Monday, March 28, 2005

Road Trip

Matt came home from his road trip to Ohio last night, so now (no doubt briefly) all my chicks are back in the nest.

This road trip, with Matt and his friends Justin and Brandon, was only about 10% about going to see Justin’s brother in Ohio and their friends at Bible school in Indiana. The rest was that nebulous, indefinable combination of spring break, the call of the open road, a rite of passage, and a test to see if they had what it took to get there and back.

And, of course, somewhere in all that, not necessarily defined, was the hope of meeting girls.

So, there they were, driving through Iowa. Matt was reading in the back seat, Justin was reading up front, Brandon was driving.

A carload of girls passed them. The girls, Brandon reported as they pulled ahead, were looking back at them and smiling.

Unfortunately, as this was happening, Justin was popping a zit and Matt was picking his nose.

Quote of the Day:
--Emily, to Matt

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Ultimate Kitchen Gadget

I am not a fancy-kitchen-gadget person. I like my basics, sharp knives and a wire whisk and dippers. Now and then I get attached to a device like an egg slicer, but not often.

I roll my eyes when the Tupperware lady goes into raptures about the latest pickle strainer. My melon ballers and orange peelers hibernate in the back of the drawer.

But the other day in a kitchen store at the coast I saw the Ultimate Kitchen Gadget. It looks like a semi-stiff, semi-clear mitten—nothing impressive. But actually it is a $19.99 silicone oven mitt, capable of protecting your hands to 600 degrees, not only when pulling cookie sheets out of the oven, but, since it’s waterproof, when plunging your hands into a kettle of boiling water to retrieve an ear of corn or jar of applesauce.

Is that cool—no pun intended—or what?

I couldn’t justify buying it--after all, I do have plenty of oven mitts and tongs. But still, it was really one of the most impressive gadgets I’ve ever seen.

Quote of the Day—
"Matt hugs like he’s practiced on seed sacks."

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Amy Comes Home

A long, long time ago, I used to think that some women got far too large a percentage of their fulfilment in life out of mothering. I mean, get a life.

Early this morning I was sitting on the couch with Bible and coffee in hand when the front door opened and in glided a very tired and pale little ghostly figure, laden with suitcase and backpack. I enfolded the fragile figure in a hug and promptly bade her lie down on the couch, clicking into Smother-Mother mode before you could say boo.

Then I was off bringing a glass of water (with a straw, of course, as a good mom should), ibuprofen for her headache, two slices of toasted homemade bread with lots of real butter.

It took me by surprise, the sheer joy of having Amy home and of being able to serve her like this. She lifted her tired little head and said something wonderful like:

Quote of the Day:
"It's nice to have a mom to take care of you."

Sunday, March 20, 2005


A couple of weeks ago I took my three girls to town and we shopped at Gateway Mall for a few hours. When we left I was tense and exhausted and headachy and wanted nothing more than to just get home. As I drove on Interstate 5 thinking about how much I hate shopping, Emily, beside me, wiggled with glee and satisfaction and said, "I just love to shop. It’s just so ENERGIZING."

Yesterday I needed to go to town again, this time to get a pattern for Amy’s graduation dress while it was on sale. Emily wanted to go along and would have been happy to leave right after she got up (about 10:30). No no, I said. First we do the cleaning, then we shop.

I enjoy second-hand shopping once in a while if I’m not in a hurry and if I don’t have tired children along and if I don’t have to rush home to make supper. The same with garage saling.

Grocery shopping at WinCo isn’t too bad but is physically exhausting, hoisting 25-lb bags of flour or cat food into the cart, onto the counter, back in the cart, and into the trunk of the car. I shop there about twice a month and usually have a brimming cart that must weigh over a hundred pounds and just when I’ve picked up the last item on the west end (ice cream) I remember that I forgot onions and have to push my cart the quarter-mile (it seems) back to the east end. At least it's good exercise.

But mall shopping completely does me in. By the time we leave I am tired of walking for miles holding all my packages, tired of the noise, tired of seeing racks of ugly clothes, tired of the prices, tired of decisions, tired of pierced young people with empty eyes, tired of the overwhelming emphasis on THINGS.

My girls look at me like I’m not quite female when I express these sentiments. Shopping is fun and cool and energizing, after all, and how can anyone think otherwise? Thankfully Paul, at least, thinks I’m a Real Woman even if I don’t like malls. (And a few weeks ago he REALLY racked up the points when he offered to go get groceries for me. Better than flowers and chocolate.)

Fifteen years ago when we lived in the far reaches of northern Ontario, we went shopping a couple times a year, and in the middle of winter I would crave a good shopping trip so bad I could hardly stand it. Maybe someday I’ll find a balance between then and now.

Quote of the Day:
"28…28? But that’s FORWARD!"
--Jenny, in a loud, offended hiss in church when Mike Gingerich said we should turn BACK to song number 28

Friday, March 18, 2005

Smucker's Believe It Or Not

I always enjoy those group games where you’re given a paper listing unusual qualities or experiences such as, "I survived a plane crash" or "I can walk down stairs on my hands" and you go around the room and ask questions until you figure out which factoid is true for which person.

Here’s my top-of-the-list Unique Fact about myself: I once had lunch with a man who about six years before had shaken hands with Osama bin Laden.

On a similar vein, I enjoy hearing about Surreal Moments, those times that may have seemed perfectly logical at the moment but looking back seem strange and upside down and almost unreal.

Such as: the time I was 8 months pregnant and toting a heavy vacuum cleaner out to the end of a long boat dock in the Canadian bush.
(Or doesn't that sound as odd as I think it does?)

Or the time Jenny and I were sitting in a very hot church service in a village in Kenya and suddenly had about 50 ants crawling all over us.

Or the time we were in the Abu Dhabi airport at 2:00 in the morning and Paul was having an animated discussion with a big Emirati in a white robe and checkered keffiyah and Emily was horribly sick from her typhoid shot and I turned around and saw her sitting BEHIND the counter and luggage scanner in one of the Official Chairs for the Official People beside an amused Official Woman in a black robe and scarf.

My Unique Facts and Surreal Moments seem to involve travel, but I’m sure people have plenty of them close to home.

So, tell me yours.

Quote of the Day:
"They’re not ninger-fails, they’re fail-ningers."
--Jenny, trying to set me straight when I told her it’s time to trim her ninger-fails. I like spoonerisms and she likes to say things RIGHT.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Shattered Prejudices

Background: Go back and read these previous posts: Chivalry and The Nature of Fear.

Amy is in New York City. She called last night.

"Mom, I had a chance to read your blog. And it was kind of funny because we got on the subway yesterday and here was this weird guy with a really baggy sweatshirt and really baggy pants....and he got up and offered his seat to Phebe and me. And then we were in the subway station and we didn't know where to go and there was this black guy with dreadlocks and he was really helpful and showed us where to go."

Quote of the Day:
It goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover and chivalry is not dead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Emptying Nest

I took a board out of the kitchen table.

Matt left this morning on a road trip to Ohio with two of his friends. Amy is off in New York City having great adventures such as walking down Broadway and talking with a Real-Live Jewish woman.

So our table was much too big and we had to stretch across the butter dish to hold hands to pray.

I used to think that when I got my children through teething and tying shoes and Bible Memory Camp and algebra and graduation then I would be DONE, finished, on to another project.

I also used to think that my mom worried way too much about me after I was gone from home. Why did it matter so much that I called her to let her know I got safely to where I was going? Why did she take such an interest in my friends, my health, my car? I mean, it was nice, but why should she trouble herself?

Now I understand. It is said that when you become a mom, you will for the rest of your life have your heart walking around outside your body. Your heart doesn’t go back in its proper place when the children grow up, because part of mine is off in NYC and another part driving through the Cascade Mountains.

And some day, when my heart is scattered in six different places across the globe, will it expand its capacity to include grandchildren in this indescribable, vulnerable combination of love and pride and fear?

If I follow in my mom’s footsteps in this as well, I’ll have plenty of love to go around. And I’ll be happiest when we stretch out the table to its full length, slap in all the boards, and have the whole family sitting around it.

Quote of the Day:
"That could be a fascinating estuarial situation."
--Byran, the nephew that got me started blogging, on the possibility of both fellow-Mennonites and ‘very un-Mennonite people’ intersecting at this blog


This blog is mentioned in the latest issue of Mennonite Weekly Review. If you want to read the article, go to and click on Online Perspectives: Menno Web logs emerging online. Life In The Shoe is mentioned down toward the end. (Did I really say I enjoy writing? Well, I enjoy writing blog posts, I guess. And the "absolutely astonishing" was supposed to describe the response from people in Eugene, not the support from my family.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Chivalry, Part II

First, a joke:
An engineer is walking along and he sees a frog. The frog says, "If you kiss me, I will turn into a beautiful woman and I’ll go on a date with you."
The engineer picks up the frog, sticks it in his pocket, and walks on.
The frog hollers, "If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful woman and I’ll date you for a long time."
The engineer walks on.
The frog says, "If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful woman and I’ll marry you."
The engineer walks on.
The frog calls, "Hey, why don’t you kiss me?"
The engineer says, "I’m an engineer. I don’t have time for girls. But a talking frog? Now that’s cool."

# # # # # #

Matt is an almost-19-year-old engineering student who knows he is years away from having the time, money, and maturity to court a girl.

This, however, does not diminish his fascination with girls as a species. He enjoys getting to know girls, he says, but there aren’t that many girls in the church youth group and his pre-engineering classes are nearly all male.

I remind him that he does have three sisters and a mom, all of whom are female, very familiar with the female mind, and a great resource for learning how the species functions.

In fact, I tell him, he ought to practice-date with his sisters. Take them bowling or out to Olive Garden for a nice dinner. They could coach him on his manners and clothes and he could get some practice ordering foreign-language food and opening car doors and making conversation.

He could even take his mom out on a date!

This, I assure him, would be a gold-star item on his resume’ when the time comes that he seriously pursues a girl.

He is skeptical. His sisters, I suspect, still seem like sisters and not Real Girls. Plus, he says, he can’t afford it.

I still think it’s a good idea.

So, if there are any young, single women out there, please let me know: Would it or would it not impress you if a guy took his mom or sister on a date?

Quote of the Day:
"How does Dorcas do it? She has six children and half of them are teenagers!"
--Geneva, the cheerleader sister-in-law

Monday, March 14, 2005


"Chivalry is dead," said my son. "If you pull out a chair for a girl, she thinks you’re interested in her."

"Chivalry is alive and well," I countered. "Men open doors for me all the time, and I never think they’re interested in me."

In fact, I was in town not long ago and everywhere I went, from Papa Murphy’s pizza to the grocery store to Dollar Tree, men—from baggy teenagers to 70-year-olds--were literally leaping to open doors for me. Was it my dress or the look on my face? I have no idea, but I loved it.

I like men to be gentlemen and women to be ladies, real men and real women, masculine and feminine. We are not an accident of an X or Y chromosome falling into place at the right moment. We are created male or female for a specific and wonderful purpose that we all ought to embrace and celebrate.

Having said that, the background clamor begins—what about people who don’t fit the mold and gender confusion and the Harvard guy’s comments and feminism and sexism and people who have XYY chromosomes?

I don’t know.

And, another valid question: How does one define masculinity and femininity?

I don’t know that either, but I know it when I see it.

I want the men in my life to be the sort that open doors and tip hats and pull out chairs, and I want to be the sort of woman for whom men leap to do it.

Quote of the Day--
"I think we should have a new rule: Whoever makes the rules shouldn't have to follow the rules."
--Jenny, who had two days before said we need a New Family Rule like her friend Dawnisha's family, where you put the old toys or project away before you get out the new ones

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Nature of Fear

Amy is leaving for New York on Saturday. She is an innocent, beautiful high school senior, off on a mission trip. And New York is New York, home of the Central Park jogger, terrorist attacks, gangs, Bernard Goetz, Son of Sam, and the mafia.

I have tried not to hover over her in hand-wringing apprehension, limiting my advice to occasional calm admonition such as, "Make sure you NEVER go ANYWHERE alone! I mean it. You stay WITH the group."

Fear is such that the familiar seems safe and the unfamiliar does not.

When our children were smaller, we lived in the "bush" in Northern Ontario. There were plenty of dangers—bears, drowning in the lake, getting lost in the woods, freezing to death, not to mention that the nearest doctor and hospital were hundreds of miles away. I came to be at peace with all this, took necessary precautions, and felt like we could hardly live in a safer place.

One summer a family with four or five children came to visit. We were all down by the lake one evening, and the children played on the dock or walked at the edge of the water. The visiting mother was so nervous she could hardly carry on a conversation. "Be careful! Not so close to the edge! You hang onto your sister, I don’t want her to drown! John, do you see what they’re doing?" I thought, Dear me, woman, relax, they’re perfectly safe.

A few weeks later we took a vacation in civilization and went shopping for the first time in probably a year. Getting out of the van and heading into Walmart, I was terrified. "You get back here! Don’t you wander off like that, somebody could grab you and we’d never see you again. Watch for cars! Matthew, you hang onto Amy’s hand. Look both ways before you cross here. If someone tries to kidnap you, you fall to the ground and kick and scream as loud as you can."

Some distance into this yammering I realized I sounded exactly like the woman at the lake who, no doubt, was perfectly calm when she took her children to Walmart.

Last summer, Amy and her sister Emily took a walk in the woods and ended up near a cow pasture where an angry bull pawed and snorted at them and tried to break down the fence.

No doubt my New York friends would laugh at me and say that an angry bull rattling the fence is far more dangerous than some weird dreadlocked crack addict with low-slung trousers lurking in the subway.

Well, I’m sorry, they’re wrong.

Quote of the Day:
"I accidentally zang something under the stove."
--Jenny, who makes up words to fit the occasion, running to the kitchen with a yardstick

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Smucker Men, Part II

Here's more on the subject, a song that some of us in-laws sang to the tune of My Country Tis Of Thee at a family reunion back in 1996.

We stand here short and tall
One factor binds us all
As you shall see.
We fell in love and then
We married Smucker men
Since then our lives have been
Of boredom free.

These Smucker men are brave
Our lives they'll gladly save
If we're distressed.
Nothing gives them the shakes
They pick up mice and snakes
They kill them for our sakes
We're so impressed.

These Smucker men we chose
Are calm and quite composed
Seldom upset.
The baby breaks his arm
Tornadoes hit the farm
Nothing can them alarm
That we've seen yet.

God gave them all good minds
With knowledge of all kinds
We stand amazed.
Computers do their will
They handle tools with skill
They figure taxes till
Our minds are dazed

We ladies like to keep
Our voices soft and sweet
But not these guys.
The Smuckers, to belong
Must discourse all night long
With voices loud and strong
And judgments wise.

But seriously, we know
We're blessed, extremely so,
As Smucker wives.
They are top quality
We know that we will be
Their top priority
Through all our lives.

Quote of the Day:
"Here in Oregon, it's very hard to find someone who walks with his legs."
--Steven, on the low number of pedestrians in Eugene compared to Kisumu, Kenya

Monday, March 07, 2005

Smucker Men

I had an email conversation recently with a young lady I’ll call Martha who seems to be seriously thinking about marrying a young man of the Smucker clan. She was wondering what these Smucker guys are like and what she could expect if she joined the family. "I’m pretty new at this," she wrote. "Anything you can tell me would be just great."

All I know, up close, is life with one particular Smucker guy. Based on my experience and lots of conversations with my sisters-in-law, this, dear Martha, is what you can expect:

Teachable density. These guys don’t get anything subtle. Hints fly right over their heads. But then, so do insults. Stuff that would wound us mortally doesn’t even register with them. Also, they aren’t naturally adept with, say, bathing babies, but are amazingly teachable. My mother-in-law can’t believe how her sons help with their children since their father didn’t set the example. We daughters-in-law like to think that we just had the right way of teaching them but of course the guys were willing to be taught.

Analysis not emotion. This evening I told Paul that when I was teaching our son Steven in Kenya I would never have dreamt that he had the potential of being such a goofball. What Paul was supposed to say: "He always seemed so quiet, didn’t he?" What Paul actually said: "Well, I think I know why that is. For one thing, they didn’t have much tolerance there for that kind of behavior. And for another, I think he is still deciding what role he fills in our family."

Leadership. The Smucker guys tend to be movers and shakers. Prepare to be in the spotlight.

Noisy discussions. They take after their ancestor Orval, who would call his children on summer mornings, ("MILLLLFORRRRD!! TIME TO GET UP!") and if the wind was right their cousins a mile down the road could hear. The more intense the discussion, the louder the voices. This does not mean they are angry or upset. They are just enjoying themselves. Last summer at a family reunion Paul was holding forth in such a discussion. I was trying to sleep in a bedroom about 30 feet away, down the hall and around the corner, with earplugs in my ears and a pillow over my head, and I could understand what he was saying.

Honest diplomacy. Just as they don’t get subtle insults, they don’t give them either. What you see and hear is what you get. No nasty barbs, no left-handed compliments. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Oddly, they are both blunt and diplomatic, and you may find your husband being the liaison and arbitrator in some very strange conflicts.

Steady and solid. We bob and sway and dip and dive and soar and sink. They stay steady as a rock.

Not self-absorbed. These guys are not introspective, navel-gazing tortured souls with hyper-sensitive consciences who berate themselves for a week for something stupid they said last Sunday at church. Do they, however, tend to marry women like this? Um, heh heh, let’s quickly move on here, shall we?

Well, Martha, that’s all I could think of right now. It takes a brave woman to marry into the family, but if you’re the right one for the job, you’ll never regret it.

Quote of the Day:
"Did you know that there's someone that if you press 1 and then play Mary Had A Little Lamb, it'll call them? I know from experience."

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Letter from Harrisburg

If you'd like to read my latest Letter from Harrisburg, you can go to and scroll down down down past news and sports to "Daffodils, like little miracles, bloom brighter every year."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Moments of Truth

One thing that really bothered me when we were in Kenya was all the superstition. For example, AIDS was caused by someone putting a curse on you, you had to pray just right before digging a grave or the dead person would come back to haunt you, and you had to wave branches in a funeral procession to scare the devil away. In the short time we were there, we heard of probably a hundred such cause-and-effect beliefs and were told that the lives of traditional village people were ruled by thousands of them.

Even though our son Steven spent the last four years in a Christian and relatively modern environment, he still retains a number of these beliefs. If you see a certain snake, for instance, you break a stick into seven pieces and it won’t bite you. You have to do certain things—I’ve never heard the specifics—to keep the devil away. The life of the cat is in the tail, and if you cut it off, the cat will die.

Our theory so far has been that arguing with him over these things would be pointless and if we fill him up with Truth, the Error will gradually disappear. It is easy to feel superior and scientific compared to him and his people, but a conversation this evening reminded me that we are not so far removed from the same sort of belief system.

I gave Steven and Jenny cheese and crackers for a bedtime snack and had a few bites myself. Steven watched me eat and then said, "Mom? Why when you eat your eye goes up and down?"

I had forgotten about this little quirk of mine and was rather proud of him for noticing. When I chew, my right eyelid bobs up and down. So I told him the story.

I was born with a big red blood blister on my right eyelid. Mom wasn’t too worried about it since I seemed to see just fine. But one day an older Amish woman pulled her aside and told her what she ought to do. "You take your baby out when the moon is waning," she said, "and you rub the red lump and tell the moon that as it gets smaller, it should take this lump with it."

Thankfully Mom recognized her advice for what it was, the traditional Amish "bracha" (healing power) with its dark and unholy undertones. Instead of asking the moon to take the bump away, she trusted God to take care of it, and by the time I was about a year old it was gone.

My eye looks perfectly normal, but the eyelid still has this odd way of bobbing up and down. Maybe that was intentional, so that forty years later I could teach my new son another nugget of Truth.

And like I said, we are not so very far removed from the traditional African views of cause and effect.

Quote of the Day:
"I was just talking to the furnace about your mom."
--Paul, answering Amy when she burst into the room (where he was telling me about the new heating system) and wondered what was going on. Amy leaned against the wall and howled for about five minutes, then went to school the next day and told all her friends. Paul knew this because he was substitute teaching that day and had to bear the humiliation of Amy’s friends cackling at him.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Flu

About a month ago, after nursing my family through two months of almost constant sickness, I succumbed to the bug. It was awful. The worst part of it was that I simply couldn’t kick back and be sick. Everyone kept pestering me with questions and waking me up with urgent requests.

Since I write about the trivia of my life, I described my experience in my Letter from Harrisburg column in the paper, attempting to put a humorous twist on what I saw as the inevitable result of signing up to be a mom and coming down with the flu.

I honestly was not trying to get revenge by writing about my experience. In fact, everyone I wrote about got to preview the article with full veto power. But something lovely and entirely unexpected came out of it.

I am once again sick with the flu, a different strain this time, with a sandpaper throat and leaky-faucet nose, which is not a lovely experience. But my family is treating me like a queen.
"Can I do anything for you?"
"You stay in bed and I’ll take care of things."
"Shall I make you some tea?"
"Are you as miserable as you look?"
"Do you have a headache?"

I thought it was impossible, but here I am, a feverish mom of six swaddled in blankets and heating pads, free to be sick until I get well. God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

Quote of the Day—
"It’s called ‘casserole,’ from which comes the Greek word for ‘Mennonite.’"
--Matt, when Aunt Bonnie brought a hot dish and Ben wondered what it was.