Saturday, March 24, 2012


FlyLady always says toss, toss, toss.

So I try, honestly I do. I just gave away two bags of Jenny's outgrown clothes and I just went through all my sewing patterns and put about 50 in the Goodwill box, adorable little girl patterns of all sizes, and dress and jumper patterns from the 80s and 90s. I can't let myself look in the box because I'm afraid I'll think I just have to have that bodice pattern after all, or that sleeve, or that skirt with buttons down the front.

But no. Toss toss toss. FlyLady is right; it's freeing.


I can't bring myself to toss books.

And every bookshelf in the house is full and overflowing.

So I had a decision to make: brutally cut back or get another bookcase.

I decided there was room for two in the hall upstairs where I had one up until now. I found a matching set on Craigslist. Paul got them yesterday. They are nice and big.

That's where the children's books are going to go. Already the big picture books, Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss and the old National Geographic books about tigers and sea creatures are standing in a neat row along the bottom. Jenny and I are working on putting Amelia Bedelia and Jack London and Beverly Cleary and all the others on all the other shelves, in alphabetical order by author's last name.

Which is a lot of bother, but I've done that for a few years and believe me it's worth the trouble if someone wants to borrow Ramona the Brave and you know right where to find it.

Last night Emily and Jenny and I sat on the floor in the hall upstairs and read the old picture books they grew up on.

"One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish."
"One spring day Chris and Matt went to a pond to catch a tadpole."
"No backsies on this."

Barney Beagle Plays Baseball. Prayers for Children. Going to Sleep on the Farm. Bears on Wheels. Mother Goose.

Sam and Dudley catching thieves. Blackfinger Wolf riding the shopping cart down into the lower part of town, down where all the robbers lived. Ping getting the spank on the back. All the little books where everyone falls asleep at the end, which always put me to sleep as well.

Books are wonderful things. And so are memories. And memories of reading books to children are just precious beyond all describing.

So I'm keeping the books for the grandchildren. And for me.

Quote of the Day:
(from before Ben left, since we all miss him)
Me: It needs to be ironed. Do you know how to iron shirts?
Ben: No.
Jenny: Ben! I know how to iron shirts!
Steven: Dude! I ironed shirts when I was like seven!
Ben: Am I the only one in the family that doesn't know how to iron shirts?
Everybody else: Um...yeah.
Ben:Well, I can solve double integrals so take that!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Danny Orlis and the Critical Mrs. Smucker

I grew up on Danny Orlis books, and I'll bet a good many of you did too--those little paperbacks from Moody Press with a yellow-framed cover with a pencil drawing in blue. There are over 50 titles in the series, according to Wikipedia, and I'm guessing I read most of them. Here's a small sampling:
  • Danny Orlis and the Hunters (1955)
  • Danny Orlis Goes to School (1955)
  • Danny Orlis on Superstition Mountain (1955)
  • Danny Orlis Makes the Team (1956)
  • Danny Orlis and the Wrecked Plane (1956)
  • Danny Orlis and the Big Indian (1956)
  • Danny Orlis Changes Schools (1956)
  • Danny Orlis and the Rocks that Talk (1956)
  • Danny Orlis Plays Hockey (1957)
  • Danny Orlis and the Point Barrow Mystery (1957)
  • Danny Orlis and the Boy Who Would Not Listen (1957)
  • Danny Orlis, Star Back (1957)
  • Danny Orlis and His Big Chance (1958)
Bernard Palmer was the author, and he puts a whole new spin on the word "prolific." Look at that, five books in 1956 alone. True, they were short and pretty much fit the same formula, but still.

We used to get Danny Orlis books for VBS rewards and such, and also for memorizing verses through Radio Bible Club. Or, generally, my sister Rebecca would memorize the verses and get the books, and I'd read them.

Danny Orlis lived up in the Northwest Angle, that little bit of Minnesota that sticks up into Canada because of a long-ago surveyor's mistake. Since most of the Northwest Angle is taken up by Lake of the Woods, Danny and his cronies used to have all kinds of adventures on the lake, such as zooming along in their motorboat chasing or being chased by the bad guys, and losing them among the islands.

At the end of the book, things worked out. The bad guy was caught, and usually he got saved. That was how stories were supposed to end.

Years later I traveled in that area a number of times, but I never saw Danny Orlis. I did, however, meet a guy who grew up on the lake. I mentioned how Danny used to zoom around on his motorboat among the islands and this guy said, "I used to do that too, with the cops chasing us."

I asked him why and he said, "Uh...drugs."

But, like a good Danny Orlis character, this guy eventually got saved and worked at Stirland Lake High School.

I think Bernard Palmer must have gotten some critical mail about his formula happy-ending fiction, so he wrote one book that broke the mold. "Danny Orlis and the Defiant Kent Gilbert," I think it was called. Danny was married to the lovely Kay by this time, and they took in a delinquent and tried very hard to befriend and help him, but in the end Kent did not get saved. It was shocking. An ending so horrible that I still remember it--something like "He knew the way out, but he wouldn't take it."

It shook us up, that ending did. What was the point of writing the book, or reading it?

I am looking at all the fiction in my life with a new eye now that I've finished the online short story writing course from Stanford that I posted about here.

I finally made an uncertain peace with the assigned stories in the class, supposedly the finest of modern short stories but generally weird, dark, mysterious offerings in which nothing much happens but the characters and the despair keep you awake at night.

Thankfully the instructor was excellent and the others in the class supportive, so despite the assigned stories, I learned a lot about the elements of fiction and got lots of helpful feedback on my own work. We had to write a longer story for the final project and even after a 10-week class with lots of short exercises, I was wandering around the house muttering, "I can't do this. I just don't have it in me," and Emily was trying to help by texting me story ideas every hour but it didn't help. Dear me, why was I trying fiction when I couldn't come up with even one idea and she could come up with a good one every hour?

Finally I told myself I'd write a story that would never see the light of day outside of the class, and pulled together all these real local people and events and confessions, and glued them in a row, and painted and varnished, and there was a 5000 word story.

The character had a great epiphany, and the ending was satisfying, so I knew it would never fly as literary fiction but I didn't care.

The others in the class said very nice things about it.

But no, seriously, you will never get to see it, so don't ask.

Overall, I feel like the class was a success and I have a much better sense of where to go from here with writing fiction.

Meanwhile, speaking of epiphanies, I realized something: Bernard Palmer had one grand moment of rising above the formula fiction he churned out by the bucketful. That one book, Danny Orlis and the Defiant Kent Gilbert, whose ending Rebecca and I hated so bad, was actually not so far from today's fancy literary fiction, because the ending was utterly unsatisfying, and nothing got resolved, and you wished you had never started reading it.

Mr. Palmer probably got lots of mail about that book from disappointed readers. Too bad he and they never realized what great literature it actually was.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: If there's one thing I detest most in the world, it's being wrong. I just HATE being wrong.
Me: What's wrong with being wrong?
Jenny: That means the other person's right!
Steven: Good luck in life, kiddo.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Maybe it's the power of marketing. I have always had this fantasy that I can sew a dress and it will look on me like it looks on the model on the pattern envelope.

Never mind that the model is usually 5-feet-9, maybe 110 pounds, and Photoshopped. And I am 5-feet-three, over 110 pounds, apple-shaped, and short waisted. And I have given birth a number of times and am twice as old as the model.

I still see a pattern and fall into the delusion that I can make it to look just like that.

So I cut and sew and fit. Sigh. I let out seams at the side and trim off the waist seam and suck in my stomach.

It does not look anything like.

I think, well, if I wear it with a sweater....

For some reason I'm into vintage dresses right now, so today I was salivating over such lovelies as this:and this:
(Oh dear, how did the pictures get so small? Ok, try this. And this.

I would make them in brighter colors, of course, or summery pastels. And looking at them, I float in this delusion that I could seriously wear a fitted bodice and defined waist and even a tied or buckled belt and not look silly plus a few other adjectives and comparisons with muffins.

I suspect that at times my girls whisper to each other, behind my back, "Just humor her."

So I click through these pictures and think of that soft green and purple cotton yardage I have, and I think to myself, Oh just humor her.

Quote of the Day:
"Mother!! It's. . . it's. . . PAISLEY!"
--Jenny, trying to put into words why I should not wear that pretty jacket I bought
at St. Vinnie's

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

To Doctor Or Not

When I was growing up, my parents' philosophy about taking their children to the doctor was, "If you're still alive, you don't need a doctor."

Ok, that's exaggerating. A little.

Mom relied on enemas, sliced onions on a hot rag on the chest, and chamomile tea in a little brown pot.

I remember excruciating pain from earaches, a head injury that had me vomiting and incapacitated, a bent fingertip from a sledding mishap, and plenty of run-of-the-mill fevers and flus, none of which involved seeing a doctor.

So I thought that was how it was done, and when I taught school I struggled for weeks with a cough and feeling terrible, but I didn't go to the doctor until the next-door neighbors pretty much commanded me to, because they woke up in the middle of the night and heard me coughing, with their windows and mine all shut.

It was acute bronchitis and I soon recovered, with those magic antibiotics. How cool is that?

One of many nice things about living in Canada was that when the children were sick I didn't have to endlessly dither about Are They Sick Enough To See A Doctor? thanks to the socialized medical care. [Except for the two years when the doctor was 125 miles away, then it was a much bigger deal.] Even in Round Lake, which was even further from a doctor, there was a nursing station, and I got to know some of the nurses well enough to have them over for lunch, and dropping by to have them listen to a child's chest was a simple matter.

But back in Oregon, where just walking through the door of the clinic cost a week of groceries, To Go Or Not To Go again became a matter of huge internal angst.

To go and find that yes, the bone is broken, the spots are strep--that was sweet vindication. But to be told that it's just a virus, calm down, give lots of fluids--that felt humiliating, like I was a wimpy mom who panicked about nothing.

It's worst with my own illnesses. Sometimes, like last December, I drag for weeks, relying on home remedies, until my friends threaten to tie me up and haul me in to the clinic by force. It actually was bronchitis, it turned out, and in three days I was well, on Azithromycin.

This last week I once again caught something, with the familiar sore throat and cough and then the terrible fatigue and the feeling of a boa constrictor around the chest. My temperature went up and the wretched misery of all that can't be described. I was sure it was bronchitis again, so I went to the doctor yesterday, making sure I didn't take Tylenol beforehand, so my temp would be as high as possible, to prove my point.

"Your lungs are clear," she said. "It's your asthma. You should have upped your inhalers as soon as you got sick."


Would it be so much to ask that just once, when I am that wretchedly miserable and coughing and gasping, and I take on this huge expensive gamble of Going To The Doctor, that he or she takes one look and listen and says, "Ooooh, not good. Pneumonia, severe, both lobes. I'm calling an ambulance to take you in immediately."

But no, it's use your inhalers, drink fluids, take Tylenol, get lots of rest, see ya!

(But she said she liked my purse, my homemade version of Vera Bradley, so that took out just a bit of the sting.)

Quote of the Day:
"Call your doctor."
--the most common advice in all the dumb parenting magazines I used to read. Fever, bumps on the head, rashes, everything. It was always "call your doctor." I always had too much of my mom in me to do that.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

March column

Today's column is about Jamaica of course.

Two resources if you want to do something about orphans/neglected children:

Friday, March 02, 2012


Last night we had a ladies' tea at church, with--I'm guessing--over a hundred ladies present. I was the MC and was losing my voice plus the sound in the fellowship hall is terrible plus the microphone popped and squealed, so I enjoyed myself as much as one can in such a situation.

But the evening has its many good qualities, including tables decorated so beautifully that I think God should get these hostesses to help set up for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. And the dessert table, goodness, that was MS of the L worthy as well.

Down at the other end of the hall, Emily had a photo booth set up, along with a sampling of her huge collection of props. The little girls had loads of fun with this and I think the moms did too. I hope some of them post their pictures.

Between announcing raffle winners and such, I slipped down to see how it was going with the photos and had a sudden urge to take a crazy picture myself. So I grabbed the granny glasses, a hat, a white filmy scarf, and a Voice of the Martyrs brochure from the shelf, posed briefly, yanked off the stuff, and went back to my duties.

I had left my Facebook account open on my laptop, and after she came home Emily posted the picture on Facebook without asking me first. "I think I might go for a ride on a very large gander tonight," she captioned it.

Oh dear, you know how it is when you see your own face in an unexpected pose, and there are your brother's and dad's mouths, and 4 aunts' noses, and the Millers' chins all blended into one face? And it's worse when you were just trying to look vintagey and instead you look like Mother Goose.

See what I mean? The beak and everything.

This sort of thing is why people never take me seriously, I'm sure of it.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, you're a great storyteller if no one interrupts you."

Consumption and Such

In the old days, it seems people quite often moved to a whole different area because of their health. In old books it was often consumption. I think it was pleurisy that took the young lady in "Mrs. Mike" to Alberta. I had ancestors with the famous Yoder lungs who moved to Colorado to breathe easier. And recently I spoke to an old friend of my dad's who told me about someone from Oklahoma who had suffered a heat stroke and so they moved to Oregon where it was cooler.

In all the above cases, they traded their old problems for a whole set of new ones. Like Mrs. Mike lost two children to diphtheria, and the one lady in Colorado was widowed but kept farming with her little children, a terribly hard life all around, and one day a neighboring farmer, who was Amish but obviously not Christian, came by with a wagon and a few robust sons and brazenly helped himself to a load of cow chips the kids had worked for days to gather.

Yesterday Steven of the robust health and I of the Yoder lungs came down with the same thing, a bad headache plus a sore throat and fever. Today he is his normal self and I once again feel like there's a boa constrictor around my chest that lets me breathe about 1/3 as much as normal.

When we were in Jamaica, I could breathe all I wanted, and I hardly ever coughed, which leads me to think maybe God is telling me to be like the ancient Yoder forebears and move to a different climate, specifically Jamaica, for my health's sake.

The big question is, what problems would I get in exchange?

Quote of the Day:
"Did you tell Dad you're falling for a Jamaican?"
--Steven, referring of course to little Aldaine at the orphanage