Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ben in Bend

We have a custom in our family of each child going on a short trip with Mom when they're twelve, known as their "Twelve Trip," and going on a longer trip with Dad the next year, known as their "Thirteen Trip." Ben's trips were reversed. He and Paul went to Yosemite last year, and he and I went to Bend on Friday and Saturday for his "12 Trip."

Oregon is amazing, really. You can live here for years and still have new places to explore just a few hours away.

We drove through the Cascades on Highway 20, which involves an 11-mile 6% grade up to Tombstone Pass while glimpsing astonishing/breathtaking/other cliches views of Mt. Washington and Three-Fingered-Jack and other peaks through the trees. On the other side you go over Santiam Pass as well and then you head out onto the high desert which is a completely different place and climate from either the Willamette Valley or the Cascades.

Anyway, Ben is an ideal partner for this sort of adventure because he loves nature, hiking, photography, and so on. He is not into shopping, cool stuff, or spending money, which is fine except when I actually want to buy him a treat and nothing is special to him.

Which brings me to another conclusion: This guy is so much like his dad. Easy to please, calm, smart, notices all the birds, carries suitcases of knowledge in his brain.
Ben: That's the Calapooia River. And over that ridge there is the Marcola Valley.
Me: How do you know this stuff?
Ben: Oh, from observation. And from studying the atlas.

We hiked along the Deschutes River at three different places, went up on a butte in the morning and identified all the peaks on the horizon, toured the High Desert Museum, and hiked over a huge lava field where Neil Armstrong and the other astronauts practiced for the first moonwalk.

Ben on top of Pilot Butte, with Bend down below and the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, etc. on the horizon.

Ben next to a huge device used to carry logs out of the forest in the old days.

At the High Desert Museum: an old stagecoach that carried Mark Twain on a tour of the West.

We had a good time. I tried to ask Ben about his feelings and hopes and such. He wondered why I was talking about such unnecessary things. I said good moms talk about heavy things when they are alone with their kids. He said:

Quote of the Day:
"Hey, did you hear about the guy who could bench-press 2400 pounds?"

Friday, April 27, 2007


Deanna at Stories Happen tagged Life in the Shoe as one of five blogs that make her think. Besides being honored, I’m also invited to tag five more, for the same reason.

Scrolling down through my favorites, I realized the blogs that make me think are written by people who aren’t necessarily like me in politics or thought or lifestyle or belief. And the writing style is often much more cerebral and mysterious than my fourth-grade, nothing-subtle, spell-it-out style.

But they make me think which is a good thing. Sometimes they even make me do, which is even better.

Jewel at Innacanoe is an artist in words, layout, and photography. She often writes about spiritual things and puts words to things of the heart that many of us feel but can’t articulate.

Darren and Jennifer at being-becoming are precious people (and Jenn was once Paul’s student) who force my mind down chutes it has never squeezed down before. Sometimes I hope they’re actually saying something and not just playing a joke on me. Most of the time I come away with a good bite of meat to chew on.

Naomi at JustPeachy is a nice, smart feminist and NPR listener who shows me where she and her ideas come from, and how and why.

The Parables blogger grew up in my home church and the Minnesota cornfields and then took a very different path from mine. But I like to walk alongside her now and then.

Robin at Blue Skies is like me a mom and composter but unlike me is planned and purposeful. I do most of what I do intuitively and on the fly. Robin thinks about what she does, and then does it, and then writes about it in her blogs.

(The five of you can also tag five blogs that make you think. If you want to. Your toaster will not explode tomorrow morning if you don't.)

Quote of the Day:
"She makes me think being Mennonite might be fun."
--Deanna, about Life in the Shoe

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Site

Emily just started a new site to feature her movies and asked me to publicize it. So if you have a high-speed connection you may want to head over to Tikki-Tikki-Tembo and see what's been happening.

Some of the movies are of my writing class at BMS reading/acting the short dramas they wrote. I didn't edit them a whole lot, so please don't be offended at this sort of stuff:

Quote of the Day:
"You lousy dipsticks, have you lost your brains?"
--"Jim Zumbo" (Preston) in Lost in Wyoming

Monday, April 23, 2007


In Idaho the other weekend an older gentleman approached Matt and said he's been reading my book and he got to one of the chapters about Matt and he started thinking, "Now surely some of this is embellished." So he asked Matt. And Matt informed him that no, it was not exaggerated.

Yes, this is the kid I tell stories about, the one that has given me most of my gray hairs, the child of ipecac and science experiments and air-ambulance ride and endless questions and adventure and emergency surgery and fire and falls and terror who always managed to land on his feet. The child who made me weep and the child who saved his sisters' lives and the child who made me both humble and proud.

And today he's 21.

"Matthew" means "gift of God." He is.

Why don't you hop over to his blog, ignore the girlfriend application, and leave a comment wishing him a happy birthday.

Quote of the Day:
(about 11 years ago)
Emily: Hey, look, there's a rabbit!
Ben: Bunny bunny!
Emily: What's it doing?
Amy: Maybe it's sitting on its eggs!
Matt: (scornfully) Amy! Rabbits aren't monotremes, they're placentals!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Food Stamps

There are plenty of times when I feel like my lifestyle and I are not quite normal, but whenever I read statistics of how much money it takes to live/raise a family, I feel like I'm some sort of alien.

Yesterday's paper included this article. You really should read it, but if you don't have time, it basically says that the average food stamp recipient in Oregon is allotted $3 per person per day, and the governor of Oregon and various other important people are going to try to eat within this sort of budget for a week.

Listen to the kinds of comments they make:

The goal is to walk the proverbial mile in the steps of those who rely on food stamps to feed a family, to kindle awareness and, hopefully, empathy.

"It really re-energized me to be so much more conscious of what people are going through," said Sister Mary Scullion, the executive director of a Philadelphia nonprofit that works with the homeless, who did the food stamp challenge last year. "It's about understanding the limited choices people have, and how money gives you choices."

Those who have done the challenge say it can leave you both physically weakened and mentally exhilarated.

"On the spiritual side, when I did eat, I was more present," said Connecticut state Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, who just finished three weeks on food stamp funds.

Now this is the point where I feel like I'm missing something, or these other people are, or something.

Newsflash: I feed my family on far less than $3 per person per day. Goodness, $3 for each of us would be $720 a month! I spend probably $2 per person per day, and feel downright wealthy and indulgent, as ten years ago in our Poor Days I budgeted a dollar a day for each of us.

Yes, yes, yes, I know I have lots of advantages that the Food Stamp people don't have--a functional kitchen, a car, an Amish mom who taught me how to cook from scratch, a big family which I suppose makes it more economical per person, and I don't have to be employed so I have time to cook.

But still. You don't need more than a hot plate and a pan to cook rice and beans, both of which I cook plenty of and buy in 25-lb. sacks, along with oatmeal, flour, and sugar. If you're not home all day, you can get a $2 Goodwill crockpot and have supper ready when you get home.

And none of us, incidentally, is physically weakened from our diet, even the adolescent boys who eat thousands of (mostly nutritious) calories a day including three or four eggs for breakfast.

I have chicken and rice in the oven as we speak, to be served with corn and a salad and chocolate cake. I wonder if, on the spiritual side, my family will feel mentally exhilarated and more present as they eat, and maybe the experience will kindle awareness and, hopefully, empathy.

Now before anyone jumps down my throat for not being empathetic to the poor, let me say that I have plenty of sympathy for the poor, having walked that road myself for much of my life. But what I don't get is making such a big fuss about eating for $3 a day when I've been eating for less than that my whole life.

Quote of the Day:
"My wife came up to me and said, 'Either you or the dog is going on a diet.' I lost."
--Ted Kulongoski, governor of Oregon

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Letter from Harrisburg

My column was in the paper last Sunday and I forgot to link it here. So, you can find it here. I must say I love the illustration.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hot Lunch

Tom at Iced Tea Forever sometimes posts about different foods he makes, such as corn bread and grilled chicken. He said it's funny, if you post about something, people take you to be an expert at it. So people see him as a great cook, even though he knew nearly nothing about cooking when he got married and hasn't learned that much beyond what he's posted.

I don't expect anyone to think I'm a great cook if I post about food, but I did have a certain sense of accomplishment yesterday after doing my annual duty of serving a hot lunch to 30 people at our church school. I felt especially heroic since I was running a low fever and coming down with the flu that I have in full force today. But enough martyrdom.

The secret of successful cooking, for me, is to flounder around until I find something that turns out well, consistently, and then make it all the time.

Here's my menu, with recipes:

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for 30
Peel, cut up, cook, and mash about 17 lbs. of potatoes. Throw in guilty amounts of butter, sour cream, plain yogurt, and cream cheese. Add salt and pepper and some garlic powder. Keep it warm in a crock pot.

Meat Loaf
Quadruple the recipe in the Mennonite Country-Style Recipes cookbook.

Thaw and cook two bags of home-processed corn from last summer. (I ran into trouble here because NONE of the burners in the church kitchen would work. At all. I checked the breakers and called for help and ended up cooking the corn in the microwave.)

Aunt Margaret's Famous Cabbage Salad
Crush 1 package chicken ramen noodles.
Shred 1/2 head of cabbage.
Stir together 1/2 cup mayo and the seasoning packet from the ramen.
Combine the cabbage, ramen noodles, and 1/4 cup sunflower seeds.
Stir in the mayo mixture.
Serve immediately.

Evening: Dissolve 1 T. sugar and 1 T. yeast in 1 cup warm water.
Cream together 3 eggs, 1/2 cup oil, 1 t. salt, 1/2 cup sugar.
Add yeast mixture.
Add 4 1/2 cups flour.
Set it in the fridge overnight.
Morning: Divide the dough in two. Roll out each half into an approximate circle.
Cut the circle into 16 pieces like a pizza.
Roll up each piece, beginning with the wide end, and put it on a cookie sheet.
Noon: Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Aunt Bonnie's Ice Cream Dessert
Crush about half a pack of generic Oreos, mix with 1/3 cup melted butter, and press on the bottom of a 9x13 pan.
Chill it for a bit and then fill the pan nearly full of vanilla ice cream.
Dump a bunch of chocolate syrup on the ice cream. (Fudgy topping is best but any will do)
Sprinkle a bunch of peanuts on top.
If you want yet more decadence, put whipped topping and a few more Oreo crumbs on top of that.

Then after working for two days to make all this stuff, transport it to school, and serve it, you get to watch it disappear in 15 minutes.

But this makes it all worthwhile:

Quote of the Day:
"Thank you, Mrs. Smucker, it was really good!"
--various students

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tragedy

My prayers go out today for the families and friends of those killed in the shooting in Virginia.

When my nephew took his own life last summer, it seemed like this was the most off-the-charts horrendous thing that could happen to anyone. Now, after the Amish shooting and this one, I realize we had at least this mercy granted: Leonard didn't take anyone else with him.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Indiana Trip

Now I know why Tom over at Iced Tea Forever, an Oregonian transplanted to Indiana, refers to Oregon as Utopia.

--The water here tastes good.
--It does not snow in April.
--There are mountains here.
--The water here does not turn your sinks and showers brown.
--We do not have endless sad-looking fields of corn stubble.
--If you see another Mennonite in a store in Oregon, you say hello.
--Good coffee is plentiful here.
--True, we have RV factories here too, but we have a lot of other scenery as well. Such as mountains.
--The water here tastes good, which I may have mentioned before, but it is important.

A year and a half ago we went to Paul's nephew Kevin's wedding in Missouri in August, and I will always remember that wedding for the oppressive heat and humidity.

I think I'll always remember Nephew Neil's wedding for being cold. Thursday night we slept in a little travel-trailer that shook in the biting wind. We drove past snow in the ditches, and at the reception on Saturday we looked out the windows and watched the snow fall. Sunday morning we woke up to a beautiful but oh-so-cold layer of snow on the ground.

The wedding was simple and pretty. Neil had his aunts in stitches up on the second bench after he escorted the bride's mom to the front and then stood there facing the crowd, waiting for the wedding party, and took a deep anguished breath and puffed his cheeks and blew a big sigh like Ooooh my goodness I wish this was over with. Aunt Barb is not the giggly sort but she laughed enough to earn a poke from Byran's fiancee Amy.

In true Mennonite fashion, the preachers sitting on the judges' bench looked solemn and grim. Bonnie informed Paul that he is to smile more than that when he preaches at Jessi's wedding. I told Bonnie in return that the two grooms in her summer, Kevin and Byran, need to smile more than Neil did. She didn't think that would be a problem at all. I think Byran especially will show lots of teeth at his wedding.

Neil smiled more at the reception. I would bet he smiled the most when it was all over and they drove away.

Starla looked like the sort of sweet and sensible girl who can apply the right sort of nutcracker to Neil's heart.

The three book signings were interesting and fun but not spectacular in terms of sales. The best part was meeting people I hadn't seen in years--Theda and Becky from our Canada days, my cousin's wife Anita, people Paul had met on his trip to Ghana five years ago.

The signing at Yoder's Hardware Store in Shipshewana was the most interesting. Being in the town itself was a most interesting cultural experience--buggies rattling down the street, Mennonites and Amish all over the place. Yoder's Hardware was a bit hard to find, as we first passed Yoder's Harness Shop, Yoder's Insurance, and Yoder's Bulk Foods (or something of the sort). We even passed, and later visited, a Spector's store, which brought back lots of nostalgia for me because they are THE Amish suppliers, and we used to pore over the Spectors insert in the Budget, pondering their ads for plisse and gingham and skip-dent, as well as suspenders and girdles and shawls.

I wasn't sure what to expect from a signing at a hardware store, but Yoder's turned out to be a huge barn of a building with groceries, hardware, china, clothes, fabric, and lots more. The owner came by and talked to me. He owns Yoder's, his last name is Jones, and he speaks Pennsylvania Dutch. Welcome to Indiana.

We had a nice supper, made by ITF himself, with Tom and Jewel, where I met my friend Ilva's dad, who is also Jewel's grandpa, and had the nicest conversation with him. Wow, to be that interesting and affirming when I'm in my 80's.

We had breakfast at the Dutchman's Essenhaus, a huge sprawling white establishment that serves home-fried hash browns and homemade whole-wheat toast for breakfast and can seat 1100 people, with Robert and Lily Riegsecker.

We stayed with our old friends Lowell and Doris Lee, who used to be singles up in Ontario and who are now the busy parents of eight very charming children.

Another fun-to-meet person was my friend Bertha's dad, Steve Yoder, who heads up an organization that helps the poorer Mennonite colonies in Mexico and writes an interesting newsletter with lots of the sort of anthropology that interests me.

On Sunday morning I woke up sick on my stomach, maybe from all that Hoosier water, who knows. Paul was scheduled to preach at "Todd's church"--Living Water, I believe, one of probably a hundred Mennonite churches in the area, all with compelling names like Pleasant Grove and Calvary Chapel and More Spiritual and Resisting Drift and You Can Have Videos If You Come Here But We Still Practice The Covering. He left with the Lees and I stayed at the house for an extra hour to calm things down, then I went for the sermon, which was good as always but Paul strayed from his notes for the last five minutes which always makes me, as Niece-in-law Brenda says, hang onto my seat with both hands.

We came home late Sunday night. The house was clean. The children were safely asleep. The water was perfect. My pot of tea this morning tasted like all good teas ought to taste.

Quote of the Day:
(at Kevin and Brenda's cute little house on Thursday evening)
Anne: (who is still a mom even though her children are grown, very agitatedly) You need a spoon!
Barb: (who was eating mixed fruit with a fork and is a grown woman and a doctor and does not appreciate mothering) I know how to eat!
Anne: (still agitated) Barb, you need a spoon!!
Barb: I said, I know how to eat!
Me: (thinks) Only the Smuckers. . .

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Off to IN

As Emily says, "Toodles."
I hope to see some of you gentle readers in Indiana.

We are leaving the children at home, by themselves. I did not put food in the freezer for them. I did not tell someone to check on them. I did not get someone to spend the nights here. I did not pack separate little backpacks for everyone and ship them off to friends' houses.


Quote of the Day:
Me: Emily, come help me for a few minutes.
Emily: How many is a few?
Me: Well, since the Bible says a few souls were saved in the Ark, I guess eight.
Emily: Thanks for not quoting, 'Many are called, but few are chosen.'

Sunday, April 08, 2007


I don't always make new dresses for Easter but this year I made matching dresses for Jenny and me.


A day to celebrate:

Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen. . .

Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And . . . he was buried, and. . .he rose again the third day.

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. . .

A joy-filled Easter to all.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Free Book for Review

Recently I became aware that it is standard procedure for authors and/or publishers to give away copies of their books to reviewers, more and more of which are now online.

So I contacted my publisher and Kate the publicity person told me that they would be happy to mail out a limited number of books free to blog reviewers.

So if you would like to review Ordinary Days on your blog, email me at and include:
--your name and mailing address
--your blog name and web address

I'll send the info to Kate, and Good Books will mail you a **!! FREE !!** copy of the book.

Quote of the Day:
"There you go, singing in tongues again."
--Matt, when I sang a John Schmid song

Friday, April 06, 2007

Come see me in IN

Paul and I plan to fly to Indiana next week for his nephew Neil's wedding.

I'll be doing three book signings before the wedding, so if you're in the area, feel free to stop by and say hi. It's ok if you don't buy a book--I just like to meet people.

Here's my schedule:

Friday, April 13 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Nappanee Christian Light Bookstore--The address is 158 E. Market St., Nappanee

Friday, April 13 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Yoder’s Hardware--State Road 5 South, Shipshewana

Saturday, April 14 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Goshen Christian Light Bookstore--119 E. Lincoln Ave, Goshen

Quote of the Day:
"I wish it would do whatever I tell it to do and not just what it decides to do by itself."
--Emily, on Microsoft Word. I heartily agreed.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Snake Lady, Chapter 3

Many of you will recall the ongoing saga of the poor widow in Yemen with a large snake in her courtyard just a few feet from the cave-like dwelling where she sleeps with her many children.

They got lots of suggestions for how to get rid of this snake, none of which were practical, mostly because they involved Rod going into this lady's house, which would do more harm than good in terms of cultural propriety and such.

My sis has a fund that she is dipping into to help the widows and children in this village. She is funding a breakfast program for the children and is venturing into the world of micro-loans and all that.

So she loaned the widow money to fix her wheelbarrow and to buy a supply of cookies and candy that she could peddle with her son. It was all official, with the lady's thumbprint for a signature on the document.

Of course this didn't resolve the snake issue but it helped to resolve the bigger issue, which was sheer survival.

For several weeks Becky didn't see her around, but her children reported that she was doing well. Things were looking up.

Then one day her son was peddling by himself and had the misfortune of pushing the wheelbarrow right by the village offices just when the officials were on a campaign to keep the sidewalks clear so people could actually walk there. They confiscated his wheelbarrow.

He was sure his mother would be terribly angry with him, so he took the day's money and took off for Tiazz, another city several hours away.

The widow somehow got her wheelbarrow back and now since her son isn't there to push it she loans it out for a dollar a day or something.

Meanwhile the snake got aggressive and for the first time bit one of the children--the youngest, a seven-year-old girl.

As Becky says, when the temperature gets below 80 degrees there they all pile on the sweaters, so this child was wearing about three sweaters and the snake got a mouthful of sweater instead of arm.

So they decided they simply have to leave, and found another place to rent, for $45 a month. This is more than they can possibly afford, and when the mom came by the clinic the other day, she hadn't eaten for two days.

I tell you, there are no quick fixes for people and situations like this.

Quote of the Day:
"You and Amy are almost impossible to tell apart on the phone."
--Paul, to Amy, when she answered the phone the other day. When she started laughing, he knew it wasn't me after all.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Drivers Ed

Right now Emily is at her first driver's ed class. A parent has to attend the first class and to my great relief Paul consented to take her.

I was happy about this on two counts. 1) I was busy enough today, with running Amy in to the DMV to get another license plus going with Paul's mom to my friend Mary Hake's mom's funeral and 2) I've seen those awful films at the first class twice now and they always send me over the waterfall and I wasn't sure I could handle them one more time. First you have the sappy teenagers laughing and saying, "My friends and I like to pile, like, 10 of us in a car and then see how close we can, like, get to the car beside us on the freeway without hitting them. Hahahahaha." Then you have parents (real ones!) telling their stories, such as this nice Southern lady who says, "And then Ah went daown the road, an' Ah seen this pickup truuuck lah-in in the di-yutch, an' Ah wen' up to that paramedic an' Ah sayyd, 'Sir?' an' he sayyd, 'Yes, Ma'am?' an' Ah sayyd, 'Was there a lil girl in that there pickup truuck?' an' he sayyd, 'Yes, Ma'am, there wuuzz,' an' Ah sayyd, 'Ah think that's mah lil girl.'"
That's when the dam always bursts for me. My guess is Paul will be slightly more stoic.

An' ah hope mah lil' girl learns to be a real nahss safe drahver.

Quote of the Day:
"From the first two words of this you can tell how the story's gonna go: 'Janice frowned.'"
--Emily, reading the Sunday school papers