Monday, May 30, 2005


I have my monthly article due tomorrow so I am of course in Desperation mode, having been occupied with Irene's funeral and Amy's graduation this month, neither of which lend themselves to having time and energy to write.

So today, when others were happily relaxing on the holiday, I had my nose to the keyboard.

By this time tomorrow I hope to be all done and have that huge sense of relief that makes it all worthwhile.

Quote of the Day:
"This last kind of deodorant I got is Christian deodorant. It doesn't work on Sundays."
--anonymous friend of Emily's

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Steven and the Birds

Steven has this amazing way with birds.

If you peruse the new BMS yearbook you will see a picture of Steven at the zoo with about five parroty-looking birds perched on his head, shoulders, and arms. He just somehow charmed them, the others said.

Yesterday Russell finished siding the house (WOO-HOO!!) and in the process flushed out a nest of half-grown starlings from the porch rafters or somewhere. Apparently he suggested to Steven that he make pets out of them which would have been perfectly ok except that Steven took this as license to take them into the house.

I entered the story at this point when I heard this commotion* in the living room and rushed in to find Steven chasing after two birds that were fluttering in opposite directions. He looked guilty and frazzled, and I’m afraid I blew a gasket when I found out what he was up to.

Steven and the birds were promptly dispatched outside. He managed to keep them on the porch, and dug a bucket of dirt in the garden and dug through for worms to feed them. I am not one to appreciate birds in the living room or worms on the porch so this was all kind of a trial to me.

Anyway, back to this kid’s amazing way with birds, I looked out at one point and he was sitting on the porch swing, bent forward, with one bird on his head and one on his back. All three just sat there quietly for a long time.

Later, Steven told me that the birds were screaming so he told them to calm down, and they did.

If I can survive Matt’s science experiments and Emily’s painting messes and Jenny’s nonstop chatter, I suppose I can survive this as well. And if Steven is a famous veterinarian someday, he’d better thank me.

* “commotion” at our house is probably “complete pandemonium” at yours; “commotion” at your house is probably “mere background noise” at ours

Quote of the Day:
“Do you need a campaign before you can have a press conference?”
--Jenny, who must be a typical non-voting but consumed-with-politics Mennonite

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Next Day

Normally, I get up at 6:30a.m. and Paul gets up at 7:00. But this morning we were both awakened at 7:30 by Ben in his school uniform exclaiming, "Aren’t you guys up yet?" Today is his last day of school and I guess he didn’t want to miss it.

The van is still full of graduation gifts, plates of tortilla rounds, and balloons. A huge spray of flowers that graced the front of the church last night now sits incongruously on the kitchen island. Amy the glowing graduate is still sleeping, her lovely agonized-over wine-colored dress no doubt draped limply over the back of a chair.

This is the flip side of the hype and excitement and preparation and pomp and glory: this indescribable fatigue, the letdown, the mess.

This is the cost of celebration. But it was worth it. Amy and the others will never forget that night and how it all came together—the speeches, the clothes, the decorations, the food, the gifts, the people who came to congratulate.

And will someone please, please tell me how that tiny pink little girl I used to have turned so quickly into a young woman getting her diploma?

Quote of the Day:
"It feels like the morning after."
--Paul, shuffling into the living room at 7:40 this morning

Monday, May 23, 2005

More Poetry

“More poetry in the Shoe,” said Tom, way back when.
Ok, here’s some more.

The Nigglenile
By Jenny, age 6

The Prince and Princess lived quite a while
But soon were killed by the Nigglenile!

Soon they had a new princess and prince
And they were killed by the Nigglenile for days aglince.

They had a new prince and princess
And the Nigglenile tried to kill them.

They climbed up a tree
So they could be safe and thee
So the whole kingdom lived happily ever after.

* * *
My Cold
By Emily, age 14

My nose just keeps on twinge-ing up.
It makes strange sounds like sniffer snuff.
My eyes are filling up with tears,
I told my cold, “Now that’s enough!”

* * *
Mom’s Saturday Lament
(Sung to the tune of Day by Day. Use sparingly for maximum effect (guilt, we hope).)

Why can’t this house stay clean for just one day?
Oh how I wish it wouldn’t be this way.
I vacuum, dust, and scrub and clean some more;
I turn around, it’s like it was before.
Help me Lord, to keep the right perspective
My children will be grown and gone someday.
I’ll miss them in moments when I’m reflective,
But oh how nice to have it clean to stay!

Quote of the Day:
"Sorry we do not have a TV and I realize that there's only 2% of the population that doesn't have a TV so bye."
--Ben the stats guy, dealing with a telemarketer

Friday, May 20, 2005

Black Band-aids

You know, they really ought to make black band-aids. Steven has had a sore on his nose for the last few days and a normal "flesh" colored bandage stands out like a neon green one on mine. This morning I colored a band-aid black with a magic marker, which was an improvement but far from perfect.

When we were in Kenya we noticed that not even there did they have black bandaids. Why not? Was it because only the white Westerners used band-aids? Strange.

I did a bit of hunting on the internet today and found a few links. One was a story by an African-American wondering this same thing—why aren’t there any black band-aids? This person noted that you can get NFL bandaids, Smurf band-aids, neon pink band-aids, and flesh-colored band-aids, but not black or dark brown. He/she also noted that they don’t recall ever meeting anyone with skin the color of normal band-aids.

The other link was to a pharmacy that offered brown and black bandaids but was out of order.

Emily thinks when she grows up she’ll make and market black bandaids and make a ton of money.

Quote of the Day:
"I’m not wrestling. I just have my leg over his head."
--Steven, when Ben had asked him to stop and Emily told him he should only wrestle with people who want to wrestle and quit when they ask him to stop. Is this guy learning Real Smucker Logic or what?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Honestly, this is too much drama for one day.

Within the last 24 hours I talked to my sister on the phone and learned that the pastor and the worship leader in their church both resigned, sending huge shock waves through their (huge) church, and everyone is calling her to dump and since they are good friends with the pastor, she and her husband know the Inside Scoop and feel like they are thrust into the middle of the situation even though they are the newcomers on the scene and WHAT are people implying about the role her husband should play in all this??

I also talked to an extended-family member who is in shock because all of a sudden all kinds of wild family secrets are coming out of the woodwork and Aunt Jean isn’t quite who she always seemed to be and an old friend of the family has more significance than she ever dreamed.

Then I talked to my brother who took an overloaded semi over a 16-ton bridge and met a police car about a quarter-mile further and barely managed to save his hide by turning into a Georgia-Pacific distributing center. I’ll grant this doesn’t have the drama of the previous phone call but my brother tells it in such a way that your heart pounds just like his when you "see" that police car turning the corner.

Then there is all the normal drama of life on top of that like a raccoon scattering a bag of trash over the yard, finding out that Steven shared his ice cream cone with Miss Kropf’s dog on Sunday (yes, they took turns licking), sending Ben down to the creek to look for the tent that the ‘middle kids’ set up without asking and that floated away when the creek rose, and sewing Amy’s graduation dress which involves lots of nailbiting drama.

Like I said, it was almost too much for one day. My friend Sharon asked me today if it would work out to get together to have a nervous breakdown some day this week. I’m thinking Friday should do.

Quote of the Day:
"It’s hard, when you have two people that like you, to decide which one to marry."
--Jenny, who has no reason that I know of to worry about this yet

Sunday, May 15, 2005


"That’s all that’s left of a life," my sister-in-law said yesterday. "A mound of dirt, fading flowers, and memories."

We were standing beside her mother’s grave, most of the people having gone home and the cemetery guy in his overalls pottering around raking up the last of the dirt.

As a minister’s wife in a church with a large percentage of elderly people, I am used to funerals. I have family and friends who haven’t been to a funeral in probably 15 years, and I can’t imagine. I have been at big funerals and small ones, funerals where we laughed and funerals where we cried and funerals where we did neither. I have seen what goes on behind the scenes, from making food for the meal afterward to stepping into the church nursery to nurse the baby and finding two black-suited funeral-home guys relaxing in the rocking chairs.

Most of these funerals have been for people who were no relation to me and who spent the last few years in a nursing home, which makes the final goodbye tinged with relief rather than deep grief. But in the last 6 months they have been closer to home.

Paul’s dad passed away in November. This time it was us on the receiving end of food and flowers, we who gathered to plan the funeral and who solemnly filed into the church in front of hundreds of people.

And yesterday we buried Geneva’s mom. Geneva, my brother Phil’s wife, is an only child, a weighty burden to bear at the best of times and a nearly-impossible load when one’s parents grow old and die. Her mom had such a bad heart that she couldn’t walk across the kitchen without gasping for breath, so a week and a half ago she had heart surgery. All went well for nearly a week, but then something went wrong, her heart stopped, and she was on life support until they shut down the machines the next day.

So there we were at the hospital, trying to be family for her because we realized that the whole weight of these decisions was on her and Phil. Should they pull the plug, first of all? Then, which funeral home, which casket, which day for the funeral, which songs, who should officiate?

Paul ended up calling the funeral home and working out arrangements for the service, bless him, since Geneva didn’t have any big brothers to do it.

The funeral was simple and nice and people told Irene goodbye and we buried her, and Geneva was left with, as she said, a mound of dirt, fading flowers, and memories.

And a lot more. What a blessing it is to those who come behind us to live a good life and die a good death. Everyone had good memories of Irene and knew that she had finished her work and was ready to go. No lingering doubts, no terrible shock, no nagging what-if’s. Just a gentle goodbye. What a gift.

Quote of the Day:
"I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

On Seekers and Such

Who would have thought that last post would generate such discussion?

First, to the ones who were troubled by the "judgmental" tone, your concerns may have merit because I genuinely disliked those "Amish" people I met. I was trying to be friendly to the mom, who was holding a baby. This is how the conversation went:
Me: Polite question about her children.
Lady: Answer the question, gooshy-goo to the baby, say something to her teenagers off to the left.
Me: Polite question about where they live.
Lady: Answer the question, gooshy-goo to the baby, talk to her teenagers.
Me: polite question about her husband’s work.
Lady: Answer the question, gooshy-goo to the baby, talk to her teenagers.

It’s really hard to have a conversation with someone who won’t toss back the conversational ball.
My slightly-creepy feeling about all this was compounded by the fact that right beside us her teenage daughter was goofing off with her stepbrother in such an inappropriate way that it nearly made my skin crawl and the mom did nothing about it. It all seemed so incongruous with the whole Amish-imitation dimension.

So…afterwards I was trying to be charitable and see the humor of the situation but I willingly acknowledge that my motives were probably less than loving and I should examine my heart.

And, on another rabbit trail, I notice a few people use the term "seeker" for these folks. Having watched a long line of people from outside the Amish/Mennonite culture pass through the church, I feel that the term is often a misnomer.

As I see it:
True seekers genuinely want to live God’s way. The others are usually motivated by lofty visions of the "simple life."
True seekers think and pray long and hard about joining the Mennonite church. The others act on impulse and just as quickly grow disillusioned.
True seekers are willing to submit to a brotherhood even if things don’t always make sense to them. The others are determined to do things in their own way and on their own terms.
True seekers ask lots of questions and have a teachable spirit. The others tend not to listen to anyone.
True seekers wait a few years to establish credibility before they try to change anything in the church, and then they do it quietly and one-on-one. The others make a lot of noise, publicly, very soon after the disillusionment sets in.

As you may have guessed, I have found the "others" difficult to work with, and trying to help them feels like casting pearls before swine.

There are certainly true seekers who find that our church is not a good fit for them and leave amiably, but I wish to extend my admiration here to those who have successfully made the transition, most notably our friends TH, MH, and PL. I know it hasn’t been easy for them, and I think they ought to give Seeker Seminars, showing people how it’s done. In addition, they have all challenged me to a more genuine walk with God, and MH is a writer who has often encouraged me. Our church is better for having had them among us.

Quote of the Day:
"I wonder who ever came up with the theory that green beans are edible."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Those Amish Wannabes

There is a strange new current running among the modern-day-hippie, back-to-nature, goat-in-the-backyard types, and that is to try to be Amish.

Back when my brothers were young and scoffed at as "dumb Dutch" in public school, it was inconceivable that someday the Amish would develop this mystique and romanticism among the "Englisch."

Some time ago, standing in line at Walmart, I saw a guy who was trying to look Amish. He had some major details all wrong, most notably the look on his face. I wanted to go tell him he looks way too pleased with himself to be a real Amishman.

A few days ago I met a whole family of this stripe. Bearded, suspendered man. Mom and daughter in white coverings and dresses with black aprons.

However, the whole effect was as incongruous as if I would decide to be Indian and try to wear buckskin, sit in a sweat lodge, and smoke peyote.

Mister had a striped shirt under his suspenders. The mom’s dress was much too short, and her and the daughter’s dirty, wrinkled kappa were vaschted over their buns.

My Amish aunts, who carefully starched and ironed their kappa on Saturdays, would have sat down in their rocking chairs and died before going out in public in anything so schlappich and flatschich.

In addition, both the mom and dad were divorced and remarried (verboten among the Amish of course) and the older daughter, who wore a scarf but wasn’t quite as "Amish," was dreadfully unladylike, unlike my cousin Lorene, who sat perfectly still all through Dawdy’s funeral in her neat black dress, with every hair in place and a careful candy-cane-shaped curl dripping down in front of each ear. (I was nine. Those curls were impressive.)

Conversing with the mom, I mentioned that I used to be Amish, a broad hint that she ought to ask this expert how she could be a little more authentic. Instead, she went into raptures about her new treadle sewing machine.

Ah well, it’s a free country, I guess. But my advice to the people who want to be Plain and Simple—not that I expect them to listen—is to wear bandanna scarves, order some jumpers from LLBean, read your Bible, and remember that cleanliness is next to Godliness. But pleeeeease don’t try to be Amish.

Quote of the Day:
"I just want you to know you’re invited to my funeral when I die."
--Jenny’s little friend Deana, to her friend Janane, when all the other little girls were inviting each other to their birthday parties

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day

Paul gave me a porch swing for Mother’s Day. I was Slightly Suspicious (there’s good reason I have a Mom proverb that says, "Moms know everything") but I wasn’t positive. Then I got up early and peeked out the office window and there it was.

I went out there for my devotions and it was perfect. Russell Gerig has been here almost daily, re-siding the house, and it is looking exactly like I wanted it to look, like a 1911 porch and not a 2005 porch, solid and white. I decided if Jesus came and sat beside me on the swing I would really be in heaven. I am so blessed.

Japheth Stauffer, whom I knew at Stirland Lake, Ontario when he was a small child, sent me something he wrote for Mother’s Day. I want to share a condensed version with you:

As I grew up, Mother was always something of a fixture. Just as you get light by turning on a light switch, so when you would get a skinned knee, Mother was there. When I would wake up in the middle of the night with a bad dream, or get hurt feelings when someone at school said something that wounded me, Mother was always there. It never occurred to me to wonder if she would have liked to be somewhere else, or if she would like to work at the job she used to. I felt that God must have given my mother to me instead of the other way around.
It had never occurred to me that it was a real chore to get up in the middle of the night with me and that the only reason was because you loved me. I never considered that maybe you would have liked to have a career outside of our home but you chose instead to do with a little less. I never realized that naps were just as much for mothers as for children, and often you needed more than we would allow.
You would always hug me so tight, and I didn't know it was because you didn't want me to grow up too fast, or that you knew all too soon, I would be gone. Mother was always someone we came home to! I never thought what it must be like for her to see her brood grow up and go away. I never thought about these things, they just were!

How amazing it is when children rise up and, instead of calling for Mom to make breakfast, they call their mothers blessed. Today in his blog post Matt included a little tribute to his mom and acknowledged the gray hairs he’s given me. It’s so cool when children finally "get it," although I don’t think Matt will truly get it until, like Japheth, he becomes a dad.

And, in the midst of porch swings and tributes to moms, my heart breaks for a woman I know who just lost her daughter to suicide. The girl was such a sweet little thing back when she was Matt’s classmate and Paul’s student. Mothering can be the most glorious job on earth and the most hideously painful.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, I’ve always been so happy about you, that you’re such a special mom."

May Column

My Letter From Harrisburg is available at
I have a list of people that I forward the column to each month. If you'd like to be added to this list (free of course) drop me a line at

Quote of the Day:
"It's not that they fight so much; it's just that I get tired of all the violence."
--anonymous mom, talking about her boys

Saturday, May 07, 2005


I love it when I’m right.

On Tuesday I went to town in the Radish, my red Taurus, and noticed that the kleenexes sticking out of the box in the front seat were all shredded, like a mouse had chewed them. "Probably Emily had a case of nerves after a hard day at school and sat there and tore up kleenexes on the way home," I figured before I discarded the torn tissues.

Two days later I drove to town again and again the kleenexes were shredded. Very strange. And I didn’t think any one had used the car in the meantime. "I think there’s a mouse in my car," I announced, but I don’t think anyone believed me.

I set a mousetrap next to the kleenexes and the next morning I looked and behold, a mouse was caught in it. Thankfully Ben doesn’t mind emptying mousetraps so he dispatched it for me in the fescue field. And the family knew that Mom was right after all with her strange suspicion.

It would have been nice to be wrong, in a way, because who wants a mouse in their car? (If this had been my sister-in-law Bonnie, and if the mouse had shown itself while she was driving, we would have found Bonnie and the car wrapped around a tree.)

But, as I said, it was nice to be right.

Quote of the Day:
"I gotta go get my hormones before I kill my children."
--Anonymous friend of mine (the one with dentures)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


For a non-teenager like myself, there's not much as frustrating as an uncooperative computer. Today, as some of you noticed, Life in the Shoe went completely blank. I fiddled and clicked, prayed and pounded, wished and begged. Nothing. I asked Paul for help. He couldn't do anything. Ooooooh nooooo all those posts gone and even worse all those nice comments. Weep.

Then I had the presence of mind to call on my friend Tom, a brilliant and helpful fellow over at Iced Tea Forever. (Tom, how do I link you?? Wanna comment and include your address?) "Republish the blog," he suggested. I did just that and it WORKED. Yessss!!!!!!! Applause, thanks, gratitude, relief.

Quote of the Day:
"Oh, a cat's life! Mom, do you know why I say, 'Oh, a cat's life!'? Because a cat's life is just wonderful. They can sleep whenever they want to; they don't have to ask before they cross the road; they can scratch and bite people whenever they want to and they never get punished; they can kill mice whenever they want to and they don't have to ask to go hunting."
--Jenny, who would actually hate being a cat because she couldn't talk all day

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Public Speaking

I finally figured out why I like public speaking so much.

I average about one speech a month, but last week I gave two. The first was to the Junction City Business and Professional Women’s Club, about Kenya, and the second was to the ladies at the Spring Tea at the Mohawk Community Church, about Blooming Where You Are Planted.

(That same week, I also hosted birthday parties for Jenny and Matt and had an article deadline, which may be a clue why I was plotting a book about Mom’s Great Escape.)

Most people rank public speaking right up there with snakes as one of their greatest fears. Not me. I totally enjoy it. It energizes me, unlike shopping and planning meals.

Anyway, like I said, it finally dawned on me why I enjoy it so much. (Note here that I have three teenagers, all Smuckers.) I get up there to talk and everybody listens to me, no one interrupts, and no one argues. They all watch me with rapt attention, and nobody rolls their eyes or mutters, "That doesn’t make any sense." Afterward, they affirm that I had valuable things to say and ask if they can buy my book.

That’s why I love public speaking.

Quote of the Day:
Paul: Amy will need a special husband that won’t let her win all the arguments.
Emily: But but but what about me??
Paul: Oh, you will too.
Emily: Whew. I want to know I’m just as good of an arguer as Amy is.

Monday, May 02, 2005

A Novel Idea

I have another idea for a novel. How about a story about a 42-year-old Mennonite minister’s wife who gets tired of feeling like she has to be all things to all people and…well, should she leave or resign or what?

I got started thinking about this when I read a book from the library about a 40-year-old woman with three snotty teenagers and a doctor husband who was at the beach with her family and without really thinking it through she took a walk down the beach and walked away from her life and went and started another life in another town. Of course, she soon replicated her former life as she took in a stray cat and then befriended a single mom and then took care of a boy whose mom left him and finally she had all the necessary epiphanies and ended up back with her husband.

Well, heaven forbid that I do anything like that but I think we all have our fantasies of escape when life gets stressful, like the bride that took off recently just before her wedding.

I think in my novel the leading character should leave her busy life to maybe go take care of her aging parents for a couple of months and there she will have all kinds of adventure and solve a mystery or two and have a great relaxing time and meet her old crush from high school and be relieved she didn’t marry him.

Meanwhile, back home, everyone will of course have all these disasters because the mom isn’t there to prevent or solve them.

Then she’ll come home ready to have her old life back again but lo, nothing will be the same. Her family will fall all over themselves offering to cook and do laundry, certain people in church will realize that they should actually do something about problems they observe rather than expecting the minister or his wife to solve them, her husband will appreciate her with unwavering devotion expressed by serving tea in bed every morning, and all the people in her life who talk too much will take up journal-keeping instead.

As I said, this would be a work of fiction.

I’m open to ideas for the title and further story lines.

Quote of the Day:
"Chad’s cuter than he is!"
--Amy, affirming that Aunt Margaret married the right guy, when she found out that a man she recently met was one of Margaret’s former beaux

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Randy's Question

I like Randy, one of Paul's many nephews. He has always had this conversational knack of asking the right questions to get people talking, and of listening to the answers.

For example, a while back Randy asked me if I ever plan to write a novel. Now how many 20-somethings do I know who would ask a 40-something aunt such a question? Not many.

I told Randy that I am not a fiction writer but if I ever write a Bethany-House-style novel the heroine will be ever so nice BUT fat and a bit ugly, AND she will marry the tall, dark, handsome hero. On second thought, maybe the handsome hero should have flaming red hair and be a great conversationalist.....(like Randy of course.)

Quote of the Day:
"I've learned a little from Mom and a lot from Zits."
--Matt, on what to say and not say to girls