Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pitiful People

Nothing is as pitiful and pathetic as someone sick with the flu, hot and sleepy and miserable. This fever and sore throat bug has been ravaging our family and today it's Paul and Jenny that are bleary-eyed and flushed, and Matt doesn't look so good either.

Paul has been lying on the couch, pretty much dead to the world, for about three days. This evening his temperature was 103. He's the type that pushes himself to keep working even when he's sick, so when he lies around wrapped in blankets, I know he's SICK.

I can handle sick children and rather enjoy making motherly noises over them and bringing cold drinks with straws, but there's something about a strong, capable guy laid flat with the flu that just upsets my little world. Paul and Pitiful should not be in the same sentence. It's just wrong.

Quote of the Day:
"It was so boring. Everybody talked about obvious things and contemplated them like they weren't obvious."
--a certain teenager, talking about a Sunday school class she visited

Friday, December 29, 2006

Bonnie and Choice

This evening I got a phone call from my SIL Bonnie who was calling all the way from Florida where her family spent Christmas with her twin sister Connie's family.

Bonnie called to tell me that she was in a little Amish restaurant, and in the restaurant was a Choice Books rack, and on the rack was a copy of. . . my book!!

Bonnie, like many other people in my life, knows that I have been waiting anxiously to see if Choice will carry my book on their racks, since getting endorsed by them means that the numbers fly off the charts instantly, since Choice often orders thousands of books at one go.

So Bonnie, bless her heart, saw my book in this little Florida restaurant and not only called to tell me about it but also made a sales pitch for it to the people at a nearby table.

I like Bonnie.

Quote of the Day:
"Why did the guy die? Because he saw a bag that said 'marshmallows' on it so he ate them but actually the marshmallows were made of mud!!"[shrieks of laughter]
--Bonnie's 5-year-old son Trevin, who likes to make up jokes. I like him too.

Small World

Yesterday a guy named Lamar and his mom, Ruth, from Harrisburg stopped in. Ruth whipped out a letter and showed it to me. It was a Christmas form letter in red ink, and at the bottom it said something like, Do you happen to know Dorcas (Yoder) Smucker? She wrote a book. . .etc etc.

The letter was from Allan and Loyce Knutson of Grove City, Minnesota, who are the parents of Larry, who I graduated from high school with. And Allan happens to be a first cousin to Ruth.

So that was our small-world moment for the day.

Since the world is that small, maybe someone can help me locate something.

When I read through the Psalms, every so often a verse will jump out at me and dance through my head in a little song. "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion," for example. Or "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people."

But it seems no one else ever knows these particular little songs. The reason I know them is because we used to have a record of a group called the New Creation Singers, and they sang all these Scriptures set to music.

I would love to get hold of a recording of these songs, but I have been unable to find them anywhere. If you Google New Creation Singers, you get several more modern groups but not the one I remember. And Mom and Dad's record burned up in their house fire in 1987.

My memory is a bit sketchy but here's what I know: they were a small folksy group in the Midwest in the 70's. My brothers went to hear them once in Minnesota, and came home with a record which had a picture on the front of a wheat field with a young woman in a long granny skirt, holding a guitar, plus possibly another person or two.

I have no idea how well-known this group was, or how good they were. I naturally thought they were cool because my brothers did, but they must have had something solid to them if I still remember their songs 30 years later.

If this rings a bell with anyone, I'd love to hear about it. And if I could get a recording of their music, that would really be wonderful.

(Edited to add: WOW. Both the Internet and you Shoe readers are amazing. I got an email from Andrew, the accommodating community relations guy at Barnes and Noble who evidently not only hands out chocolate to authors but also untangles us 40-somethings from the Web. He sent me a link, I followed it, and there were all these New Creation recordings from the 70's, now turned into cd's. I clicked on a button to listen, and out came all my old favorites, clear as day. Two cd's are ordered. My thanks to Andrew and everyone else who went searching for me.)

Here's the link.

Quote of the Day:
"If a guy asks you out at Bible school, you better tell him he might not want to because he might have an article written about it."
--Emily's advice to Amy

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vacation from Vacation

Christmas vacation is wonderful but sometimes it's a bit much, as any mom knows. But it looks like today I'll get a break from the normal, which is not entirely a good thing.

Paul, Emily, Ben, and Steven are off to Willamette Pass to go skiing, Paul's Christmas gift to the children. They left early this morning, then returned after about 5 minutes because Steven forgot his coat. I had him get his sunglasses while he was here, then Paul remembered his goggles as well. Then they were barely out the driveway when Paul remembered his "ski key," a $40 item that lets them use the lifts, or something like that.

Matt was going to go skiing as well, but he and Jenny are sick. Matt holes up in his room and sleeps, and Jenny sleeps on the couch, flushed and pathetic-looking. So I don't hear much from either one.

And at 9:30 Amy leaves for six weeks of Bible School at BMA (Biblical Mennonite Alliance) Bible Institute in Indiana. She and three of her friends are driving, and classes start next week.

So I will no doubt spend my quiet day worrying about the skiers breaking their legs, taking temperatures, and feeling all teary and nostalgic. Amy is a sweetie and I will miss her. But she will be as close as her cell phone, and I can send her care packages, and I keep telling myself--

Quote of the Day:
"At least it's not the Emirates, at least it's not the Emirates, at least. . . "

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in Prison

Yesterday we had a nice relaxing dinner at home with "just us" where, remembering my brother's family and their loss, I thanked God fervently that we were all here. And we stuffed ourselves with ham (from the Herdmans' food basket in the drama the other night) and other good food. And we wrote down our predictions of what Christmas will be like ten years from now. (Paul guessed three in-laws and six grandchildren.)

After dinner Paul and I went with two other couples to the Santiam Correctional Facility in Salem, where we stood in the dining hall and handed out cookies, cards, and address books to over 300 inmates.

Santiam is at the bottom of the correctional funnel--the guys there are about to be released. "100 days!" one of them told us. Most of them were very grateful and returned our wishes for a merry Christmas.

The hardest part of it was seeing young guys that looked Matt's age, or younger. I had to wipe a few tears when they came through the line. What have they been through, and what will their future be like?

Then there was the booming bearded man who stunned us all by saying:

Quote of the Day:
"You guys Mennonites? I was born Mennonite; grew up in Holmes County, Ohio. My father was a pastor at Martinsburg Mennonite Church."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gotcha Day

Today it's two years since Steven came to America, so we again celebrated his Gotcha Day with a Kenyan meal. We decorated with carved animals and lesos (versatile dyed cloths), wore a few Kenyan garments, and tried to serve "real" Kenyan food. We plan to make this a Christmas Eve tradition.

Steven frying sakuma.

Making chapatis with a rolling pin from Kenya.
Jenny dishing up beans.

Our menu:
chai (sweet black tea with hot milk)
ugali (cornmeal mush with a play-dough consistency)
chicken in gravy (since I can't duplicate the chicken sauce in Kenya)
sakuma (chopped collard greens fried with onions and tomatoes)
cooked pinto beans
fresh pineapple
chapatis (kind of like tortillas)

Steven always wishes we could have omena with ugali. And what are omena?

Quote of the Day:
Emily:They're these little hard fish with eyes that stink--the fish, not the eyes.
Steven:They do not, they're yummy!

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Our family was heavily represented in the church school's Christmas program the other night: Paul MC'ed and ran the lights and sound. Amy directed the performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," (if you haven't read the book by Barbara Robinson, go do so now), and she was also Mrs. Bradley, Ben and Steven were relatively minor characters, Jenny was Gladys Herdman/the angel of the Lord (and cute as all get out and whatever else you'd expect a mom to say) and Emily stole the show as Imogene Herdman.

When I say she stole the show, I don't mean that she hammed it up and was all cute. I mean that it was downright scary how she simply turned into Imogene. When she went into the anteroom, she was still Emily with hair slicked back and a pretty blue dress. When she came out in her sloppy clothes with a long hank of hair hanging in her face and a mean look in her eyes, she was Imogene. She wasn't Emily playing Imogene, she WAS Imogene. And she stayed Imogene while she backed Alice Wendelken against the wall and threatened to push a pussy willow down her ear, and while she burped the baby Jesus, and while she cried beside the manger.

And then she went back in the anteroom and emerged as Emily, proper and smiling and lovely.

Tell me, what do we as proper Mennonite parents do with a daughter who is a born actress?

(Edited to clarify: a musical gift, for example, is easier for a Mennonite to develop in the larger world. Steven's choir is very straightforward--nice songs, polo shirts, khakis. Drama, however, gets much more complicated. The girls and I went to see Once Upon a Mattress at the local community college Amy and Matt attend. It was billed as being great entertainment for children, so of course I imagined how it would be to have Emily act in something like this. Well. It was full of innuendo in the dialogue, and the king was a lecherous skirt-chaser, and the girls' gowns were cut down to there and further. Is it possible to find an acting outlet for her that doesn't send the message that it's ok to compromise all your principles for the sake of art and talent and a good story?)

Quote of the Day:
"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"
--Jenny/Gladys/the angel of the Lord

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I've taken a rash of mortgage-telemarketer calls today. Every caller had a distinctly un-American accent. Yet almost all of them, if I let them get that far, told me their "name," which was always very down-home American--Adam Smith, Bob Wilson.

Only of course, it was, Hello Meesuz Smooka, my nem eez Bob Weelson.

Why on earth do these people, who are probably named Ashram or Pradanth, feel compelled to tell me they have some mid-Iowa name?

They'd be much more interesting to talk to if they actually told me the truth--for example--"My name is Marjar Paroji and I live in India and I am spending all night making these calls to help put my brother through college even though I hate my job." Then I'd listen. And if they were selling something worthwhile on commission, I might buy it just to help them out.

But I'm not gonna listen to a guy who claims he's Adam Smith and obviously isn't.

Quote of the Day:
"Probably your thing for your hair would work."
--Steven, eyeing my hairnet while figuring out how to catch minnows in the creek

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dorcas Enchanted

In the book, Ella Enchanted, a fairy places a spell on baby Ella, and until the spell is broken she is doomed to obey every command she is given.

Of course her wicked stepsisters take advantage of this, and tell her to give her the necklace her mother gave her, plus lots of other horrible things, and she does them even though she doesn't want to.

(Yes, this is a modern and much-revised Cinderella story.)

I can relate to Ella way too well. When I am in the presence of a stronger personality (most of the population, it seems), especially one of these people who automatically tells everyone else what to do, it's like I'm under a spell and I have to do what they say.

It is awful. And I get furious at myself. But I have no idea how to break the spell.

Paul and I as minister-and-wife are trying to deal with a difficult situation in our care, and we are in way over our heads, so today I made some phone calls trying to find someone more experienced that we could consult with. I called one counsellor, and his wife answered. No, they don't discuss situations over the phone, she said, and in a honeyed voice she started to set me up for an appointment, today, before she gave me the slightest clue about what their approach would be or if this was really what we wanted. It was like I was under the spell of the snake in Ella Enchanted. "Are you free in twenty minutes? We have an opening then," she coaxed in soothing tones. Honestly, it was like something was compelling me to drop everything and go and I had no choice. Finally by a great mental effort I forced myself back to reality, yanked my mouth open, and explained that I can't possibly set up an appointment without discussing it with Paul first.

Too weird.

Back when Jenny was a baby I went to Arco for gas one day and the young male attendant told me that no, I cannot pay outside even though I have a baby in the back seat. So I unbuckled Jenny and went in to wait in line. And this nice sweet lady came up to me and asked why I hadn't stayed in the car with my baby. I said the attendant said I had to pay inside. She was upset. "They're supposed to take your money out there if you have small children!" Then she patted my shoulder and honeyed me and told me to go right back out with my baby and tell that attendant I'm paying out there. Well, of all the foolishness, now that I was already inside, but like a dumb sheep I wandered back outside and tried to explain to the bewildered young man what I was up to. And then I went home and was mad at myself for two days.

My sis Becky tells me that it is ingrained in Middle Eastern Muslims to do exactly what they're told, without questioning anything. In fact, many suicide bombers are chosen randomly off the street and told this is their destiny: to go on that bus in ten minutes and yank this cord and blow themselves to "heaven." And they do it. Some time ago a Palestinian woman was caught just before she was about to set off a suicide bombing. The Western media questioned her extensively as to why was she going to do this, what was she thinking, didn't she consider her children? And the only answer she could give was, "But they told me to do it. They told me to."

Unfortunately, I can sympathize all too well with that woman.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: What exactly is 'lowing?'
Matt: Mooing.
Matt: But it just doesn't sound right to sing, 'The cattle are mooing. . ."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Internet Issues

Thursday night we had a ferocious windstorm that knocked down trees and power lines. Our lights blinked a few times but thankfully came back on and stayed on, unlike our neighbors' which stayed off for several days.

But the storm did something to our DSL, so we didn't have internet access.

I called for Matt the great fixer and turned him loose in the office. I prefer not to know what he does at these times--for all I know he chants strange incantations over bubbling pots of newts and frogs back behind the computer.

When he was done we could again access our email through dial-up, but we couldn't access the web.

I hadn't realized how dependent I was on being connected. Friday made me nervous, by Saturday I was downright jittery, and by Sunday I felt like I was having a caffeine withdrawal. But we kept waiting, since we figured it would heal itself when the rest of Harrisburg got its power back.

This morning (Monday) Paul was going to call Qwest. Meanwhile, I figured out that the fax didn't work and the old wall phone in the office didn't have a dial tone. Hmmm. I began crawling around the office, following this cord and that one from beginning to end, muttering strange incantations.

Finally I ended up under my desk where the phone cords plug into the wall. Cautiously I unplugged the white cord and plugged in the green one. And. . . .IT WORKED!!!!

I checked my blog and read the comments, feeling like I was sipping a cup of hot tea after a long cold night. I checked Matt's Xanga, Amy's, Emily's, and the Daily Dose of Imagery. I caught up on Marina and Byran and Robin.

And then Matt came downstairs and I told him, smugly, that I had fixed the internet problem, and how I did it.

He thought for a minute, looked a bit sheepish, and said,

Quote of the Day:

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

3-Kleenex Alert

You really should go here and read Amy's latest post.

And then go here and here to congratulate the happy couple.


Last night Steven and the rest of the Junior BoyChoir sang at the mall (Valley River Center.) Steven and three others sang the descant in one song, and I am not sure how to pronounce that or tell you what it is, except that they injected a lovely "Gloria!" here and there when the others were singing something else. Lots of people stopped to listen, and I was proud enough to burst. In the top picture, he's in the back row, fifth from the left. And front/center in the bottom picture.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006


Last week Ben and Steven vacuumed the van with our little Shop-Vac which has to be cleaned out periodically, and this evening after I did some laundry I tackled the dusty clean-the-vac job.

I took everything apart as per instructions and dumped the dirt in the trash and shook out the filter. I also inspected the hose. It was plugged. I started digging. Out came a clothespin, a navy blue velvet bow/barrette, and a plastic sandwich bag. And lots and lots of straw, dirt, and dust.

So, as I have done what seems like a million times, I sat the boys down for a Basic Facts Discussion. What is the purpose of vacuuming, after all? And what is the science behind this motor and hose? Yes, indeed, and what happens when we suck up items that are far too large for the hose?

They made all the right noises. Ah yes, it all makes sense now. They will remember next time, really they will. Nothing bigger than a marble, yes, they can understand that.

But I am so tired. I am just so very very very tired of going over this sort of thing. Have I failed in some basic and elementary way that they keep doing such stupid things? Am I not punishing enough, softie that I am? Am I somehow supposed to predict these events and head them off at the pass?

To their credit, they seldom repeat their mistakes. They just come up with very creative new ones.

But the thing is, THEY OUGHT TO KNOW. Come on now, you had no idea you shouldn't carve your name into this pan of brownies? Or put a serving spoon covered in sticky rice directly into the dishwasher? Or take the trash barrel to the road when there was still this enormous collection of garbage piled right here by the door?

Will somebody please tell me they're going to grow up into reasonably responsible people? And that I'll live to see that day?

(You can see some typical pictures of Ben and Steven on Emily's blog.)

Quote of the Day:
"I learned a long time ago that if you want to carve initials into frosting you carve someone else's and not your own."

Yoder Trivia

Recently my sister Becky went sleuthing for a turkey, not an easy task in Yemen, where Americans have been known to spend $60 for a bird for Thanksgiving. This year, by a series of connections, she found an embassy family with a turkey for sale. And the family's last name was, of all things, Yoder.

So Becky had fun connecting with these Yoders, and afterwards she wrote this:

I thought you might be interested in some Yoder trivia. As I have written some of you, we recently discovered that there is a couple here working at the American Embassy by the name of John and Susan Yoder. When they found out I was a Yoder they very much wanted to connect. So last night we had them here for supper.
John calls himself and his dad, who is a judge in Wash. DC, "Yoder junkies". They look for Yoders wherever they go, on the internet, on movie credits, books, etc. The two of them even took a trip to Switzerland to look up the Yoder roots.
In Switzerland they found a chapel dedicated to "Saint Yoder" and this is the story that came with it: In the first century after Christ a monk by the name of Theodor came from Rome to the area of Switzerland to evangelize it. When the locals took the name Theodor and made it German?? it sounded more like Yoder and gradually it became "Yoder". This monk then either had a lot of children (monks weren't celibate then) or the people liked him so much they began to take on the name of Yoder. He supposedly did miracles and was very loved by the people and was eventually made a saint.
This chapel is covered in paintings of his miracles as well as with pelicans. Supposedly the pelican is the "Yoder bird". The reason is that it is a self-sacrificing bird, known to rip out it's own flesh to feed it's young if there is no food around.
John also had stories of Yoders being martyred. His dad has a large painting of Yoders being thrown off a cliff for their faith. He also had a story of some Yoders who were captured by the Romans and made to be soldiers. When they refused to destroy a village as they were ordered, they were all executed and thrown in a mass grave. No one knew where this grave was until St.Yoder in one of his "miracles" discovered the grave and gave them all Christian burials.

Quote of the Day:

The Yoder sisters are funny girls
They make all sorts of jigs and swirls
Sometimes they're sad and sometimes they're glad
But very seldom they're very mad.

Each of them has a lot of trash.
If their mother sees it she makes it hash.
They each have a box to put it in,
And on top of one is a big safety pin.

--Becky and I, when she was 10 and I was 9. As you can see we showed great promise at this young age. Amazing that neither of us went into poetry writing for a career.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"So you're Paul's wife?"

This is one of the most accurate essays I've ever read about what it's really like to be a pastor's wife.

(Thanks to Matt for sending it)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Weighty Matters

Since I need to keep up this tradition of next-day clarifications about weight:

At the signing on Saturday I got the usual strange comments about my size--"Why did I picture you as very matronly and very heavy?"

Or this:
Customer: You don't look at all like I expected you to look!
Me: Let me guess. I'm supposed to be bigger.
Customer: (giggle) Well. . .you know. . .comfortable.

I found that very interesting because that is the exact word the Yemeni women use for a woman who is the "right" size, and the one Yemeni lady who pinched and poked me all over declared that I was not comfortable, and she felt sorry for my husband.

The mystery in all this is that I am actually not that small. I probably weigh 20 pounds more than my sister Becky, and I could stand to lose a few.

However, I had a bit of an epiphany the other night. See, a lot of my weight has been melting toward the southern hemisphere the last ten years, if you get my drift. And when I'm signing books, I'm usually behind a table or counter, so all people see is the northern hemisphere!

What an AHA! moment. No wonder they think I'm skinny, if that's all they see.

But why I'm supposed to be 200 pounds remains a mystery.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, I wanna be rich, so can you sign my homework slip?"
--Ben, after he found out that an autographed book of mine was for sale on Amazon for $110

Monday, December 04, 2006

Signing with the Stars

On Saturday night I had the privilege of being one of 38 Oregon authors at the annual Authors and Artists Fair at the Eugene Library, a major event that often draws 3000 people. I was feeling rather proud about all this until I found my designated spot--right beside Jane Kirkpatrick!

Well, way to be humbled. I set out my one book while Jane and her husband Jerry set out stacks of about 15 different books, and before they were done setting up they were mobbed with fans. And on the other side of me, Joe Blakely, who I seem to land next to at book functions, was also beset by the hordes while he was still taking plastic wrap off his books. So I sat there sadly and ate my pumpkin bar.

But, guess what, pretty soon I was too busy to notice how Jane and Joe were doing or finish my bar, because nice wonderful people started coming by and saying hello and "Please don't stop writing" (did they all somehow sense how often I'm tempted??) and even buying books!

Andrew, the talented signing-coordinator from Barnes and Noble who gave me Godiva chocolates came by and introduced me to his wife.

Shirley Tallman showed up in her wonderful early-1900's costume and thanked me for linking to her website after we met in August. She couldn't believe how many hits it generated.

Our neighbors from several miles down Substation Drive, the Imuses, came by. I have biked past their place many times but had never met them.

Various friends from the Red Moons writing group stopped with encouragement and good wishes.

To my complete and utter amazement, a man with a slightly crooked nose came by and asked if I remember him. Oh. My. Goodness. It was Mr. Newman, who taught a write-your-life-story evening class I took at Lane Community College almost ten years ago. One of the horrible experiences of my life was when he took one of my stories and absolutely ripped it to shreds (verbally) in front of the whole class. It was trite and cutesy, he said. It was shallow, it didn't say anything, I was trying too hard, what on earth was my purpose in writing this. I went from there to my friend Rita's house and cried stormily into her sympathetic ears. One of the harder things I've done was to hold my head up high and go back to that class the next week.

And here was this same man humbly complimenting me on my writing. "You write what the spirit is all about," he said. I scrambled frantically for a response, feeling that he wanted me to say that I learned a lot in his class, but I couldn't bring myself to say any such thing, so I just smiled and thanked him, and now I need to figure out if I've really forgiven him from my heart.

I was hoping to meet Jan Eliot, but I didn't have time. But I did see Val Brooks, who was the inspiration for Val in Jan Eliot's comic strip, Stone Soup.

Paul and the three youngest children came to give me a break halfway through the evening. I took the children and went downstairs to say hi to Bob Welch, who still remembered Jenny from three years ago when he wrote that she had a smile as bright as the September day. Oh, did she ever love that.

Every writer I met passed Mom's high standard of "nice and common." I hope I did too.

Jane Kirkpatrick's husband is a small, quiet, unassuming, white-bearded man and not at all a tall, dashing western-romance-novel hero. For some reason I found this comforting.

And I never did finish my pumpkin bar.

Quote of the Day:
"I didn't think I would connect with you. Our lifestyles are so completely different. But I do."
--a wealthy-looking lady in a black coat