Saturday, June 30, 2007

More Frugality

Today I was a credit to my frugal ancestors for the second time in a couple of weeks.

We had this old heavy sleeping bag that we used for years and then a few holes wore through so the stuffing showed, and the zipper died.

Like I said, it was nice and heavy, and I didn't want to throw it away. I tore the zipper off and got out this enormous piece of cotton fabric--12 yards or so--with mid-90's "country" pictures of pigs and cows and "wind-pointers" (as Jenny said, actually weathervanes) that I got at a garage sale for 25 cents. I sewed a sack the right size and tucked the sleeping bag into it. Then this morning we laid it on the living room floor, and Emily and I crawled around with needles and string, and tied a knot in the middle of each cow.

I hemmed the one remaining open edge and now we have a nice heavy blanket just right for travelling, sleeping on the couch, camping, and so on. Emily lay on the couch and took a nap under it, so I know it works.

And of course when we were in the middle of knotting, Emily had to get us going on a rousing discussion concerning:

Quote of the Day:
"Do cows have belly buttons?"

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I wish it wasn't rude to stare.

I love watching people. I find people of every ethnicity, gender, size, age, and lifestyle absolutely fascinating. Restaurants, airports, grocery stores, almost any place will do. I love watching people interact and trying to guess who she's trying to impress, whether those two have a good marriage or not, what those other two are plotting, what his struggles are, and so on. I like to imagine stories about people, from the frazzled moms at Grocery Outlet to the guy at the airport who looks like an Arab prince.

The problem is, here in the U.S. it's rude to stare, and how can you watch people without, you know, watching them?

It seems other cultures don't have the strictures on this that we do. When we lived on an Indian reserve in Canada, the older ladies were fascinated with my children. I remember going to the store and being instantly surrounded at the door by three grandmas who pointed and stared and shrieked "Emmitygojenes!!" ("little white kids") and lots of other comments until I finally turned and left since they wouldn't let me get any shopping done. In Yemen, the women at parties would stare at me as long as they wanted (most of the afternoon, in some cases). Plus they felt free to pat and pinch me and then discuss me with their friends.

So, why do we have this inconvenient social rule that it's rude to watch people? I make a motion we change it.

And a p.s. inspired by Mark Roth's comment: When my sis Becky and her husband Rod moved to the Middle East, it drove Rod absolutely nuts to be stared at all the time. It didn't bother Becky at all--she was used to it from growing up Beachy/Amish. How about that.

Quote of the Day:
"I felt like Templeton."
--my sis Margaret (source of frugal recipe in previous post) after they went cruising around Kutztown picking up castoffs the university students had left on the curb.
Templeton, of course, is the rat in Charlotte's Web

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Frugal Fire Starters

I come from a long line of frugal people--Depression-survivor parents, a grandma who saved the string from sugar sacks in little balls in her kitchen drawer, a great-grandma who raised 15 children on what seems like nearly nothing.

So I am always happy when I can make something useful out of what I would normally throw away. Let me share my latest success, something my sis Margaret taught me:

Fire Starters

Save up a supply of:
cardboard egg cartons
old candles
dryer lint (yes, dryer lint)

Melt the candle wax in a tin can set in a pan of water on the stove. DON'T set the can directly on the burner.
Put on some rubber gloves. Gently pour the candle wax over the dryer lint. Glop it around with your hands until it's moistened, then stuff it into the egg carton and fill each cup almost to the top.
Let it cool. Tear or cut apart the egg carton. Each little cup becomes one fire starter. Arrange some kindling and firewood around it and light the cardboard.

We went canoeing and camping on Friday and Saturday and were amazed at how these ugly little lumps get your fire going. No taking old newspapers along or digging in your pocket for stray kleenexes as the wind puts your pitiful fire out. These things light up and keep burning until you have a good fire established.

Quote of the Day:
Me: (reading Emily's xanga) You spell a lot better than you used to.
Emily: (horrible grimace, bewildered look) Well, for Pete's sake, what did I used to smell like?!
Me: (laughing hysterically) SPELL!! S-P-E-L-L!!

Monday, June 25, 2007


Amy is 19 today! She is a wonderful young woman and I am proud to be her mom. This week she is down at Winston, 2 hours south, teaching vacation Bible school along with Emily and cousin Stephie, so we couldn't celebrate her day today.

Lots of other birthdays on the 25th, for some reason--Amy's twin, my friend Judy's daughter Bethany; Paul's sister Lois and also her son Kevin; my neighbor Anita; our friend Heidi.

I am a tea-on-the-porch but not a Super-Fancy-Tea person, so today I had the abovementioned Lois and Anita over for a my-style tea on the porch: sitting on the wicker chairs and reminiscing while nibbling crackers and cheeseball or chips and salsa and sipping tea.

There's something utterly nurturing about time with other ladies like this. We each have our own stake in this neighborhood--Anita and I live next door to each other; Lois grew up in this house. So when we talk, for example, about Lloyd and Ruth who used to live just down the road from Anita's, we each have a different perspective. Anita knows them as her in-laws and tells how she had to learn not to be so thin-skinned with these blunt Kropfs. Lois knew them when they were older but still active and told the hilarious story of Lloyd and Ruth telling how they had bought an electric blanket with dual controls and didn't realize that the controls got reversed, so he was roasting and turning "his" down, and she was cold and turning "hers" up. I knew Lloyd and Ruth primarily as elderly people so this was all very interesting to me.

Lois had to leave around 5 to get to the post office, and I leisurely walked Anita out to her car, and while we were talking Jenny went and got the mail, so I read that before I cleaned up from our tea. And then I heard the dishes rattling on the porch, so I went out and there was Hansie the enormous omnivorous dog eating our leftovers--three chip and cracker dishes were cleaned out, as was all the remaining cheeseball. However, the hot salsa remained in the dish, and Hansie's eyes were watering, and he kept licking his chops, and then he went to his water dish and lapped desperately.

It turned out that Steven had seen the ladies leave so he "logically" turned Hansie loose, which goes to show that my life is allowed to be leisurely and ladylike only so long, and then the timer goes off and things return to normal.

I just realized there really is no point to this post. Well, this is the sort of rambling conversation we'll have if you come have tea on the porch with me. Just call ahead and give me time to plug in the teakettle and tie up Hansie.

Quote of the Day:
"That is how it is, Alice," said Frances. "Your birthday is always the one that is not now."
--A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Finding Out

Certain things, if they're true, I want to know:
I blabbed something before it's officially "out."
I have Taco Bell flour-tortilla remains in my teeth.
My child is bullying another child.
My t-shirt label is sticking out.
I hurt someone.

Like I said, I want to know this stuff.
Knowing isn't so terrible.
It's finding out that kills me.

The other Sunday evening I gave a book review at church.
Afterwards, someone gently told me that I said "um" 50 times in my 7-minute talk.
Finding out was mortifying.
But I'm glad I know.

Quote of the Day:
"I think Jenny has brothers."
--Amy, when Jenny put an empty milk jug on the kitchen floor and stomped on it to make the cap go flying across the room

Monday, June 18, 2007


Emily posted on her Xanga recently that she'd interview (5 questions) anyone who commented and requested it. So I did. And here you are:

1. If you had to adopt another kid, what age and gender, and from what country, would you want that kid to be?

Well, I really really wish we could adopt Steven's little sister, which would be from Kenya of course. I have no idea how old she is by now or even if she's alive, but he vaguely remembers her and I wish I could get her.

Otherwise I'd say a girl, four or five years old, from Kenya.

2. If you could start your life over as a single woman with any job you wanted, what career would you want to have?

I think I'd like to be a travel writer or something in the medical field. Both intrigue me a lot and I get a great thrill out of the tastes I get of both, such as the emails I wrote from Kenya and putting ice on Steven's head when he bashed it the other day. And I'm into missions and cultures and languages. So. Yes. I'd be a medical missionary, traveling around teaching malaria and AIDS prevention, and raising my own support by writing about obscure local customs for National Geographic.

3. What is the biggest drawback to being a Minister's wife?

Trying to get my teenagers to behave like proper PKs.

Just kidding. Actually the hardest thing is these situations where there's some big kerfuffle and there aren't only two sides, there's more like five or six. And Paul the great negotiator is in the thick of it all, trying valiantly to understand everyone and be charitable to all, and explain everyone to each other, and come up with a plan and solution. And I sit in the background agonizing and praying that I won't hate anyone and wringing my hands because I think surely this time he will blow it and all six factions will hate him in the end. Which has never happened yet.
Another more frequent big deal for me is all the demands on his time. People have absolutely no idea.

4. In all sixteen years that you've known me, what have I said that twisted your mind the most?
It was probably the "round nest" episode. Or the tooth ferry. Or was it when you asked me what heaven was like because I had been there. (what?) "You know, when you went to heaven?" (WHAT???!!!) "Mom, come on, YOU know, you went to heaven. And you sewed and sewed." (Oh for mercy's sake, she's thinking of Dorcas in the Bible.) "But Emily, that wasn't ME!" --tearfully--"But you sew and sew!"

5. What was the first movie that ever made you cry?

Hmmm, not sure, but the first movie that terrified me clean out of my mind was when we watched 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in the 5th grade. I was this sheltered little Amish girl, and here were these cannibals going after this guy, and it was horrible, and everyone else was laughing, and I was so scared I can feel it to this day.

But crying? Probably when we were in Canada with Northern Youth Programs and we watched a film about Hudson Taylor, and his little girl died, and she looked exactly like Amy, short curly hair and profile and all. And all of a sudden I realized I was sobbing aloud.

I think I take films much too seriously.

Quote of the Day:

"This is what I call the double bee duplifoot."

--Jenny, doing tricks on the trampoline

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

A very happy Father's Day to all the dads, including mine, who taught me to love books and travel and languages. And to make do. And whom I am more like every day when it comes to being a pack rat for things other people (the sane ones) would throw away.

Special applause here to Paul, who is a wonderful dad to our children. He listens to them and has long discussions on even controversial things (instead of just laying down the law). He is proud of his daughters and they know he loves them and thinks they are beautiful, setting a very high standard for any future men in their lives (and those young men will have to pass the interview with Dad before they take those daughters anywhere--diabolical chuckle). He teaches his sons to work and enjoy it. He provides for us financially and gives generously. Most of all he loves our kids' mom which is not always an easy task. Paul, we all love you.

Paul also makes things happen, like all of us going camping at the coast for two nights this week. Amy put it very well here.

Quote of the Day:
"Pigga* is kind of like Dad. He has these long drooping eyebrow hairs."
--Emily, who loves her dad but she can. not. stand. those long Smucker eyebrows
*the cat

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Seizure and Stuff

Paul is the sort of person who marches into situations and gets things done. He can do pretty much anything he sets his mind to, such as figuring taxes and starting the tiller and changing oil and persuading stubborn people and fixing the coffee percolator at church and packing the van efficiently and a long list more.

Next to him, I tend to feel bumbling and incapable and tentative.

So last Sunday night was a bit of an "Oh yeah, that's right," reminder for me.

We had Uncle Milford and Aunt Susie over for popcorn after church, along with their guest, Milford's bachelor friend John.

We were sitting around the table talking and eating when John, at the end, started scootching his chair back and forth. At first we thought, oh, maybe it's stuck on the table leg or something. But he kept scootching, back and forth, back and forth.

In a case like this, first you think nothing of it, then you're a bit embarrassed for him, then you wake up and realize Something Is Wrong.

John had this fixed look on his face. I said, "Are you ok?" and he didn't answer. Then he started twitching his head and snorting, over and over.

Susie looked at me. "He has epilepsy. He's having a seizure."

Of course I thought, "He's going to fall," and turned to Paul to tell him to catch him if he goes over. Paul sat there with this awkward "Just get me out of here and get this over with" look on his face. I could tell the last thing he felt like doing was being involved here, in any capacity.

Well, John didn't fall over, and in a short time the fog cleared off his face and he became aware of us again. I again asked if he's ok. He looked a bit bewildered and said, "I guess I'm just a little tired."

They left soon after. And Paul admitted that in such a situation he feels very uncomfortable and completely out of his element.

It was a reminder for me that there actually is one area, and that's medical emergencies, where I am the capable, take-charge person in our marriage.

Quote of the Day:
Ben: Mom, can you think of a comic character with a somewhat Mennonite last name?
Me: (Ummmm, Stoltzfus, Miller, Yoder. . . ?) No.
Ben: Dr. Zook in Hagar the Horrible.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Today I gave a talk to a group of seniors at OASIS, the senior-learning organization that's located, of all places, on the second floor of Macy's, just past the obscene lingerie displays.

I was asked to talk about my column in the paper and how that came about, so as always I emphasized that it was a God Thing from start to finish, and I could never have made it happen on my own. (Eugene is one of the most left-wing cities in the U.S. and the most improbable columnist for the Eugene paper would have to be a conservative Christian mom of six from the middle of the grass fields by Harrisburg.)

Actually, my entire writing journey has been a story of a) simply walking through doors that opened in front of me and b) doing everything wrong. All the books and internet advice and writers groups say, "Promote yourself, make noise, advertise, call, get what's yours, put yourself in the spotlight." Well. Whenever I try that it flops; whenever I keep my mouth shut things happen.

Example: I have never written fiction and really have no idea how, but a while back I got the idea that it would be fun to write a story/book based on a Mennonite wedding and all the different tangled tales coming together there: the young servers who "like" each other, the ex-Mennonite aunt coming from out of state, the preacher's wife who doesn't enjoy doing premarital counselling because it reminds her of all the flaws in her marriage (ahem), and so on.

This is all whimsy and "maybe someday" at this point, but I did start a file of ideas.

Well. Yesterday I got an email from a fiction editor at Harvest House Publishers here in Eugene. He wrote, "I don't know if you've ever considered trying to write a novel, but I edit a lot of our fiction and I'd love to see some Mennonite fiction." He also said, "If you do have something you'd like us to look at for possible publication, please feel free to send it along."

I am still flabbergasted. Most authors would give their eyeteeth to have a publisher contact them and ask for a manuscript. And here this falls into my lap completely unsought.

It really isn't fair, and as always the unfairness is weighted heavily in my favor. I don't understand it and don't suppose I ever will, but as always it's a God Thing.

Just FYI, I am not planning to write that novel any time soon, but if you have plot and character ideas, let me know.

Quote of the Day:
Ben: Did I tell you what happened to my camera? I fell into a creek and. . .
Emily: It wasn't a creek, it was a river!
Ben: All right! I fell into a body of water!
Me: (Thinks) Only in this household. . .

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Letter from Hburg

Today's column is about similarities and differences among siblings and is found here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Relief and a Question

It's been rainin' for a few days which makes the farmers happy--the rain plumps up the grass seed but at this stage doesn't knock it off the stalks--and to the great relief of us allergees the rain has settled the pollen. No more scratchy throat and gagging, and much less wheezing and coughing.

Different subject: why is it that so often pioneer missionaries are not nice people? I was asked, along with a few other people, to give a book report at church tomorrow evening on a missionary or great Christian or someone similar.

So I've been reading "But God Hath Chosen" by Margaret Epp, a biography of John and Mary Dyck who were Mennonite missionaries to Colombia in the 1940's and 50's, and who died in a plane crash in the mid-50's.

Mr. Dyck was one of these impulsive, determined, bombastic, passionate souls who went blazing into danger like it was a sparkling swimming pool on a hot day.

I have read lots of missionary biographies and somehow the famous trailblazing missionaries all fit this mold. CT Studd, William Carey, Stan Dale, and so a long list goes on.

What's worse, it seems these men treated their wives like dirt. The wives could be pregnant, sick, lonely, and discouraged, and still the men go off down the river for three months to reach more tribes.

On the one hand I'm impressed with their dedication and what they accomplished. I have to admit the numbers and statistics are impressive. On the other hand I get so annoyed at them, even with the biographers sugar-coating their behavior, that I find it hard to see the things they got right.

I realize it takes a special kind of person to take the Gospel to unreached people. But is it impossible for this kind of person to somehow just be NICE?

Quote of the Day:
"You might as well just love him."
--Jenny, after Ben explained how the football got lodged in the middle of my hanging plant

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Every year the farmers watch for grass pollen like a pregnant woman watches for signs of labor. "When the pollen flies, it's five weeks to cuttin'" says Lowell Kropf, who drops his g's like any good farmer.

People with allergies such as my SIL Bonnie live in abject misery for about a month when the pollen is flyin'. Their eyes water and itch, and they feel like they can't breathe.

I was always grateful that even though I have asthma, I was unaffected by pollen.

Not this year. For some reason the pollen is affecting me like never before, not with watery eyes like Bonnie but with a scratchy throat and wheezing lungs. In the middle of Jessi's wedding on Saturday I had the asthma attack of my life and scuttled to the bathroom where I coughed and wheezed and even retched into the toilet while two teenage girls in the wings asked each other worriedly, "Is she ok?" It was awful.

Pollen count is measured by particles per cubic meter. 20 is considered high and 200 very high. In Eugene, 20 miles south of this area and most of the grass fields, the count often reaches 400 or 500 this time of year. I can't imagine what the count must be right here, where the pollen hangs in a yellow haze above the ripening fields.

Quote of the Day:
"We're either waiting on the Lord or procrastinating."
--my SIL Rosie, on building a house

Monday, June 04, 2007


Since we evidently were not busy enough with the wedding this past weekend, it was also the grand finale of Steven's year with the Junior Boychoir division of the Oregon Children's Choir. They had an all-day "tour" on Thursday which included singing at two or three different schools plus several hours at a fun-park. (The chaperon moms said Steven spent most of his time on the go-carts and bumper boats, and, um, it might behoove us to not let him drive a car for a while.)

After a rehearsal on Saturday right before the wedding, the final concert was at the big new First Baptist Church in Eugene on Sunday afternoon. Each choir sang two or three songs, and then all 140 children from all the different choirs sang together. Steven's group sang a Swahili song in which Steven and one other boy "soloed" on one verse. It was beautiful.

I plan to have Steven (and maybe Ben and Jenny) audition for Joyful Noise, their Aunt Rosie's choir. It's much closer to home, and I think Rosie does as well as Steven's director this year, plus with a smaller group she can do more individually.

I got lots of feedback on how well Steven did this year and how much they enjoyed him. (Dab eyes) My favorite was this:

Quote of the Day:
"At one point this year my son Markus went to the director and said, 'I've noticed that Steven is a very respectful boy and I think I'd do better if I stood beside him'"
--Markus's mom

Saturday, June 02, 2007


Today Paul's niece Jessi married Kevin Kauffman. It was a beautiful wedding and Jessi was a beautiful bride.

Our family was involved thus: Amy was a bridesmaid, Paul preached, and Jenny was a flower girl. I sewed Jenny's dress and edited the sermon.

Maybe someone else will post Real Photographer Photos somewhere. Meanwhile, here are a few posed pictures I took and some behind-the-scenes pictures that I like even better.

Here's Jessi and Amy:

Ok, I'm not sure how to insert captions between pictures. The second picture is the whole bridal party. Amy is the bridesmaid on the left; Jenny is in the white dress. The junior bridesmaid is Nina, Kevin's niece. The other bridesmaids are Rhonda (friend), Stephy (sister), Amanda (cousin), and Phebe (friend). The junior groomsman is Trevin, the bride's brother. The others are Randy (Jessi's brother), Brandon and Brandon and Travis (friends), and Justin (also a brother).

The next picture is Nina's patient mom, Corina, doing the girls' hair. And the last one is Emily saving the day by telling the girls the story of Rapunzel when they just could not sit still any longer and the wedding was a good half hour off yet.

Quote of the Day:

"Her crying mother and I."

--Steve (Jessi's dad) last night at rehearsal