Monday, May 28, 2007

My Mom

Mom with her granddaughters Emma-Lynn and Jenny.

My mom is going on 87 and one of the most fiercely independent women I know, and she gets more so every year. Back when we were young, she believed in teaching us to work, and if there was something to be fetched or stirred or picked or scrubbed that we were capable of doing, we did it, and she did the things only she could do, such as singeing the last of the feathers off the chicken over a gas burner or planning Sunday dinner. Sometimes she even left a list of jobs for us while she went and took a well-deserved nap.

Somewhere along the years Mom forgot how to delegate. She is legendary for insisting on lifting heavy loads herself even though sons and granddaughters may be leaping out of their chairs to assist her. Just recently, I am told, my brother Marcus stopped by and found Mom out in the garage with a big wheelbarrow piled full of Dad's dumpster apples (supposedly for the pigs but of course they salvage all they can for themselves and Mom slices and dries them by the gallon for my trucker brother Fred who likes to nibble them on the road) that she wanted to quickly dump on the compost pile out back while Dad was in town. Of course Marcus offered to tote it for her, and Mom said No, she'll do it herself. Marcus insisted and finally she gave in. It was a heavy load even for him, he told me later.

My sis Margaret and her family are coming next week to visit Mom and Dad and also to help Mom with her spring cleaning.

So, dear readers, a quiz. I talked to Mom this morning and what do you think she is doing in preparation for Margaret's coming?

a) cheerfully sipping her coffee and quilting

b) cleaning out the closets and washing all the windows, in and out, which involves climbing up and down the stepladder, except she still has the dining room windows left, oh and the breezeway, but she got the kitchen and living room and bedroom ones done.

Of course the answer is b. And if you can get my mom to quit doing all the spring cleaning before Margaret comes to do it for her, you are stronger and far more persuasive than I.

Yeah, it's frustrating, but if the only choices when I'm 87 are to be like Mom or to sit around whining about life, I hope I'll be like Mom.

Quote of the Day:
Paul: Ben, you're almost as tall as Emily.
Emily: Nuh-uh! I have heels on!
(With Emily giving my mind a twist like this every day of her life, I'm afraid I'll have Alzheimers long before I'm 87)

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I've never taken the famous Myers-Briggs test but I've decided I'm an introvert. You may find this hard to believe but it's true. Maybe you should read this article I found about caring for your introvert. I Amen-ed it the whole way through, especially these quotes:

We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking,


The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."

Most people observing us casually would conclude that Paul is the introvert and I'm the extrovert. But if you analyse us by the thinking before/by talking aspect, he is definitely the extrovert. He works out every plan, sale, strategy, schedule, idea, route, and agenda by talking about it. I try to listen lovingly and patiently but sometimes I wish he could just skip the talking and tell me the conclusion.

And now his extrovert children are out of school and I am rapidly fraying at the edges. Honest, I love these sweeties with all my soul, but they. simply. will. not. stop. talking. Worse, they simply can't understand that I have only two ears, one mouth, and half a brain. I cannot simultaneously tell Amy where the rhodie fertilizer is, Emily what to sew next on her culottes, Ben to weed the hedge by the driveway, Steven to go try on this pile of shirts, and Jenny where the embroidery hoop is. Yet they all stand around and holler "MOM" and their respective questions, all at the same time, and fully expect that I am able to process all this and answer them simultaneously.

And then, of course, when their questions are answered they have to talk to each other, constantly and noisily, when I'm trying to focus on someone else. And one or two of them also feel compelled to relate their dreams in great detail as soon as they wake up, which is in the morning, when I especially long for quiet.

It looks like I'm going to have to get up very early every morning to collect myself if I'm going to make it. And I should also find a corner to retreat to now and then during the day to collect my wits, somewhere hidden and soundproof.

Quote of the Day:
Steven: Seven more degrees!
Ben: Then what?
Steven: We can go swimming.
Jenny: I don't think Mom will let us.
Steven: But maybe she'll cabbage.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Congratulations to my new friend LouAnn who just won first place in the Erma Bombeck Humor Writing competition.

The winning essay is here and LouAnn's blog is here.

Quote of the Day:
"I was over at the mall yesterday and I ran into…uh…oh what’s her name…you know…the one that kept hitting me on my bad arm after my surgery…"
--from LouAnn's essay

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Warning: the post you are about to read mentions warnings!

A couple of days ago I was at the mall to pick up two pairs of suit pants for Paul. I got a bit of lunch and an iced coffee at the food court. While I was sitting there I beheld two warning signs.


The other was on one of those rental strollers. It had a mesh bag below the handles, with this sign: DO NOT PUT CHILD IN BAG.

I really don't like to think about all the implications of these warnings, and what it says about us as a nation that we have to have this sort of it's-not-our-fault-if-you-do-something-idiotic disclaimer thrown at us at every turn.

This was one of the few things I found refreshing about Yemen when I was there: you were expected to take care of yourself and if you did something stupid it was your own fault. For example, we toured this multi-story-old-house museum in town and you could with minimal effort have tumbled out one of the upper-story windows. But there were no barricades or guards or warning signs. They simply expected, apparently, that you would not go climbing out the window unless you wanted to fall. Amazing.

Quote of the Day:
"Keep hair, loose clothing, fingers, feet, and all parts of body away from openings, rotating agitator, and other moving parts. Do not operate cleaner in bare feet or when wearing open toe shoes or sandals."
--my vacuum cleaner manual

Saturday, May 19, 2007


As you may have noticed, I finally have a profile picture. Amy took me outside the other day and "shot" me for the back cover of the new book, so I replaced the 4-year-old picture on my Xanga site and Matt helped me post one here as well.

As my mother would say, "Ach, zu natural!" but oh well.

And in case you're curious, the crop I'm standing in is fescue, a type of grass. I still think the local paper needs this headline someday: "Rescue in the Fescue."

Or maybe that can be the title of my next book.

The last time I posted about a new Xanga picture we got a Dutch conversation started that ratcheted up to 78 comments or something. Good times.

You may also have noticed what time I'm posting this. I'm starting to have these 3-or-4-a.m. wide-awake sessions. As my daughters say:

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, you're getting old!"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Next Book

Another collection of my columns is being readied for the presses by Good Books as we speak. This one includes stories of Jenny's questions, Emily's baptism, our months in Kenya, Steven's adoption, and more--32 in all.

The goal is to have it ready to go so I can have some signings in Ohio and Pennsylvania in conjunction with Paul's nephew Byran's wedding in August.

Let me clarify once again that technically this is my second book and not my third. The first one, Letters from Harrisburg-Ordinary Days, was revised by Good Books and republished as Ordinary Days-Family Life in a Farmhouse.

The title for the new book is pulled from the story of the new porch, where I am sipping tea like the queen while there's all kinds of chaos around me:

Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting--More Family Life in a Farmhouse

The title always triggers one of two reactions:

Quote of the Day:
"What??"--my friend Rachel
"I like it. It's quirky." --my friend Arlene

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Last night while Emily was at driver's ed class I went to Goodwill to shop for a couple of summer outfits for me, polos for Emily, and a few other things.

Viewing thousands of garments reaffirmed a conclusion I came to a long time ago: the fashion industry and I do not get along.

One of the many strange quirks of fashion is this: they expect you to have an inverse relationship between size and coverage: the smaller you are, the more you show.

Emily is tallish but very thin. The teenage-girl tops in her size are weak, wispy, bitsy, tiny, fragile, slithery, ugly little scraps of fabric that refuse to stay on the hangers and that in my opinion wouldn't qualify as cleaning rags much less clothing to preserve my beautiful daughter's dignity and class.

I am size 8-12 depending on the brand. The fabric is more substantial in my sizes, but I still find it nearly impossible to find things that fit my parameters for neck height and skirt length and such. And sleeve length. Dear me. Do these people not realize that we non-athletic 40-somethings have arm flaps we would like to cover up for everyone's benefit?

I have never wanted to weigh 175 pounds, but the one advantage would be that I could find clothes I like. In the large sizes the skirts are long and full, the sleeves often reach the elbow, the fabric is high-quality, and the colors are actual real colors instead of weird chemistry-lab concoctions.

I don't really have time to sew but I don't have much choice.

And yeah, I know there are specific brands such as Chadwicks with nice clothes in my size. The trouble is, Goodwill is what I can afford but it means digging through everything the fashion industry produces.

Quote of the Day:
"You know it's bad when you just have to go bite your pillow."
--my friend Arlene, on raising four children, after her son took all her pantyhose and tied them to chair and table legs all over the kitchen to make fences.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pink Magic Markers

Today's column is about my trip to Bend with Ben. You can read it here.

(Since I am constantly trying to convince myself I am a good mom, I gave in to Emily's title suggestion even though it has nothing to do with anything.)

And over at Tikki-Tikki-Tembo, you can view a tribute to Paul (since it's his birthday today) and me (since it's Mother's Day).

Quote of the Day:
"It was actually a book on basketball."
--Ben, after he read my column

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Like. . .Would You Mind??

Dear Sheriff's Deputy,

You pulled into our driveway today while I was out pressure-washing the north side of the house.

Now normally I don't mind people pulling into the driveway to turn around or whatever, but there's something about a car with SHERIFF on the side pulling in that makes me nervous. I'm funny that way.

So I industriously washed and wondered while you simply sat there in the car. My imagination was spinning faster than the stream of water from the pressure hose:
A) Matt crashed on his way to college and you were here to tell me he was horribly injured. . . or worse. And you were out there gathering up the courage to come tell me.
B) Someone with a vendetta against me turned me in for child abuse and you were here to haul me off.
C) Someone in the neighborhood did something illegal that I ought to have noticed and you needed me to testify against them or something.

And you kept sitting in your car. Gathering courage, I figured, which made me think that yes, for sure, something had happened to Matt.

Then. . . you backed out. . .and left!

Listen, next time, would you mind pulling in somewhere else to do your paperwork or whatever you were doing? I would like that.

from a well-behaved but paranoid citizen

Quote of the Day:
"Either all the extra feelings got siphoned off of Amy and onto me, or else Amy inherited no feelings from Dad and I inherited galoomphins of feelings from you."
--Emily, explaining the differences/genetics between her and Amy

Monday, May 07, 2007

Words and Other Fluff

I have three children who take my words seriously. Sure, they have their moments, but if I say, for example, Don’t carry your sister upside down, or Don’t go out to get the mail in your stocking feet, they listen to what I say and understand why this might make sense. Not always, but enough to put them in the category of Words Generally Work.

Then there is the other category, consisting of the other three children for whom Words are* Mere Fluff in the Wind. No matter how often they are* told not to, they continue to run outside in stocking feet or carry the sister upside down until something actually happens. Something more than the sister getting hurt or being made to pick all the grass clippings out of the socks. Something like consequences, punishment, losing a week of electronic time or not being allowed to go to Trenton’s house or getting a bunch of extra chores.

*(or rather were, since they actually do grow up, praise God)

The other week Steven was playing by the creek and got one of his rubber boots full of water. He came home and kicked off his boots in the back hall and left them there. Paul discovered a reclining boot and a pool of water some hours later.

So I said, “Steven, do you remember how we've been talking about THINKING about what you should do even when no one is there to tell you?"
"And do you remember last week when you wanted to go to a basketball game and I wouldn’t let you go because none of the adults in the family were going?”
“And you weren’t very happy, right?”
“Well, when you want to have a privilege like that, I think back to the last few weeks and I think, ‘Has he been making good decisions? Is he responsible enough to handle this?’ And when stuff happens like leaving your wet boots lying there for the next person to step on or to get their feet all wet, then I think, ‘No, he’s not responsible enough to be away by himself and make wise choices.’”

Matt walked through the kitchen at this point. He gave Steven a pat on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Steven, I used to hear this lecture all the time too.”

A few days later Steven was drinking a glass of grape juice while walking across the kitchen.
I said, “Steven, how many times do you think I’ve told you not to walk and drink juice at the same time?”
He said, “Oh maybe ten.”
“And do you remember how much you hate it when I hand out consequences like losing video time?”
“Well then why on earth don’t you take me seriously when I just SAY something and quit it then instead of waiting until I start dishing out these punishments that we both hate?”
“I don’t know.”

At this point Emily came by and patted Steven on the shoulder. “Don’t feel bad, Steven, Mom used to give me that exact same lecture.”

So while part of me is trying to figure out how to get this child to take me seriously the first time I say something, the rest of me is thinking that there is something remarkable going on here. Steven did not inherit our genes, yet he is so much like Matt and Emily it gives me goose bumps.

My adoptive-mom friends say that they feel God hand-picks children for the families they join. I have to agree. And would you believe Steven even eats like his Grandpa Yoder—big slow deliberate bites? Amazing.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: I wish I could have glasses.
Me: You’re like—who was it, Amy or Emily?—that used to wish they could have glasses.
Emily: Me. I used to look at bright lights so I could have glasses someday.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

How Cool Is That?

Last night on the way to niece Jessi's bridal shower, Paul's mom told me she's looking for a KitchenAid mixer. She has a Bosch that she used for years when baking for her family, but now that it's just her she wants something smaller. She checked out KitchenAids in town and they were on sale for $219 which was more than she wanted to spend.

The shower was lovely, a tea organized by Rachel and Rita and Jenn which meant that it was tasteful and pink and beautiful and gracious and delicious.

I sat beside Heidi who runs an espresso stand/lunch cafe'. Halfway through the evening, Heidi turned to me and completely randomly said, "You don't need a KitchenAid mixer, do you?"

I said, "No, but I know someone who does," and of course referred her to Anne.

Anne bought the mixer for $50. Heidi had it in her truck, so they transferred it to the trunk of our car, and Anne took it home.

I love it when things like this happen.

Quote of the Day:
"Sugar contains no fat!"
--Bethany C., reading the sugar packet label at the tea

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Picky Picky

Being a writer makes me a picky reader.

It's kind of like when I see a hand-knit sweater. As a knitter, I can't just look at it and say, "Cute sweater." I have to feel it, inspect the seams, see how they did the ribbing, look for skipped stitches, and criticize the dangling yarns on the inside.

Recently I was assigned a talk based on a couple of chapters of Elizabeth George's book, A Woman's High Calling.

Mrs. George has a lot of good things to say, but I was driven to distraction by how many words she uses to say it. Maybe this comes from writing a 1000-word column for seven years, but it irritates me like everything when people use 20 words and five would have done the job.

For instance:
As I considered the ramifications of the scriptures above and what they are teaching us about temperance and the importance of personal discipline and self-control, I also went to my English dictionary for a little help. Putting all things, all meanings, and all definitions together, here's a composite of what temperance and self-control means. . .

Where was her editor? Actually, I imagine she had the sort of editor that says, "Listen,this has to be at least 50 more pages to fit the category we want. Couldn't you expand this a bit more?"

Happily, I also recently read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Now there is a book. It grabs you by the collar and pulls you in. It makes tight and effective writing look offhand and easy.

Hasty disclaimer: Don't worry, I don't read blogs, comments, emails, or letters with the same eagle eye. Only books and magazine articles.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, how would you like to be a veterinarian? No hamburger! No chicken! No bacon!"
(she meant vegetarian of course)