Friday, September 30, 2005

Trip Plans

This week looks like a big mountain to climb. The plans are: Thursday I fly to Minnesota, rent a car, and drive to my Mom and Dad’s two hours out in corn country. The next day I bundle Mom and Dad (age 85 and 88) into the car and drive to the airport. We then fly to Pennsylvania.

In PA we go to my sister’s house and the next day we go to my niece’s wedding. Annette is the oldest grandchild and the first to get married, hence all the trouble to get Mom and Dad there.

The following Tuesday we reverse the process—the three of us fly to MSP, rent a car, and drive the folks home. I spend the night and fly home to Oregon the next day.

So, I am trying to get everything ready here so the family can survive in my absence, (Amy is already at my sister’s so I don’t have Miss Responsible to look after things here) and also trying to plan the logistics of transporting two elderly people who are of mostly sound mind but are hard of hearing and tire easily.

I have visions of Dad getting all confused in the airport men’s room or of having too much luggage and not enough arms. However, I have found that the things I fear almost never come to pass and the things that never occur to me are what I should have worried about.

Quote of the Day:
"Stephanie gets grounded for what she does and I get grounded for what I don’t do."

Rosie's Observations

Paul's sister Rosie over at Joyful Noise tells what it was like to take care of Jenny the weekend we were gone to Kevin and Brenda's wedding. It's interesting hearing about my child from someone else's perspective.

Quote of the Day:
Me: What's wrong?
Me: Hmmm. Rinse them off.
Matt: Boy, after you're a mom for a while, certain things don't carry much significance.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Sacking and stacking 50-pound sacks of grass seed for 8 hours a day in a dusty, rumbling, cavernous warehouse is a unique experience producing a rare breed of men: the Seedsackers.

Here, in their own words gleaned from the dry-erase board posted behind the bagger, are a few ways you can recognize a Seedsacker—as opposed to a mere mortal.

1. Can recognize any song on KLOVE just from the first three notes
2. Uses his fingers to clean out his ears
3. Considers his job to be very manly
4. Eats a burrito in 2 gulps and a corn dog in 3
5. Eats the entire pack of burritos (8—that his mom was planning to feed the whole family with) in one sitting
6. Can sympathize with the builders of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
7. Shudders at the words “rice bran”
8. Breaks into the Hallelujah Chorus at first mention of getting off fescue and onto ryegrass
9. Comes over and gloats to the next worker after his own shift is over
10. Drinks water straight from a 1-gallon milk jug
11. Doesn’t care if food lands on the floor
12. Uses the back of his arm for a kleenex
13. Sings like a coyote in a trash compactor
14. Dances like a hippo with a broken hip
15. Won’t in a million years let someone see him singing or dancing
16. Has long conversations with himself
17. Does about 10 stupid things in a day’s time, but doesn’t tell anyone save fellow seed sackers or really close friends
18. Can fix any object in the world with duct tape
19. Tries to make his day sound worse than it was
20. Thinks that the forklift has an ornery personality
21. [Censored item involving phlegm color]

And then there is the really special type of Seedsacker, an elite corps of men. How to recognize The Night Guy:

1. Squints at the moon
2. Always looks like he just saw a ghost
3. Shudders at the word “blackout”
4. Thinks a warehouse at night is scarier than a haunted house
5. Favorite song is “Hold on my child, joy comes in the morning”

Special thanks to Matt, Justin, and Brandon

Quote of the Day:
“It’s kind of annoying when you have to say ‘okay’ all the time.”
--Steven, who is still learning what to do and not do with a mom and dad

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Yesterday Amy flew to Pennsylvania to help my sister, who just had a baby, for two weeks.

The day before that, Mrs. Coffey from next door asked if Emily could take care of her cat and chickens all week while the Coffeys go to Denver.

This is payoff time: when after long years of parenting your children can go out and have the skills to serve someone else.

Quote of the Day:
"I went in the bathroom and she asked me five questions, caught her breath, and asked me one more before I ever said anything."
--Emily, after she washed Jenny’s hair on Saturday

Monday, September 26, 2005

Similar Photo

Here's a photo I found on the Star-Tribune's website. It must have been taken shortly after the one in our newspaper.

News Photo

Today on the front page of the paper was this photo that I keep going back to because there’s something so intriguing about it. A young man in waders is standing in water and holding the hand of an elderly, very wrinkled woman who seems to be in a boat and is wiping a tear from her eye.

The caption reads: "Spc. Jon Eric Miletello of the Louisiana National Guard consoles his grandmother, Bell Vaughn, whose home was flooded in Erath, La."

The woman, with her sad eyes and her hair combed straight back, resembles my mom. I cringe to think of my mom ever being flooded out of her house like this.

What a story, captured in this picture: a tired, grieving grandma leaving her home and a fine young grandson doing his duty with compassion and gentleness.

I hope the photographer gets some sort of recognition, and I hope my boys would conduct themselves like this if the situation arose. (And may my girls someday marry the type of guy who would go rescue his grandma in a flood.)

Quote of the Day:
"There were 8 Smuckers that fought in the Civil War; 7 on the Union side and 1 on the Confederate."

Sunday, September 25, 2005


By 8:30 Saturday morning Paul had fetched 400 ears of corn and the whole family was ready to start husking (except Emily, who is seldom ready for anything on time). Soon the first dishpan was full and I took it inside and started blanching.

Paul and Amy were in charge of cooling the corn in big tubs out by the garden hose, and as soon as the first few batches were ready, Amy and Emily started cutting. Amy cut with the knife and Emily with the creamer, since I like a mixture of textures.

Thus were we all kept busy, each with our individual tasks and the whole effect like a well-tuned machine. By 10:30 the husking was done and by 11:00 Paul was done silking. Matt hosed down the folding chairs and baskets. The girls kept cutting. The younger ones got a break.

Paul took over the blanching and I made lunch—corn on the cob, of course, plus pizza for those who couldn’t face any more corn.

The last bag of corn was in the freezer by 1:00. By two, all the stainless steel bowls were back in the pantry and I was mopping the floor.

This is the right way to do corn.

Quote of the Day:
"I think that if you pray out loud an average of twice a week, you sort of tend to repeat yourself."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

And the Connection Is..?

This week I spoke to a group of homeschooled teenagers about how I got started writing and how they can do the same. A fun group—one girl writes and illustrates horse stories and another has already written three novels.

The woman in charge had sent out an email ahead of time telling them who I was and what I would be talking about. One of the teens’ mother told me, with great amusement, that one line in the promo email read:

"She doesn’t have a TV, but she has a great sense of humor."

Later this mother and I were talking about the fact that I am able to write about very religious material in the Register-Guard, which is a left-leaning newspaper. I could never have made this happen on my own, I told her, and added, "God has a sense of humor."

And she said, "He must not watch TV either."

Quote of the Day:
"You look like a punk Ringwraith."
--Another Lord of the Rings fan, to Matt, on their hiking trip. He was wearing a big black hooded sweatshirt and black sunglasses with amber reflective lenses

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mice in my Mind

AAAAACCCKKKK! These mice are messing with my mind. Now they’re getting into my sewing room. Today, for the second time this week I set a trap and when I came back to check on it, it was gone. Disappeared.

Me: Where is that thing? I know I set it right here. Really, I did.
Mouse ghost in my head: No, you didn’t. You’re all mixed up. Beginning of Alzheimer’s, you know.

So with skirt clutched around my knees or down on the floor with a flashlight I went carefully scouting around the room until I found the trap--with a floundering, squeaking mouse still in it--under the ironing board or behind a basket.


(Call Paul with shaking hands.) C-c-c-can you p-p-please come home ss-s-oon??

Too much more of this and my family will call for the men in white coats to come get me.

Quote of the Day:
"Something I like about being sick is you get lots of attention."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Jenny in School

Jenny's first day of school was a bit rocky, starting with when she burst into tears over her carseat being in the middle vs. beside the window. The situation was not helped by Emily exclaiming, "She's going to school in her carseat??

(Oregon requires carseats until childen weigh 60 pounds. I informed Emily that Jenny's fellow first-grader's mom says her daughter is so little she'll be going on her first date in a carseat.)

Jenny had one more little meltdown in school and ran to Ben for comfort. By the second day, she was an old hand at this, running down the sidewalk with her backpack bouncing. Now, two weeks later, she's an old pro, chatting about breaks and demerits and goals, just like her siblings.

I am still floundering just a bit with getting focused and actually getting something productive done while she's gone.

Quote of the Day:
"Poor Mom is going to start running out of Quotes of the Day."
--Emily, on Jenny starting school

Monday, September 19, 2005

Goodbye and Hello

A hard day yesterday, attending Cynthia’s funeral and burial. But necessary, to be able to say goodbye, close that door, and move on.

And then soon after we came home in the evening Emily discovered that Fleabags had died. She (yes, we found a diagram in a book and she was a she) had had diarrhea earlier in the day and by evening she was gone. I feel terrible and Emily is distraught. Apparently Steven’s instincts were right and Fleabags was too young to leave her mother.

But, a few bright moments in a dark day:

I met Mrs. Darling. She talks and acts exactly like you’d expect from her blog. And she said she’s decided she’s going to write more like me—just daily happenings rather than scraping around in the depths of her heart. Smile. I told her to please keep being herself which I know she will anyway after maybe one attempt at being someone else. She was rather in a fluster at the moment, talking to several people at once, and she turned to her mother and said, "I guess I’ll see you at the website" when she meant to say "at the burial."

Then at the supper Paul and I met Jerry and Dorcas Hoover. Dorcas is the author of House Calls and Hitching Posts, the story of Dr. Lehman who treated the Amish in Ohio for many years. I was delighted to finally meet her and we had lots to talk about.

Jerry told Paul that he is known as "Dorcas’s husband," and Paul said, "I am too."

Dorcas H. and I have a number of uncanny similarities—same first name, both mothers of three boys and three girls (mine are aged 6-19; hers are 6-20), both married to Mennonite preachers, both writers, both being published by Good Books.

A few differences--I'm still on my first book; she is on something like her 5th or 6th book and has sold probably a hundred times as many copies as I have.

One day, one friend and one kitten gone, two new friends made.

Quote of the Day:
"I think my husband needs to write a book. That way he’ll know what it’s like to give birth."
--Dorcas Hoover

Saturday, September 17, 2005


This is a strange sort of grief, a nostalgic sadness mixed with a bit of survivor's guilt and a lot of pain for Cynthia's family. Cynthia was more a part of my past than my present, and I can't imagine how it is for Jonathan and their children, especially that 13-year-old daughter, to face the future without her.

Our friend Marilyn was buried on her 40th birthday; Cynthia will be buried on her 43rd. I try not to wallow in questions of why, of the three of us, I'm the one that's still here, peeling peaches and doing laundry and all the other mom stuff. But the question still niggles at the back of my mind.

Tonight is the viewing; tomorrow is the funeral.

Quote of the Day:
"May you hold close to your heart the memories you are making. Set them on the shelves for dusting off and beholding when your family is grown."
--Cynthia, in an email before we left for Africa

Thursday, September 15, 2005


One of the many things Paul inherited from his dad and grandpa was a loud sneeze. (We won’t go into the time Grandpa sneezed 17 times in a row [his grandsons counted] one Sunday at Harrisburg Church.)

Last night I was getting something out of the trunk of the car when I heard Paul sneeze--close by, I thought. I looked around and was astonished to see him driving by in his pickup (with the window down) out on Powerline Road.

I went into the kitchen and there was Ben. He said, "Mom! You are not going to believe this! I was out at the picnic table and Dad went driving by in his pickup and I HEARD HIM SNEEZE!"

Just then Amy came bustling downstairs. "Oh, Mom, you are NOT going to believe this! I was up in my room and Dad was driving by in his pickup and I HEARD HIM SNEEZE!"

That was some sneeze.

Quote of the Day:
–Amy, imitating her dad sneezing

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


The email this morning had "Oregon Breezes" in the From line and my first thought was, "Oh, good, a message from Cynthia!" and then, just as quickly, I thought, "It can’t be from Cynthia; she died yesterday."

It was actually from her son, a brief note informing us of her death.

Yesterday morning, in the shower, I was talking to God about this. "Please, let her live. Please, isn’t there some way?" And that afternoon I heard she was gone.

Cynthia and I first met when we were both 19-year-old teachers at Lake Creek Mennonite School. She came from Estacada, Oregon, up in the mountains, and I came from Minnesota. That year we were thrust together—boarding in the same little house, riding in the same car, even sleeping in the same bed.

We were complete opposites. She was responsible, proper, angular, musical, settled, and scheduled. I was irresponsible, impulsive, plump, unmusical, and silly.

We boarded in Jason and Marilyn Schrock’s little house and ate our suppers with their family. Cynthia made sure she and I did the dishes every night. I persuaded her to try on Marilyn’s maternity clothes and the three of us had hilarious photo sessions.

She could be abrasive and blunt. I could be manipulative and silent. She thought I was too liberal. I thought she was completely close-minded. Like two fourth-graders who are best friends after a fight, we finally aired our grievances and sorted them out, and then we were friends. She was the braver one who made the first move to make peace.

Cynthia had a couple of serious crushes before Jonathan knocked on her door, and then I had the fun of watching their courtship from the sidelines. Jason and Marilyn’s kids and I persecuted them terribly, such as setting alarm clocks and timers under the living room chairs and couches the night they were going to have a nice visit there after church.

By the time she got married, I was dating, and she gave me more practical marriage and honeymoon advice than all the books put together.

We sent each other baby announcements and other updates over the years. We hugged and talked when we met. We were still opposites; we were still friends. A chance blunt phrase of hers could annoy me to distraction. And then she would send me a note like the one I’ve never thrown away: "You’ve made many a day," she wrote. I knew she meant it.

Cancer killed Marilyn Schrock in 1984, and cancer took Cynthia yesterday, so two of our gleesome threesome clowning around in maternity clothes are gone.

If Cynthia has her way, she and I will do dishes together at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Quote of the Day:
"Death is swallowed up in victory."
--I Corinthians 15:54

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Today's LFH

For today's Letter from Harrisburg I combined and embellished the recent blog posts about Emily's baptism and going garage saling with the girls.

Quote of the Day:
I tell you, when you're used to preaching and the people just listening, when somebody blasts out with an Amen it almost disconcerts you.
--Paul, on the way home from church today

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Shining Sinks

Since I’ve been on the FlyLady system I shine my kitchen sink twice a day. And like any recent convert I can’t keep this to myself. So I shine sinks wherever I go.

The other day we were at Phil and Geneva’s place. They just moved in with her dad in his very old house. Her mom wasn’t able to work much before she died, and Geneva works full time, so the kitchen sink was in need of some serious polishing.

I washed the dishes and set to, employing various powders, soaps, and scratchers. What fun. It was especially enjoyable simply because, as Karen Scalf Linamen writes, it’s always more fun to clean someone else’s kitchen.

Poor Geneva. She was feeling a bit intimidated, like I surely thought she was a terrible, lazy housewife. She had to tell me this, as I was having so much fun I was oblivious to the more subtle repercussions of my behavior.

It reminded me of my friend "Jane", years ago, who had lots of small children and would get behind with things, and our older friend "Susan" would come by to help her for a morning. Susan would spend all kinds of time polishing the sink, and Jane felt embarrassed and humiliated. And good-hearted Susan didn’t have a clue.

If I ever show up at your house and start polishing, please don’t take it personally. I’m just having fun.

Quote of the Day:
"It just sort of destroys a certain aspect of identity."
--Emily, when I had the audacity to make Jenny’s school dress from a similar pattern as hers

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I am having a serious caffeine buzz.

Even though I live in the Northwest, espresso capital of the planet, I have never gotten into the whole fancy-coffee scene. Give me a cup of tea in the morning and the occasional regular coffee and I'm fine.

Today I had to be in town early. I dispatched my business with great efficiency and then realized I was going to pass within a mile or two of where Amy works and I should stop in for a visit.

Amy works for her friend Heidi who has a food/espresso stand serving the employees of Monaco Coach, makers of seriously high-end motorhomes for buyers such as (pretty sure on this) Jeff Gordon and various rock stars and pro golfers.

I couldn't get hold of Amy on the phone so I cautiously cruised past driveway after driveway leading into this huge complex. Finally, on a whim, I crept into driveway #6 and there, just beyond the gate, was this little red building that I knew was Heidi's Eats N Treats.

The gate was open so I snuck through. Amy and the other servers were in their pre-lunch "lull" so they gave me a quick tour and tried to feed me. "Do you want some lunch?" "No." "Are you sure?"

I said I'd take some coffee. And since here was my chance to try something fancy, I specified "something chocolatey, caramelly...something like that."

"A caramel mocha latte?" Heidi said. (I think that's what she called it.) She squirted and poured and handed me this huge cup of a divine concoction that I sipped all the way home. And now my nerves are taut as guitar strings and I'll be WIDE AWAKE all day, I'm sure.

But I'd better not get hooked on those things until I no longer have a family to feed and clothe.

Quote of the Day:
"Can you hide these so Matt won't take them all to the warehouse?"
--Emily, the day Amy brought home a bunch of leftover chicken enchiladas

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Monday we went up to my brother’s place for Labor Day. Their cat had kittens not long ago so the cousins gave Emily a fluffy little calico. Geneva, my sis-in-law, thought it was a male. I knew, and she didn’t, how rare and valuable male calico cats are. Well, neither of us are anatomy or physiology experts so we couldn’t make a definitive decision on whether this is a normal cat or some rare gem.

Either way, Emily had her new kitten, named Fleabags, to replace Charlie. She put him in a box in the back of the van and we set off for home.

All the way home Steven sat behind me making far less noise than normal, something mysterious and sad setting off all my mom-radar alarms.
"Steven, is something wrong?"
"Is something bothering you?"

Paul was taking the boys to a baseball game five minutes after we came home but I was certain something was really wrong with Steven, and I was determined to dig it out of him. I hauled him into the office and asked him again.

Finally, in a sad little voice, the truth came out. He felt so bad, he said, that Emily’s kitten was taken away from its mother.

Every so often a curtain draws aside and we catch a glimpse of the grief Steven carries. It was torturous to look in his eyes because, of course, he was reliving his separation from his own mother, an event that must have happened when he was four or five and that we (and he) still know very little about.

What could I say? I held him tight and he cried a little bit. I reassured him with hollow-sounding promises that Emily will take good care of Fleabags and God is going to use the terrible things that happened to him to always give him a heart for children and animals and anyone less fortunate.

But honestly, what can you do and say when no words or anything else will make everything all better?

He went to the baseball game and enjoyed it and seemed to recover his spirits.

We are trusting that God will keep his promises and bring Steven beauty for the ashes of his early childhood and the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, I don’t have any scars on my right hand any more, so if I go to a baseball game I don’t know which hand to put over my heart."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


A while back Emily worked her way laboriously down a list of jobs and goals to prove that she is responsible enough to take care of a cat. Then she got a feisty black and white kitten from her friend Phebe and named it Charlie.

Charlie was a bit like Matt, male and always inviting trouble. He swiped his paw up through the slats of the porch swing to distract us from a peaceful conversation. He annoyed Katzie to death. He pounced viciously on the swimsuits drying on the porch rail.

Then he disappeared. Well, hey, you know how cats are, especially not-yet-fixed toms.

Some time later an awful smell wafted up from under the porch. Steven and Emily investigated, and there was Charlie, dead and decaying and horribly torn up.

Then I remembered a terrible cat-fight I heard in the middle of the night not long before he disappeared. It wasn’t a normal spit and snarl fight, but serious yowling and screeching. I remember hollering out the bedroom window but being too lazy to actually go out there to break things up. After all, you know how cats are, and at worst he’d have a torn ear in the morning.

I now think Charlie tangled with a raccoon or other wild beast and lost by a long way and crept under the porch to die.

I tell you, this is a haunting thought on dark nights: that torn-up, defeated little cat crawling away to die alone.

I have a new resolution that I have to get involved when the innocent suffer. Even if it means stumbling outside in jammies in the middle of the night. Even if it means—who knows what it might mean, but I just have to.

Quote of the Day:
"At least he died a noble death."
--Emily. You can see a picture of her and Charlie here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

End of an Era

This afternoon Jenny and I sat down and filled her lavender Hello Kitty backpack with a pencil case, a Bible, a pack of crayons that I would have died for at her age, and her lunch bag, carefully labeling everything with a permanent marker.

Tomorrow my baby goes to school.

Quote of the Day:
"I think there’s room in the backpack for my cuddly-blankie too."
--Jenny, in a timid little voice. Not sure who’s gonna need that blankie more, her or me.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Keeping Steven Busy

One of my biggest challenges this summer has been keeping Steven occupied. He loved school, which had both structure and lots of friends to play with. But this summer was another story.

Every morning he would leap out of bed and whip through his chores, and then he didn’t know what to do with himself. He would wander around the house like a restless ghost, and the only thing he really wanted to do was watch videos. We limit videos—games, movies, whatever—to half an hour a day, so that never occupied him for long and he’d be back to his aimless wandering or, worse, vaulting over the back of the couch or turning all the knobs and dials on Ben’s old-but-precious stereo.

So, I would be constantly trying to channel his energies. "Go shoot ten baskets." "Sit here and read this book for half an hour." "Come help me weed the garden."

I guess I’ve been spoiled by five children who for the most part have been exceptionally good at entertaining themselves, so it was a new one for me to have this son who didn’t have any interests to pursue on his own.

But just the last few days I’ve seen the tide slowly turning. Two days ago Steven went outside and ate grapes off the vine for about half an hour. (No stomachache yet.) Yesterday he and Jenny made little paper boats and sailed them in the bathroom sinks. Today he played with Legos for at least an hour, maybe two.

This is a great relief and joy.

Quote of the Day:
"You’re lucky because you have your veil on so the pine tree can’t poke you."
--Steven, to Amy

Friday, September 02, 2005


This dreadful news from New Orleans is frightening, especially the lawlessness. I was reading the paper and exclaiming about what sort of a generation we've raised that goes completely chaotic when the restraints of law are removed.

Paul said, "We like to think we're more civilized than people in places like Iraq but we just have a better system of control."

Matt said, "Don't despair too much, Mom. The same thing happened in the San Francisco earthquake in 1906."

I'm sure there are decent people there who are looking out for others and I sure hope if my family and I were in that situation we'd be among them.

Meanwhile, our prayers go out for all the displaced and suffering people in the entire area.

Quote of the Day:
"How much does God punish in this life? Was New Orleans an extra wicked city?"
--Emily. (I've been wondering the same thing.)

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Every year there are mice in the grass fields that head for shelter when the rains begin, but this year there was a veritable plague of them. They decimated fields--up to 75% of the crop in some places, and were so thick, some farmers said, you could see the grass moving eerily from the mice running through.

The rains have not begun but the mice are already looking for winter lodgings, which is why I kept a trap set under the kitchen sink.

On Wednesday of last week I checked the trap and there was a mouse, so I summoned Ben the Mouse Patrol to get rid of it. He tossed it over the fence and reset the trap.

An hour later, there was another mouse. And an hour later, another one. We caught eight before we went to bed, and at midnight I was awakened by Emily, who burst hysterically into our bedroom because a mouse was caught by the foot and was clattering around under the sink.

Ten mice in less than 24 hours, and then we left for Missouri. The kids at home caught a few more while we were gone.

Then my knights in shining armor saved the day--Matt went to Hurds Hardware and bought a can of spray foam insulation; Paul pumped it into all the holes under the sink.

No more mice. At least for now.

Quote of the Day:
"Hosht's micely kfonga?"
("Did you catch the mouse?"
--my mom, whenever we took a tumble