Tuesday, May 03, 2022

A Low-Drama Life Update (Well, Maybe Medium Drama)

The April Blogging Challenge is over, but I still have a few posts lined up. First, a general update on our lives, then a few book reviews in the weeks to come. Plus a question or two for Aunt Dorcas.

Did I say low-drama?
Maybe not this scene with the sisters-in-law.
[Laura, Lois, me, Bonnie, Rosie]


While we've had surprises and illness this spring, I'm delighted to report that nothing catastrophic has happened recently! After the past couple of years, with deaths, near-deaths, dangers, and disasters, I treasure the normal and ordinary.

The daffodils bloomed on schedule, and the purple camas are popping out in the grass under my cabin. We've had ten times as much rain in April as we did last year in April, so the farmers and foresters are happy.

---

As we recall from this post, the kids all came and surprised me for my 60th birthday, and the greatest surprise of these was Amy coming from Thailand.

We were still out at the coast in a vacation house when Amy got sick and tested positive for Covid. She drove home and settled in in the loft of the new barn because she was determined that none of us were going to catch her germs.

Chatting with Amy from a safe distance.

Thankfully Amy never got horribly sick—more like a really nasty cold. She’d come out on the steps and talk with me, and after she felt better we went on walks. But it was still disorienting to have her so close yet so far away. Amy’s been gone off and on for the last 18 years, and I have always had these odd dreams where I walk into the kitchen or out of Safeway and there she is, smiling and delightful as ever!

“Amy!?” I say.

“Didn’t you know I was here?” she says.

Then I wake up and she’s still on the other side of the world.

Having her here but not here increased the likelihood of those unsettling dreams.

[It was helpful, though, to find out that the barn works well for someone to stay in. We’ve hosted a number of events, but this was the first someone boarded there for a few days. ]

Finally, though, she ended her isolation and stayed in the house. But that didn’t last very long, because she and I and Paul took off for REACH, a conference in Pennsylvania featuring every conservative Mennonite mission and ministry you can think of. Emily came from Virginia and joined us. 

REACH was fun but also a bit insane, so full of milling masses of people that even the extroverts were finding it a bit much. Paul helped man the Open Hands table. Luckily for us, they had set up big vertical banners on the table, so the girls and I could duck behind the table and hide. We rested, ate, and gossiped back there in peace.

From there we went to Virginia for a few days with Emily and Jenny on their turf. There is nothing quite like hanging out in your daughters’ apartment and seeing them function like real adults.

"Why is there a wire whisk on the shoe rack??"
"Oh."
(It keeps the front door from banging into the shoe rack.)

On the way home from Virginia, Paul and Amy and I had a brief, dramatic incident that ended well. We were on the fourth floor of a motel in Baltimore and scheduled to fly home in the morning. Suddenly the fire alarms began blaring. I never had any concept of how loud a fire alarm is in a hotel, but now I know that it's so painfully loud that you want to get out of there as much to escape the noise as the possible fire.

Paul was fully dressed, but Amy and I were in pajamas. I grabbed my lightweight coat and slipped into my shoes, and Paul and Amy were already gone. We all went down the stairs and stood outside with the other guests.

It was cold. Close to freezing, in fact, which soon became acutely miserable. After a few minutes, a fire truck pulled in and the firemen tromped into the building with full gear, including pickaxes.

More huddled minutes, and finally they turned off the alarm and let us into the lobby.

It is a strange thing to be in pajamas, with my hair cascading everywhere, among a bunch of sleepy people waiting in a hotel lobby. I was glad for my coat.

Amy, it turned out, had chosen her phone instead of a jacket, so she took a few pictures.

Finally, the firefighters tromped back out with their pickaxes, and they let us all go to bed. A glitchy fire alarm, the front desk lady said the next morning, offering neither apology nor refund. 



---

A few days after we returned home, I came down with a strange, horrible illness that began with a sore throat that flamed like I was gargling with bleach and lye. After two days, miserable and unable to talk, I went to the doctor, who said I had an infection in my throat but my lungs were clear and he was sure it wasn’t Covid. I took a few at-home tests to make sure, and they were negative.

And yet, I rapidly got worse and felt unspeakably awful, the worst I’ve felt since Swine Flu in 2009, or maybe ever. Even though the fever wasn’t that high, my oxygen stayed in a healthy range, and I never got pneumonia, it was still hard work to breathe and the pain was insane. I kept telling myself that each breath in and out was one step closer to recovery. Paul and Amy brought drinks and set them beside me, but I wasn’t very aware of reality, only a sense that something was very wrong.

One night, I woke up at 1:30 with the strangest feeling, as though I had been taken over by something dark, ominous, and spreading, and my body was desperately trying to evict it through my skin and breath, any way possible.

It's almost impossible to describe, really. It was that weird, and mostly likely enhanced by a fevered brain.

I need prayer, I thought, but I didn’t want to wake anyone. My phone was within reach, so I posted on Facebook and asked for prayers, figuring someone, somewhere, would be awake and willing.

I fell asleep and in the morning I opened my eyes knowing that something had changed. The black cloud had passed. I was going to be ok. Paul said, “You look more pert this morning!” Amy said, “You don’t look as dead as you did.”

Recovery took weeks, and I had lost my sense of taste and smell, which told me that despite what the doctor and the tests said, it actually was Covid. Obviously it was a mild case, compared to so many, and I am sobered to think of all the millions who suffered far worse, and even died, often alone, overcome by that black cloud that I was mercifully able to push out and away. 

I am not a foodie, so except for the grief of not tasting my Kenyan tea, I was more intrigued than sad about my altered taste. At a ladies’ luncheon, I worked my way around a flavorless plate of salads until suddenly I had a blast of dill in my mouth from a kale salad. Another day, I made lasagna for dinner, and all I could taste was the oregano. Gradually, most flavors have returned to normal.

---

So I didn’t die, obviously, but about a week later I felt, in a good way, like I was attending my own funeral. 

Part of the birthday surprise was the daughters planning a ladies’ party in our barn loft. It had to be postponed a couple of weeks when Amy got sick, and that’s when I was told about it. Amy put it all together, from emailing everyone to finding old pictures to display to making meat and cheese skewers and a salad. My sister-in-law Bonnie brought her exquisite cheesecakes.



Amy had told everyone that my favorite gift is words, so various women shared tributes and stories. Words fail me to convey what it was like to sit there and listen to women from multiple stages and places of my life share their memories. It was the kind of thing you hear at people’s funerals and wish they were there to hear it, so I feel incredibly blessed that I got to hear it all in person.

Amy said she likes my curiosity, Laura said I encouraged her writing when she was in fifth grade, and Rosie said I get all worked up on her behalf when she tells me about annoying people in her life, and she appreciates that.

See? It was like being at my own funeral.  I was even crying, it was that lovely to hear everyone say what they said.

Shannon and her lovely daughters, Elissa and Annika

I concluded that you never know what choice or words will affect someone else for the better, and most of the impact you have will be unintentional.

---

One afternoon, soon after we returned from Pennsylvania, a detective from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office knocked on the door. He wondered if we’ve seen anything unusual at the cemetery up the road, since the neighbors say we walk by there often.

I explained that we do walk that way a lot, but we’d been out of town for a week.

“Well,” he said. “I’ll be blunt. Someone dumped a body there.”

Mercy.

After he left, we of course grabbed binoculars and watched as investigators swarmed the cemetery, now adorned in yellow tape.

Amy drove by the cemetery on an errand and was sure she saw people carrying a casket-sized box. I’m afraid we kind of shot her down, because obviously a “dumped” body would be tossed into the grass and not in a box.

Well.

She was vindicated when we heard that the body had been carefully placed in a homemade casket and left by a tree.

Such a strange mystery. My hypothesis is still that someone couldn’t afford a decent burial for their loved one and this was the best they could come up with at the time.

Eventually the deceased was identified by his fingerprints—a 59-year-old man with ties to Idaho and Washington. But the greater mystery of who and why remains. It had to be a group effort, because he weighed 350 pounds. But at this point that’s all we know.

Here's a news article.

Later the same day a few more bodies were found near the river in Harrisburg, but those fit the stereotype of a drug deal gone bad or a batch of fentanyl at a party. There’s a “bad batch” of drugs in the area, Steven says. 

This area used to be placid and safe, populated by trustworthy, low-drama farmers. But that is changing, evidenced not only by dead bodies not far away but also by the invader in my cabin and the homeless young man on the porch last year. Steven, with his work as an emergency responder, says the criminal/addicted/homeless population in Eugene is spreading into the countryside. He wants us to take more precautions, like keeping things locked up.

It’s hard to change your ways when the biggest possible threat in the neighborhood, in the past, was a cougar by the creek.

---

Amy is a person who gets a lot done and makes it look easy. Among many other things, she painted the living room gray and white. It looks fresh and bright. Like being at the beach, said a neighbor who stopped in.


Then she went back to Thailand. Once again, I am happy for her but it pained me to say goodbye. Pretty soon she'll be popping up in my dreams again, so close yet so far away.

But we made some great memories!

---

People often ask me how Paul is doing, and the answer is “amazingly well.” I feel like we’ve both adjusted to the reality of the paralysis in his left arm. For example, last Sunday I was getting lunch on the table and asked him if he has enough arms to go pick lilacs for a centerpiece. 

He thought for a bit. “I can cut them with my right hand, but then they’ll fall to the ground, and I can pick them up. Will that work?”

I decided to pick them myself. He set the table. 

He also tutors a few math students, edits math curriculum for Christian Light, works on Open Hands publicity, and takes care of the chickens. Somehow the chicken operation has switched from being my project to his. The chickens report that Paul doesn’t come confide to them in Pennsylvania German, but he keeps much better track of how many eggs they lay each day, and what size, and which hens are the most productive.

It is a blessing to have meaningful work to do, and the mental and physical means to do it.

---

Three fantastic pieces of news recently were:

1. Paul's nephew Austin, who was held hostage in Haiti for 62 days, is not only free, but engaged to be married to the lovely Cherilyn who was in captivity with him.


2. You might recall that in October of 2020, Paul's cousin's son was driving the vehicle when Tanner Zehr, also Paul's former student, was severely injured and later died. The funeral sermon was the first one Paul preached after his accident. The driver faced a trial at the end of May, but the Zehrs and all of us felt that no justice would be done by harsh charges and a likely prison sentence, as any of us could easily slide off a curve on a gravel road. Suddenly, on what would have been Tanner's birthday, all the charges were dropped.  It feels miraculous.

3.  My niece Janet had her first baby and named her after my mom. Sarah Eleanor. May she live life with the same determination and sense of adventure as her great-grandma.

---

Ben is the only offspring living at home right now. He goes to OSU a few days a week to help with an undergrad class, but most days he’s home working on his thesis.

The other day I had him go on the porch and check on the cat in labor. When you have an engineer reporting on OB, this is the result:

Quote of the Day:

"I only see one so far. I hope it's not a choked flow situation."

[She went on to have a total of six fine kitties.]



Thursday, April 28, 2022

ABC Post 20 --Ask Aunt Dorcas--Moms and Product Pressure--Part 4--Homemade Cleaners and Mopping Up the Conversation

 As promised, we end this series with recipes for simple, homemade cleaners.

The conversation wandered far and wide since Part 1, especially on Facebook. We discussed the motivations of the MLM moms and entrepreneur moms and moms who have no desire to earn money from home. We touched on stinginess, frugality, privilege, inequities, identity, and much more.

I hope it made Kayla the letter-writer and other pressured moms feel understood and affirmed.

I confess I became overwhelmed, especially when there were 200 comments on one post and more coming all the time. I appreciate all the engagement, and I hope to go back and catch up. We certainly didn't all agree, and I don't think we all understood each other all the time, but I hope you felt safe in speaking your mind.

Instead of sitting with a fire hose aimed at the computer this week, I decided to have tea with a niece, get the dahlias ready for planting, meet with my writing group, and have lunch with an old friend. 

The responses tell me that mom-pressure is a subject we should keep talking about. We should also think about living out the Gospel in daily life, knowing why we do what we do, caring for our families, and following our personal calling rather than the crowd. We should balance the benefits of fitting in, custom, and tradition with a clear view of the perils of the same.

Oddly, even with all the discussion, I never got a good answer for why I get so many private messages from the MLM sellers. I still wonder. Maybe I seem like everyone’s indulgent aunt that is always wanting to help. To everyone who has messaged me: I would love to help you as a good aunt should, maybe not with your online party, but with making you feel like you are loved, valuable, and capable of finding your way.

For now, though, let me help instead by giving you some easy recipes for homemade cleaners.

Remember: if you prefer, it's perfectly fine if you keep things clean with water, an old t-shirt, and a bit of soap. But these might work better for specific tasks.

---

Here are a few benefits of making your own cleaning products:
1. They cost a lot less than purchased mixtures.
2. You know what goes into them.
3. They’re less likely to set off your asthma, psoriasis, and so on.

 

Shower Cleaner

[Good for any surface with hard water and soap stains and buildup]

Mix equal parts:

Vinegar

Dish soap [blue Dawn, if you can]

Spray it on your shower or sink and let it sit a while. The soap provides sticking power to the vinegar, which dissolves minerals and soap scum. Wash with lots of water and a bit of scrubbing. Rinse and dry.

 

 Aunt Dorcas's All-Purpose Cleaner

This is great for dissolving gunk on the kitchen counter, like when someone dripped a bit of egg or made a shake at midnight and set the blender in a little puddle of goo that dried overnight.

Mix and put in spray bottle:

2 cups water

1 t. dish soap

1 t. ammonia

1 t. borax

 

The Best Cleaner for Greasy Grills

Baking soda

That’s it. Shake it on liberally and scrub with hot water and a plastic or metal scratcher.

 

Grandma Yoder’s Window Cleaner

Mix together and pour into a spray bottle:
2 cups water [soft water is best]
3 T. ammonia
1 T. vinegar
2 T. rubbing alcohol
a few drops food color, if desired

 

Mrs. Smucker’s Laundry Detergent

Get a big kettle that holds at least 3 gallons.

Grate:
1 bar soap (Zote or Fels-Naphtha, available at grocery stores)

Pour 4 quarts/1 gallon water into the kettle.

Sprinkle the grated soap into the water.

Heat it slowly until dissolved. Stir now and then if you wish, but ignoring it is ok too.

Add: 1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda

Stir. Bring to a boil. Stir again.

Turn off heat.

Add 2 gallons water. Stir.

Let it cool overnight.

Use approximately ½ cup per load. Works best in warm or hot water.

 

Ant Poison

Mix: 1 box Borax

5 lb. sugar

Sprinkle all around your house's foundation.

 Or dissolve it in water and set it out in little jar lids.


Here are some ideas from Facebook commenters:

Wanda Sensenig:

If you want soft tanglefree hair, apple cider vinegar is an effective, cheap conditioner!

 

Susan Miller

I do house cleaning for a living. My favorite solution is:

1 c. Water

1c. Vinegar

1 c. Rubbing alcohol

2-3 drops of dish soap (some swear by dawn, I use whatever I have on hand)

If you don’t like the scent of vinegar and rubbing alcohol you can add couple drops of a favorite scented oil...

I use it for all glass things and on most floors.

The April Blogging Challenge is coming to a close. Phoebe posted yesterday about RV parks in Texas, and Emily posts the final ABC post tomorrow.



Aunt Dorcas puts out the last embers and heads for home.


Sunday, April 24, 2022

ABC Post 17--Ask Aunt Dorcas--Moms and Product Pressure--Part 3--Concerns, Advice, and Ideas About Working From Home

Aunt Dorcas badly wanted a new carseat before she had that baby.
But they were living in Canada, way out in the bush, with no opportunities.
So she wrote three stories.
CLP bought them.
And Dorcas bought a very nice carseat.


Last month, at the REACH conference in Pennsylvania, I was blessed to have a few minutes with Danette Martin, a writer from Ontario.

Of course we discussed writery things, and I mentioned a book that Paul was reviewing that essentially advised wives in abusive marriages that it was all their fault and they should just do everything right already.

As you might expect, I had some Opinions about this.

Danette said, “What advice would you give instead?”

What a powerful question that is. I am good at going off, even ranting, about pet subjects. A few of my children find this entertaining, and encourage it, which is not good for me. Danette’s question stopped me short. Pointing out the wrong isn’t enough. I need to provide an alternative.

In the last two posts, I’ve shared my misgivings about the MLM system, and Danette’s question is buzzing in my head.

“What would you advise instead?”

All right. I’ll tell you.

---

The common thread in all this conversation is that Mennonite moms want to have an income, and they want to earn it from home.

I have no idea how much of this desire for supplementary work is motivated by poverty and how much by a desire for fulfilment. A number of readers commented that our system, with dads going to work and moms staying home, leads to isolation, loneliness, and unused talents among women. Thus, women are vulnerable to predatory “opportunities” as well as depression and obsessing about minor details.

If true, that’s alarming, and merits further study.

Today, however, I’ll look a bit more at the financial aspect, and income and work disparity.

I promise that after we walk all around the fescue field, I'll have some actual advice for you

---

Most Amish and conservative Mennonites used to be farmers, and many women were fully involved in farm work: milking cows, driving tractors or seed trucks, and feeding chickens, even when the men made all the financial decisions.

We’ve made a transition to trades and small businesses, and in the process the work of husbands and wives became much more separated.

Maybe they need to be re-integrated.

What would that look like, and how could we make it happen?

I think we should also consider the vast disparity between men’s and women’s acceptable occupations and therefore wages. Also: the unintended results, both good and bad, of Anabaptists discouraging people from going to college.

In the U.S. as a whole, there’s a common belief that you have to have a college degree in order to be successful. The truth is, medical and engineering degrees pay well. English and Art History do not, so you have the stereotypical barista at Starbucks paying off an impractical degree.

This has led to a scarcity of workers in the trades, and many Mennonite men, no longer on the farm but retaining the work ethic, turned to building and plumbing and so on. Meanwhile, wages have gone crazy. If you build houses, move dirt with a big yellow machine, repair cars, or build brick patios, your wages are astronomical compared to the barista’s. 

Around here, these trades and businesses are common jobs for Mennonite men, and it seems they can pretty much set whatever wages they want, like the 17-year-old with a portable welder who did repairs at the warehouse a few years ago for $45 an hour.

So the men in the Anabaptist culture have benefited financially from the anti-college tradition.

Except for wives supported by their husband’s wages, Amish and Mennonite women have not benefited from our attitudes about education.

Stay-at-home moms are limited in their earning ability by practical realities—you can’t paint someone else’s bedroom from your kitchen—and by the cultural pressures that prevent them from doing small-engine repairs in the garage.

Vocational training and/or a college degree would help, opening up opportunities to do counseling, architectural design, accounting, coding, website development, and so on, including fixing computers or lawn mowers, and other “men’s” work.

The disparity is most shocking when you compare married and single Mennonite women. Even if married women never earn money from home, most of them still end up owning their homes and taking road trips in comfortable cars to visit the grandchildren. Meanwhile their single sisters are often past retirement age and still teaching in a church school, making quilts, or cleaning houses so they can pay the rent and maybe fix the air conditioning on their 20-year-old car.

That brings up much deeper questions about why we tolerate such disparities in our churches.

I think a good beginning would be to consider more educational opportunities for women. I recall a conversation with a single woman in her twenties struggling to stay on top financially with her CNA job in a nursing home. She wished she could be a registered nurse, but her church didn’t allow anyone to go to college because of the dangers of being out in the world.

“Could you get a degree online?” I asked her.

“No,” she said. “We’re not allowed to have Internet access.” So she kept struggling along in one minimum-wage job after another, beset by financial setbacks like dental work, and waiting for rescue by a miracle, a man, or a combination of the two.

I really think we need to do better.  Surely God’s emphatic words about providing for widows apply to unmarried women as well.

We also need to rethink the sharp line between men’s and women's work. What is Biblical, and what is cultural? How can we integrate our work so it belongs to the whole family and not just the dad? How can we make sure single women can amply support themselves, and married women can supplement the family income and still care for children?

Since I might as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb, let me broach one more subject: I’ve heard a number of stories of women who began to be successful in their work from home, whether it was sewing or running a greenhouse or whatever, and then faced a backlash from people in the church who felt that she was “out of her place,” putting her marriage in peril, emasculating her husband, and outside God’s will.

That’s sad.

There was even someone in our church who faced that kind of pressure, I’m told. I had no idea, because I never faced any of that even though I had a fairly public and time-consuming role as a writer and speaker. Probably no one confronted me because they knew they’d very shortly have to deal with Paul Smucker, who always gave off a School Principal vibe wherever he went.

What if all the men in the Anabaptist world followed Paul’s example and encouraged their wives’ talents, building them all writing cabins, so to speak, and helping with their bookkeeping, and hauling boxes of books to the post office?

What if all couples sat down, discussed their finances and skills and wild dreams, and figured out a plan together to make it work? What if they were willing to flex on the traditional roles to find a life they both found fulfilling?

I think all that would be a change for the better.

---

Let’s talk about the financial motive for women working from home.

Sometimes you just need money, and usually you have to try a number of different things before something sticks.

There’s no shame in that.

When we had young children, my motive was entirely financial. I baked and sold bread, decorated cakes, and wrote a few stories for Christian Light. I cleaned the neighbor’s house and sewed for people, which was always a disaster. Clothes didn’t fit, and zippers had to be ripped out and resewn.

My children wanted to earn money as well, so one year I got a Current fundraiser catalog and schlepped the children and the catalog around to the relatives, who bought cheap things out of obligation. The whole process was so humiliating that I decided I’d rather be poor forever than do that again.

I bought pop at Memorial Day sales and stashed it in the old fridge at the warehouse all summer, selling it to the workers. One winter, I left little Benjy with his grandma for two days and sewed puffy weed-wiper cloths at Smucker Manufacturing, hoping they would let me sew from home once they had trained me. Sadly, they decided to keep all their work on-site.

Eventually, writing became my “thing” that worked, long-term. While I doubt writing will ever make us rich, it did pay to remodel the kitchen in 2009. That was gratifying, and also terrifying, because the fridge cost 200 books and the sink was four months of newspaper columns.

Writing also became more about a calling than about an income.

A number of people suggested, on the recent posts, that I should buy from MLM consultants to help them out, since they’re trying to help support their families.

That’s a valid motive, I’ll grant. At our stage of life, it’s actually doable. So, if I need a specific product like LunaRich or lavender oil, I’ll buy from a dealer.

Otherwise, I would much rather buy products and services that came directly from someone’s hands, mind, creativity, and heart. For example, if I need a birthday gift, I’d rather buy a candle poured by my sister-in-law Laura than one made in a factory somewhere, even if I’d be helping the factory worker or the Party-Lite dealer.

No judgment though. You don’t have to agree. I’m just giving context for the following “what to do instead” advice coming up.

Which is: Produce, create, grow, or do something out of your own gifts and skills. We have the advantage of a great work ethic and a tight community. Why not create our own products and buy them from each other?

---

Here are some ideas for making money at home. If I can, I’ll add a link to someone who’s actually doing this so you can see how it’s done, buy from them, or both.

1.      Day care for children or elderly

2.      Photography--our friend Janane who took our most recent family picture

3.      Counseling--lots of counselors, including mine, switched to Zoom counseling during Covid. I'm guessing this will continue to be an option. State laws vary but you probably need a degree to do this.

4.      Cleaning [not “at home” exactly, but I used to take children along]

5.      Growing and selling fruits and vegetables. My favorite source, Horse Creek Farms, is closing its doors. I hope someone local decides to do this.

6.      Running a greenhouse/selling plants--My cousin Edna in Iowa has the most amazing greenhouse

7.      Writing--Emily Smucker

8.      Editing--Emily's friend Janessa is excellent

9.      Self-publishing books, magazines, directories-SheilaPetre is someone who creates opportunities and doesn't wait for publishers. I don't think she has her own website but you can do a search for her books.

10.   Illustrating/Design--We self-publishers are always looking for good cover illustrators and designers and are willing to pay what they're worth. A woman from London, England, did two of my covers. I'd love to find someone closer. Recently I discovered MargieYoder  and enjoyed her work.

11.   Formatting; publishing ebooks--again, someone that self-publishers are always looking for.

12.   Making macrame hangers--Niece and neighbor Kayla does beautiful work, and her mother-in-law gifted me this.

13.   Accounting and bookkeeping

14.   Growing flowers and supplying florists-- Flowersfrom my Garden

15.   Arranging flowers--I know three local women who do flowers from home. One also arranges for weddings and special events.

16.   Teaching English online through companies like Spicus or Cambly. My nephew, Jason, has done this for years and says, "The only requirements are a good internet connection, a computer, to be a native English speaker, and to be endlessly friendly."

17.   Raising chickens/selling eggs

18.   Making pottery

19.   Sewing and altering—my friend Lois Miller was sewing wedding dresses even before she helped me with mine in 1984. She's still helping brides get the perfect fit.

20.   Making jam and supplying stores--Paul's sister Lois makes hundreds of jars of jam every year and puts it in the local bakery and other stores.

21.   Making candles--another creative sister-in-law, Laura, makes lovely candles and comes up with new designs and scents all the time.

22.   Giving piano lessons--my children took lessons from four different stay-at-home-moms

23.   Decorating and painting—my friend Sharon can look at a room and tell me what colors and styles I want. It is worth a lot to me, so I pay her a little, even though she tells me not to. She used to paint for me as well, and of course she charged for that. Yes, this involves coming to my house, but it would work with a child or two along.

24.   Baking--a local teacher started baking on weekends and grew the enterprise to a successful full-time business, the Country Bakery, that is well-known and loved.

25.   Buying books or other items and selling them on Ebay--my friend Kay sold books and my daughter Amy sold purses and shoes. You have to know the market and be able to sniff out bargains at thrift stores, but it can pay well.

26.   Selling fabric in a store and/or online--another niece, Starla, does this at Western Star Variety. Last fall, I bought a pretty gray knit from her and made a dress for another niece's wedding.

27.   Breeding/raising puppies

28.   Hosting a VRBO or AirBnB room or house

29.   Flipping houses--My friend Joanne Weaver from Texas raises seven children and flips houses! True story. She buys them, fixes them up, and sells them. Her husband is fully supportive and does the heavy lifting. Like my husband was, he is also a principal and pastor. And encourages his wife to use her gifts! Conclusion: marry a principal/pastor guy.

30.   Medical transcription--Rhonda Schrock writes about this and other subjects.

31.   Flipping furniture--it's good if you live in a town where people put free furniture on the curb

32.   Tutoring

33.   Making leather accessories—I just found out that my former neighbor, Sholanda, makes cool leather stuff.

34.   Making cosmetics--one reason we buy from MLMs is because it's hard to produce good cosmetics in our basements. One person who is changing this is my niece Annette who came up with Justice Skin Cream for her son's sensitive skin. She mixes and whips it up herself, and it's the only stuff that works when I get a rash on my face, and I'm happy to pay $9 a jar. She's not doing mass sales at this point.

25. Website design. My cousin's son Leslie does great work.

26. Videos--I know there are Mennonite women who do well posting YouTube videos about their lives. I know very little about this world, but I love the creativity and trying new ways of earning a living from home.

27. Tea Room--About once a year I'm invited to a tea by two amazing young ladies named Dolly and Hannah. If I post pictures, I always get messages from people wondering if Dolly and Hannah will do tea parties for hire, for birthdays and such. I think there's a wide-open market for fixing up a room in your house and hosting teas by appointment.

28. Ghostwriting--Every few months I get a request to write someone's story. Usually an older person has a fascinating story and wants help putting it into words. I always have to say no because of time constraints, but it's an opportunity waiting for someone else.*

Here are some services that I'd be happy to pay for if someone local provided them--

Servicing sewing machines and sergers

Repairing toasters and sandals and purse straps

Printing pretty stationery and note pads and cards


I'm sure you have many more ideas and examples. Feel free to share in the comments.

*P.S. Just today (4/25) I got a phone call from a woman who really wants her story written by someone who "gets" abuse in Plain cultures and also healing. Her story is compelling. I don't have time to write it. Email me at dorcassmucker@gmail.com if you're interested.

I was going to include recipes here, but that will wait until Thursday.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

ABC Post 15--Ask Aunt Dorcas--Moms and Product Pressure, Part 2

 This is the second post addressing this question:

Dear Aunt Dorcas—

I have five small children, and I get really frustrated with the pressure on young moms to use certain cleaning and health products, usually from MLMs like Norwex or DoTerra. I’m part of a few big chat groups with Mennonite moms, and most of the vocal women on such platforms tend to send the subtle implications that a good mother should be always looking for better health, better cleaners, and better hairspray. And I feel like a freak for just thinking a clean scalp is what’s most important. I’m doing good if I can pick up detergent or shampoo at Walmart. One day I decided to ask the group if I’m as unusual as I feel like I am. I thought maybe there’s other moms out there like me. But the admins deleted my question! So then I really felt like a freak. Do you have any advice for me?

--Kayla

Aunt Dorcas plunges back into a fiery topic.

Let's talk about peer pressure.

Moms are probably the most passionate people on the planet. Having babies brings out the mama bear in all of us, and everything matters. We want only the best and safest for our babies, which makes us fierce and often vocal about many subjects.

Moms also observe what other families are doing, and sometimes their [our] passion for the Right Way To Do Things leads them to be much too interested in what everyone else is doing. Not only do they judge other families, they speak their opinions out loud.

Worst of all, they lose track of what is their business and what is not.

The particular issues come in waves. Suddenly everyone is buzzing about a topic and has a strong opinion. Then that wind blows itself out, another takes its place, and people look back and think, “I can’t believe she got after me about that.”

Back when homeschooling first gained popularity, you either homeschooled, or you didn’t. People camped on one hill or the other, ready to die there. You had to be ready to defend your educational decisions, because someone was bound to ask you exactly what you were doing and preach at you why that was wrong.

Particularly with Covid, homeschooling has become much more of a fluid endeavor. Public school students stayed home and connected online, and private schools had a wide variety of responses. Families often formed co-ops or pod schools.

People don’t seem to be quite as concerned any more about what everyone else is doing. Instead, they’re trying to figure out what works for their children, picking among many options.

That is as it should be. Other people’s education choices are not your business.

Other subjects that used to be the source of intense pressure in my young-mom days included birth control, natural childbirth, home vs. hospital births, breast vs. bottle feeding, putting babies on a four-hour schedule, cloth vs. disposable diapers, learning-to-read curriculums, discipline methods, Home Interiors products, and anything related to Bill Gothard’s teachings.

A sweet Christian woman sat down with me one evening and tried to convince me that we should follow Bill Gothard’s monthly schedule for having sex, which included not using contraceptives. She told me how rewarding this was for her and her husband and wanted to know if we followed it. God help me, I didn’t have the skills to tell her this was Not Ok. I just sat there squirming and horrified.

I hope you’re also horrified. I’m also guessing that you’re thinking, of all these subjects: That is no one’s business but your own! Why would ANYONE think they had any right to not only ask what you did, but tell you what to do?

Thirty years from now, that’s what you’ll think when you remember that moms used to pressure each other about essential oils, Lemongrass Spa, and Amway L.O.C. And about vaccines, gentle parenting, organic food, Windex, fantasy books, and candy.

[Disclaimer #1—if children show up at your house or Sunday school with bruises and lice, then it becomes your business, and you need to speak up. The occasional lollipop or screen or synthetic garment or GMO or Suave hair spray, not so much.]

I didn’t have the strength or the skills, back then, to tell opinionated people that I don’t discuss these subjects. I didn’t realize they were crossing normal social boundaries. Instead, I felt left out, guilty, confused, resentful, unspiritual, and really weird, like there was something wrong with me.

Some of you enthusiastic product promoters are thinking, “I would never put pressure on anyone! I just like to talk about this because I believe in it, but they can decide whatever they want.”

Trust me, there are people like Kayla the letter-writer and shy, sensitive women in your circle who feel left out, guilty, confused, resentful and unspiritual, but they don’t have the strength or the skills to tell you to stop talking. It would be a kindness if you understood.

However: at the same time, you shy young moms and Kayla, I have to break it to you: this is ultimately yours to solve.

Let me say what I would say to my 26-year-old self:

My 26-year-old self, with Amy

“It’s ok if you disagree with everyone around you, or if you really don’t know what’s right. Others are allowed to think whatever they want, but if they don’t use breastfeeding or cloth diapers and you do, it’s just because they’re not you. You are not less spiritual, or more. It’s ok to not be the same!

Some people make you feel pushed and coerced and guilty. They don’t take hints. You won’t be able to change them, so you’re allowed to walk away, avoid them, or change the subject. Do what you need to do for your own peace. Seek out the people who accept you even if you disagree.

You can also unclench your jaw, open your mouth, and form the words: ‘This is not something I discuss.’ Seriously, you have permission, and you have what it takes.

Or, “I’m not interested.” Or, “We can’t afford it.” Or, “No, thank you.” Saying No, says my friend Simone, is a muscle that grows stronger with use.

Tell yourself, as my friend Esta does, ‘It’s just platform shoes.’ In other words, a passing fad. Wait it out.

It’s hard to be different, to be judged and pitied, to feel left out. However—sorry to break this to you as well--this isn’t the last time you’ll need to stand alone. Some of us are destined to be outliers our whole lives. You’ll feel convicted to wear a mask in Covid times when almost no one else does, and you’ll be glad for all the practice you had in standing alone.

After you turn 50, you’ll quit caring so much what people think. At age 60, you’ll lose all your filters and will say whatever you please. The pushy people will duck into the restroom to avoid YOU.”

---

GO GRAB SOME COFFEE, OK? This is long.

--

Here’s what I see as the biggest differences between the mothering issues back then vs. now: First, the conversation is more hostile and the confrontations more personal, especially online. Second, if Greta Yoder and I disagreed about diapers or breastfeeding, neither of us benefited financially from convincing the other.

Today’s mom-discussions, especially online, often involve someone with a financial stake in the debate, and that makes it turn weird really fast.

The admin who shut down Kayla’s question [on an open, general-purpose moms’ forum], was herself an MLM dealer. That is ethically troubling.

---

Many of the health and cleaning products promoted by young moms come from MLMs.

As mentioned before, MLMs are multi-level-marketing companies. They focus on a particular product which is sold by individuals rather than through stores. The distinguishing feature of an MLM is the pyramid structure, where members not only sell the product but recruit other sellers whose income affects the income of everyone up the chain.

This is different from the “middle man” in other businesses. For instance, our family business is one of the middlemen, along with CHS and a few truck drivers, that earns money when you buy a bag of 5-grain scratch at Bi-Mart. Each middleman provides a specific service or product, such as bagging or transportation.

Many MLM consultants insist that the system is ethical, and their position is profitable.

Frankly, I don’t know how to square this with statistics I read of exploitation and financial loss. This website says, “According to research at the FTC, a whopping 99% of recruited sellers lose money in an MLM venture. That means just 1% actually turn a profit.”

You could also look up cautionary tales about LulaRoe.

I'm guessing that the statistics are better in the Mennonite world because of the community structure and our history of successful small businesses.

At the same time, I've seen a lot of enthusiastic signups quietly go away within a year, with women blaming themselves. "I just didn't put the work into it."

---

You may well ask how it’s any of my business if women want to sign up with MLMs. I don’t think I’d have given it much thought, except in the last two years I’ve received probably 100 or more personal/private messages from sweet little strangers, most of them Mennonite, wanting me to sign up with their company or buy their shakes or come to their online party. Almost always, they sound very polite but also desperate. 

It feels like something unhealthy is going on, and I don’t think the consultants are at fault, so I suspect the current business model is flawed. That’s why I felt it was my business to say something. I'm concerned about women my daughters’ ages, not only the ones pressured like Kayla the letter writer, but also the ones who seem exploited by something they signed up for.

You may be thinking, “Relax, Boomer. Messaging is a normal business practice now.”

If that’s true, why is it only the MLM women who message me, not the seamstresses and basket-makers?

Twenty years ago, when I used to go to my friends’ DOTS parties, we ate and made cards and had fun, and it was ok if I didn’t buy anything. The dealers were never pushy or so desperate that they approached strangers to sign them up. What has changed? And how does this contribute to the pressures that young moms are facing?

MAYBE GET SOME MORE COFFEE HERE, AND A DEEP BREATH.

This will surprise you, judging by your conclusions from the previous post: While I’m uneasy with the business model, I don't think that buying from an MLM, or signing up with one, is necessarily wrong. In fact, I loved DOTS rubber stamps, and later I mention a few products I still like and buy. However, I would suggest thinking through the following questions before joining or continuing with an MLM company.

[Disclaimer #2--the numbers here might not show up on your phone.]

1.       Is this a product I personally like and use? Is it unique and of high quality?

2.       What is the company’s track record? How long have they been around? How does their business operate?

3.       Can I make a decent income only by selling if I don’t want to recruit?

4.       If I become a dealer only to get the products at a discount, is that ok? Will I lose money? Will I be under pressure to sell more or to sign up others? [An ethical company will let you sign up for the dealer discount for an affordable price and only buy for yourself, with easy-to-meet quotas.]

5.       How much of our savings will it take for an initial investment? Can we afford to lose this?

6.       Do I feel under pressure to do more, sell more, and contact more people? Does the company make me feel like a “bad” rep?

7.       Was I persuaded by promises of lots of income and trips to Cancun? Is this happening? If not, does it feel like it’s my fault no matter how hard I work?

8.       Am I ok with the tasks involved, such as training new sellers, speaking in front of a group, or figuring my taxes?

9.       Do I have a stash of products in the garage that I don’t know how I’ll ever get rid of?

10.   Does the company control what I post on social media?

11.   Do people come to me wanting more of the product, or do I always have to initiate the conversation?

12.   Do I send Instagram DMs to strangers or Facebook friend requests to potential customers? Do I feel compelled to do things to recoup my investments, even if it feels humiliating?

13.   Do I feel compelled to talk to friends and family about my product, even when it’s not appropriate, such as at church?

14.   It’s illegal for doctors to make money off the drugs they prescribe. Do I have a similar conflict of interest in my concern for others’ health, in that if they do what I recommend for their allergies or headaches, I will make money? If so, how will I navigate this?

15.   Am I allowed to disclose the ingredients in a product I’m selling, particularly if a potential buyer has allergies?

16.   Is this product essentially the same as something at Walgreens for a fifth the price, like Vitamin D or Vicks?

17.   Do people suddenly leave when I walk into a room? Do they unfriend/unfollow on Facebook and Instagram when I talk about my business?

18.   If I hear of someone who’s sick or injured, do I encourage them to buy my product? [Best answer: No.]

19.   Do I have enough “cushion” in my business that I can gift a container of my product to someone who’s sick or injured, if I think it will help them? [Best answer: yes.]

20.   Is most of my social life centered around sales events and parties?

21.   Am I ok with different views on my product in particular or on MLMs in general, whether in person or online? Do I make moral judgments about people who use other products?

22.   Is the time commitment working well with my other responsibilities?

23.   Do my husband and children have serious misgivings about this venture?

If your answers indicate that this is an ethical enterprise that you and your family can afford, that meets a need, that preserves your dignity and ethics, and that won’t alienate you from your friends and church, then go for it.

[Disclaimer #3—I have to ask myself many of those same questions when I self-publish a new book. #1 is always tough. So are 5 and 9. Number 10 is one reason I’m hesitant to sign up with a publisher.]

Let me tell you five examples of MLM representatives who did it right, in my opinion. They met a need with their product but were never pushy or desperate or judgey. They did not take on significant debts to become dealers, at least to my knowledge.

1.       Ten years ago I attended my niece’s wedding in Ontario. We stayed at Susan Hochstedler’s house. I was so impressed with her shiny downstairs shower that I asked her about it. She told me all about this company called Norwex, and I have had a few Norwex cloths ever since.
We note that even though she was a dealer, she didn’t tell me this until I asked.
[Oops! Correction: Susan says, "
 I’m actually not a Norwex dealer. Just an avid fan and product user! " Well, her approach was convincing, dealer or not.]

2.       Probably 20 years ago I was at a quilting. I sat in a wooden kitchen chair, and when I scootched the chair closer to the quilt, the sections of wood came apart just a little and then pinched together on my thumb, taking off a chunk of skin.
It hurt like crazy.
Another quilter, Louise, quietly pulled a bottle of lavender oil from her purse and dabbed a drop on my thumb. It instantly stopped hurting!
Louise turned out to be a Young Living dealer and a great resource for products and information. I’ve kept lavender oil on hand ever since.

3.       Paul’s aunt Susie was the local Avon lady for years and years. To my knowledge, she never recruited a “downline.” She also wasn’t aggressive about giving me catalogs, but one time I tried Avon hair gel and loved it. That stuff kept my hair in a pouf for years, and I ordered more from Susie whenever I ran out. I was so sad when they discontinued it.

4.       My friend Hope is a Tupperware dealer. Once in a while she posts special sales on Facebook, and she has a display at a Christmas bazaar I like to go to. I know she’s there if I need something, but she’s never pressured me to buy or judged me for having Rubbermaid containers in my pantry.

5.       My niece Annette sells essential oils. I don’t even know how I found out. But I learned that, like Louise, she was a great source of both oils and information. Recently I bought a cleaning product from her that I use on my floors, and it doesn’t trigger my asthma. Yay! She doesn’t make me feel any pressure to buy, but she’s there if I need something. I appreciate that. She won’t judge me if I go back to PineSol because it’s cheaper. I appreciate that too.

Stretch. Eat some pistachios.

Three final pieces of advice:

If you are a privileged person who has money, time, and access, and you prefer Amway to grocery store products, then buy and use what you want. It is none of my business. Just remember that it isn’t your business what your cousins and church sisters use, so don’t bug them about using Tide on their families’ laundry, ok? They are still good moms who care about their children.

If you are a dealer and in despair about how much you invested and how slowly you’re paying it off, especially if you hate constantly initiating conversations, then cut your losses and get out. Sit down with your husband, make a financial plan, and move on. There’s no shame in changing direction. Wear old dresses for a year, eat lots of beans and rice, and clean with vinegar. You will be happier.

You might want to learn about the “sunk cost fallacy.” The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

Read more here. 

If you are too poor or busy or far away or uninterested for MLM products but move in groups online or live among women who swear affirm by Shaklee or NeoLife and put gentle Christian guilt on you every time you get together, the best option is to become assured in your own mind that you are doing the right things before God and your family, what you buy and use is none of your friends’ beeswax, and there are a thousand things that interest you more than chemicals lurking in 409. You’re allowed to say, “Actually, that is not something I want to talk about.”

They’re allowed to use Plexus. You’re allowed to not use Plexus. Let’s all be kind and talk about the lilacs blooming.

That’s what I think.

Next time: alternative ways to earn money from home, and recipes for simple cleaners.


You can read the other April Blogging Challenge posts here: Emily's and Phoebe's.
Dare I mention, after this post, that you can purchase our books? No pressure, but they're at this site.