight before I hug my children soundly and send them to bed I'll have to elicit a discussion among them about how it might feel to live in a shoe.

Quote of the Day:
"He's single and rich and adventurous and without a girlfriend."
--Emily, on why her cousin Randy travels to cool places like Singapore and Indonesia.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

In Which Mrs. Smucker Goes a Little Crazy

This morning Steven had an early choir practice (concert tomorrow at Emerald Baptist Church, everyone welcome, $10 I think) and afterwards we went to WinCo for groceries.

(Grocery shopping is so much more efficient with a muscular dude like Steven along to push the second cart and lift the many gallons of milk onto the counter.)

Before we checked out I of course stopped by the Choice Books rack. Ok, side 1: Fix-it-and-Forget-it cookbooks, Beverly Lewis. Arrgghh. Side 2: Wanda Brunsetter, 501 Snappy Comebacks. Grrr. Side 3: Karen Scalf Linamen who is funny but would be funnier if her publisher didn't shout all over the cover how funny she is, Time-Saving Tricks. Shoot. Side 4: More cookbooks, How to Study the Bible for Yourself. Big sigh.

Then I saw it--could it be?--down at the bottom, behind some other books, a strip of cream with orangey print??? Eagerly I snatched at the intervening books and YES!!!! there they were, Ordinary Days, my book! three copies! For really and truly on the Choice Books rack at last.

Steven by this time was chuckling to himself at his crazy mom. I didn't care. I took the books and placed them on the top two shelves of the bookrack, right in front where they belonged. Steven laughed harder.

I went to check out my groceries and by a great effort did not tell the clerk and the lady in front of me in line that those are MY BOOKS over there on the rack. But I called Paul and told him and talked loud enough that the clerk and the other lady could possibly have overheard.

Yes!!

Quote of the Day:
"Someday when they say bring finger foods at church I'm gonna bring a thing of frosting and a thing of marshmallow creme and a thing of peanut butter."
--a relative of mine who didn't want to be named

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Question

The other evening I gave a talk about my column and book to a small group of retired folks. Afterwards they had lots of questions about How are the Amish different from the Mennonites, and so on.

Then one guy said, "Why is it that the Mennonite farms are always so neat and tidy and kept up so nice? I mean, you drive up Peoria Road, you can tell exactly where the Mennonite farms start and exactly where they end. Why is that?"

A bunch of others nodded in agreement that yeah, they too had noticed all the neat Mennonite farms.

I had never been asked this before. I said, grasping, "Well, it would be a cultural thing rather than a religious belief, but we believe in working hard and doing well at what we do. . ."

He wasn't satisfied with that. "But why?"

I didn't know what to say.

He said, smiling, "Is it a competitive thing?"

I said, "Well, it could be. . . in fact, yeah, it probably is." I added that I am a black sheep in this regard because I don't have perfect flower beds and the children leave more stuff in the yard than most proper Mennonites would allow.

(But I often make them do a Saturday-night pickup before all the other Mennonites go by on their way to church on Sunday. . .a clue perhaps)

Later I thought I could have said that Mennonites often focus and make judgments based on how things appear--clothes, hair, kitchen floors, flower beds, cars, and farms. But again--why?

So, help me out, all you Mennonites out there with no weeds in your fence rows--why?

Quote of the Day:
"I could relate to so much of what you were saying, with all the traditions and stuff."
--Aruna from India

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lambs

Yesterday Paul, Steven, and Jenny went to the OSU sheep barn and got four bummer lambs. This is a project Paul has done with the children for years.

Lambs require bottle feeding every few hours and I made it clear when the first lambs appeared ten years ago that I have paid my dues with babies and I am not about to get up at night to feed these lambs. So Paul and the children have always fed them faithfully when they're home, and I feed them when everyone else is at school.

When Paul came to bed after the 3 a.m. feeding he told me that they aren't eating very well yet. This morning before school they went out for another feeding, and then Jenny came running inside in her rubber boots, calling desperately, "Mom! Piggy's not eating!"

Oh dear, it had to be Jenny's lamb that had the hardest time. She gets terribly attached to these babies and if anything goes wrong it breaks her heart.

Well, I have not taught five people babies to nurse for nothing, so out to the shed I went with all my prolactin pumping. I lifted Piggy out of his pen, sat on the floor, cuddled him on my lap, and cooed something like, "Ooooooh come on you leedle shnoonksy poonksy," while rubbing the sides of his jaw and carefully inserting the nipple. Jenny watched breathlessly.

Pretty soon his little tongue was wiggling the right way but he wasn't really sucking. And then after a minute or two he suddenly got it, and he sucked eagerly and swallowed and bubbles went bobbing up the milk. Jenny was ecstatic.

It was a bit off and on for a few minutes but he drank almost all the milk in his bottle. I put him back under the heat lamp and we went inside to get ready for school.

It's so good to know I'm good at something.

Quote of the Day:
"I knew you could do it, Mom!"
--Jenny

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Blogger

Last month I taught a personal-essay workshop at the Oregon Christian Writers spring convention, but a couple of hours before I did that I took in a humor-writing class by LouAnn Edwards. I was rather astonished to find that she also has six children about the age-range of mine. I mean, moms of 6 are a rare species, and then to have two of us teaching at OCW the same day. . . what are the chances?

While we have much in common, we certainly differ in one significant way: LouAnn is a former pro figure skater who travelled to lots of different countries with Stars on Ice. And she also has a personal connection to Tonya Harding--I think they used to run into each other (but thankfully not with a crowbar in hand) when Tonya skated and LouAnn coached at the rink at Clackamas Town Center.

After my class I sat right in front of her at a blogging workshop and we started talking afterwards. She was totally new to the idea of a blog and had lots of questions. "But what I don't get," she kept saying, "is how do people come to your site? How do they find out about you?"

"Trust me," I said, "the internet is amazing. If you start a blog, I can almost guarantee that in a year you'll have hundreds of people from all over the country that you've never heard of visiting your site." She looked completely perplexed. "Really," I said.

Well, she has now started a blog called LaughOutLoudMom. Her first post is actually more sad than funny, but it's the sort of thing that sticks in your mind long after you leave the computer, and I'm sure she has many more inspiring posts to come.

Quote of the Day:
"I knew I was staring, but I just couldn’t stop."
--LouAnn. Go read her blog if you want to know more.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Altar Calls

We've had our annual revival meetings at church all week. The speaker is Anthony Troyer from Nebraska, dad to Jennifer, the sweet young Mrs. Baker who teaches at BMS with Paul and Amy.

(Their whole family, including Anthony's parents, came out for the week to spend time with their daughter. They were here for supper last night and I watched Mrs. Troyer and Jennifer interact and thought sad thoughts about how this could someday be me, going halfway across the country to spend time with my married daughter.

But maybe by some phenomenal uncharacteristic-Yoder-or-Smucker fluke I will have all my married children living within a 20-mile radius of me like Jennifer's MIL Zelma does.)

Anyway. I've been enjoying the services but tonight I stayed home with a fever and sore throat. Going away every night gets wearying but I don't mind if, as in this case, the preaching goes to the heart and it's a time of renewal.

However, I have a small complaint about revival meetings and that is altar calls.

(For any unchurched readers, an altar call is traditionally an opportunity at the end of a sermon for people to walk to the front of the church to demonstrate that they are ready to "be saved"-- to confess their sins and accept Jesus into their lives. It can also be an opportunity for already-saved people to make a public commitment based on the sermon--e.g. to promise to forgive an enemy or to spend more time in prayer.)

When I was a very small and sensitive child, altar calls were torturous emotionally. Revival meetings back then were pretty much the old tent-meeting/sawdust trail experience of multi stanzas of gentle songs, a pleading preacher, and the sense of eternity hanging in the balance. Even when I had absolutely no reason to feel guilty, altar calls plunged me into terrible sense of condemnation.

Since then, thankfully, altar calls have been less emotional experiences. But I still get a "just-get-me-out-of-here" feeling when they start singing Just As I Am.

My opinion is: preach it, invite us to come pray with you afterwards if we need to, and then let me go home and work it out between God and me.

I have been told that the justification for altar calls is that a commitment often "sticks" better if you make it public.

I have also heard that Mars Hill church in Seattle did a survey and found that altar calls were such scary experiences that they decided to eliminate them and have people fill out 3x5 cards instead. But maybe these modern young churches just try to make it all too easy--is there value to walking through the fire, so to speak, to take your stand with Jesus?

The obvious question: did Jesus have altar calls? My impression of Jesus and the apostles is that they spoke the message and then expected people to make up their own minds and, if they believed what they'd heard, to go home and start living like it.

However, that's obviously viewing Scripture through my biased lenses.

I guess I should do a study on this: is there a Scriptural basis for altar calls? If not, is there a valid non-Scriptural reason to continue, just as there is technically no Scriptural basis for making my boys wear dress pants to church?

I don't expect our church or any others to change their policy based on my opinion. But if Paul the preacher husband ever gets called away to conduct a week of revival meetings, I just may have a bit of influence. . .

Quote of the Day:
"He had 70 um's in one sermon."
--Steven, about a revival-meeitng preacher in the past

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Gems from BMS

Last week I told my writing class at Brownsville to write four-line poems about each other. Here are some results:

"Kayla" by Justin:
Kayla is a Baker
in more ways than one,
and when you eat something she made
it is very fun.

"Ben" by Stephy:
What's four thousand, nine hundred, five
Plus six thousand, two hundred, three?
If I go find Ben and ask him
His quick answer will stun me.

"Kayla" by Kayla:
I am surrounded by four brothers
My brothers enjoy basketball.
They like playing with others
While I like going to the mall.

"Justin" by Emily:
Justin S. likes basketball
Because it's fun; but that's not all.
His hair, you see, is bright and red
And so the ball matches his head.

"Mrs. Smucker" by Ben:
Mrs. Smucker likes to write
Into food she likes to bite.
She gets to write in the Register Guard
But when she needs it done she works real hard.

"Preston" by Emily:
Preston loves to argue
And if it wasn't a Mennonite crime
I think he'd become a lawyer
and argue all the time.

Quote of the Day:
(in the car,going to church)
Steven: Hey, it's four girls and me.
Me: Lucky duck!
Steven: If it was only just one girl, then I'd be a lucky duck.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stories

One of the interesting sidelights of being a writer and speaker is that people tell you their stories. Sometimes these are rambling and disjointed, involving an Amish great-uncle and a construction job in Klamath Falls and the family farm near Coburg, all while you're trying to finish your dessert and coffee*, and a line of people is impatiently waiting to buy your book.

(*and at times even trying to shield your dessert from flying bits of saliva if the storyteller is especially enthusiastic)

But sometimes people come up to me with a focused urgency and determination in their eye. "I think I need to write my story," they say, and out pours an astonishing tale of survival and triumph over extreme difficulties.

Last month, after I taught a workshop at the Oregon Christian Writers meeting, a woman came up to me and whipped out a few photos. "I just feel like I need to write my story," she said, and showed me these pictures of herself in a hospital bed with her head a swollen mass of blisters and raw meat. It turned out that she had tried to light a fire in a wood stove with an alcohol-based squeeze-gel lighter fluid and somehow it exploded in her face. Amazingly, her face is hardly scarred, but what pain she has endured and survived.

Yesterday I talked with a woman whose son is in Steven's choir. She had read my story about Steven in December and wanted to talk to me about how to get started writing her own story. Very casually she said, "I have Crohn's disease, and I've had over 100 surgeries." I probably gaped like a fish as she went on about how this bandage near her neck is for a port that she gets fed through when her Crohn's flares up, like it is right now, and the doctors praise her for having such a positive, energetic outlook but she feels like, "What other option is there? I'm supposed to sit around and pout??"

To both of these women I said, "Yes! You have a story to tell! You must write it down!"

Quote of the Day:
"One of the seven rules of a kid's life is "Healthy is always less yummy than unhealthy.'"
--Emily. No, she doesn't know what the other six rules are. She just pulled that number out of the air.

Friday, March 02, 2007

I do not like them, Sam, you see

Today, in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, Emily made scrambled eggs for breakfast and colored them green.

I do not like them, Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham.

But I do like Dr. Seuss. And I would like him in a box, and I would like him with a fox, and on a train, and in a tree...

Quote of the Day:
"This kind of pizza is really good if you pick everything off and just leave the cheese."
--Jenny, to her friend Kaelin