Monday, July 30, 2007

Guilt and Goodbyes

Becky and Rod and the boys left this morning, leaving behind them a bunch of good memories and two sloshy balls the size of tennis balls, one filled with fake blood and eyeballs, the other with green slop and maggots that I really hope are fake. Blech. Six boys under one roof, you know.

Now we are trying to check everything off a long list before Amy and Emily and I leave on our long road trip this afternoon.

All prayers appreciated for our journey. My faithful reader EG asked if I'll update on the road. I said I'd try.

I suppose it was time for Becky to leave. I may have mentioned how utterly spaced out I get while she's here. Well. Yesterday about midafternoon the kids were messing around in the living room and then I heard Steven and Derek singing "Happy Birthday" to Ben.

I freaked out. It was Ben's 14th birthday and I had completely forgotten. He was very forgiving but I am still consumed with guilt on steroids. "What kind of mom. . . ??" etc. etc.

In my defense, we had already decided to have a party after we get back from our trip and to buy him a bike like we do all the kids when they turn 14.

But still, that was almost unforgiveable.

Quotes of the Day:
"Bye Doggie, I don't think I'll miss you."
--my nephew Derek, telling Hansie the Huge Hairy Snuffling Dog goodbye

"Why is Aunt Becky, when she laughs hard, she claps her hands?"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sister Times

On Thursday we drank way too much coffee and that night we went out on the town--me, Amy, Emily, and Becky. Somehow Becky and I got the idea that we were still teenagers. We had a great time and then at 11 pm we went out for ice cream. And then we stayed up talking until 1:30.

The next day we paid dearly for our licentiousness, turning into pitiful crippled old ladies. I took a nap, then she took a nap, then I got a horrible migraine, then she got one. We crept around here and slept and took Motrin and felt sorry for each other. Finally in the evening we felt good enough to sit on the porch and talk.

And then today we felt nice and chipper. We went out for breakfast at a diner in Harrisburg and kept track of how often the waitress called us "Sweetie." The final score was 5-2 in my favor, making up a bit for all the times our brother Fred told us that Becky was pretty and I was ugly.

Since Becky lives in a Muslim country, she looked at the menu and announced that she wants to eat something that oinks! And we did, a big bacon-and-cheese omelet.

And then we went garage saling! That's me on the left and Becky on the right.

Then this evening my brother Phil and his family came down and the cousins had a great time looking at Jason and Keith's yearbook, especially since they are very nonchalant about the fact that they go to school with the President of Yemen's kids, and when they go on field trips they are accompanied by carfuls of soldiers and trucks with mounted guns. And that their classmates will fly off to Paris or Saudi Arabia for the weekend to shop. No big deal.

Good times.

Quote of the Day:

"That is ghastly!"

--Becky, not intending a pun, when she saw how much it costs to fill the van up with gas

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


So why am I all giddy and fluttery, unable to stick to any task, leaping out of my seat to look out the window, busily tying up loose ends, making lists, feverishly wiping cupboard doors, and lecturing the children?

Because my sis Becky and her family are coming soon.

I haven't seen Becky since last August; our families haven't seen each other for about 3 years. They live in Yemen, so getting together is hard.

But they're on their way down Interstate 5.

Quote of the Day:
"Kann net wahda!"
--Becky and I ("Can't wait!")

Monday, July 23, 2007

One of Those Moments

Emily read a book a while back in which someone collected a "Library of Unpublished Works." She was intrigued with this idea, so last week after I had her clean out the playhouse she announced that she and Jenny were starting their own Library of Unpublished Works in the play refrigerator. In went the manuscript for The Drogon Queen, a science fiction book by my friend Carol, plus some stories Emily has written.

And then of course the girls had to come and harass me like mosquitoes to contribute something to their library.

All right, fine. So I dug in my files and pulled out an old file of poems, and opened it, and started reading the one on top, and felt like someone had punched all the air out of me.

You know, I have never walked a journey of grief quite like this one with my nephew Leonard, with its weeks of doing ok and then out-of-the-blue sock-in-the-gut moments when I completely lose it.

The poem was a hand-printed 17-verse production that I must have written for Lenny when he was three or four. I vaguely remember now making a little book for him and illustrating it--for Christmas, or maybe his birthday. But I had completely forgotten about it.

It began:
In Minnesota lived a boy
Whose name was Leonard Yoder.
And Leonard's favorite toy was this:
A tractor with a loader.

It then goes on to say how he liked to play with his mini farm equipment, go to the auction and see the animals, and chase Grandpa's guineas. And he wonders what he'll be when he grows up.

"It might be fun to be a king
Or turbaned cobra charmer. . ."
"Hey, I know what!" he said at last,
"I want to be a farmer!"

The next ten verses elaborate on the animals in his barn, his big blue Harvestore, his wife and children, and talking with other farmers at the elevator.

"We'll argue back and forth about
Which herbicides are better,
If Pioneer beats Trojan and
Which summers have been wetter."

The poem ends:

So Leonard made his mini's go
And thought and dreamed and planned.
And what did he end up to be?
A farmer--on his land!

Well, Leonard did not end up farming, even though that was still what he wanted to do. And he didn't have a wife and children, and all the plans he had and that we had for him ended tragically.

And I read that hopeful old poem and wept.

Quote of the Day:
"This is the thing--there are no new stories to tell."
--Leonard's sister

Friday, July 20, 2007


Here's my schedule for upcoming book signings in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Friday, August 3rd

10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Berean Bookstore
Wooster Place
3721 Burbank Rd.
Wooster, Ohio

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Amish Mennonite Heritage Center
5798 County Rd.

Saturday, August 4th

11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Lehman's Hardware Store
Kidron, OH

(When I'm not at these places I hope to be at the BMA convention)


Saturday, August 11

9:30a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Ken's Educational Joys
1930 Division Hwy.
Ephrata, PA

12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Lancaster Provident Berean
1625 Lititz Pike

If you know of anyone who would be interested in stopping by, please spread the word.

Quote of the Day:
"Are you ever below 11?"
--Matt, when I told him I have a worry scale for him ranging from zero (ahhh, all is well) to ten (all hands on deck emergency).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ich Haeh fon ein Singer*

One of my favorite singers emailed me today and said that someone referred him to my blog and the post about his music. And he commented, the first time he's commented on a blog--actually, he says, the first time he's read a blog.

Yes, none other than John Schmid.

Ok, for me this is like Ben hearing from Steve Nash, or Emily from Gail Carson Levine, or Jenny from Barbara Park, the author of Junie B Jones.

See proof here.
(click "show original post" if need be and scroll down to the end)

Quote of the Day:
"I actually was able to post a comment! Not bad for a dutchman whose computer is black and is powered by kerosene."
--John Schmid

*Trans: I hear from a singer.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Controversy Time

My friend Arlene loves debate and thinks it's time I stir up some controversy on my blog. Now I seldom have the intestinal fortitude necessary for controversy and debate, but since I love Arlene, how about we get going on the following topics, all dear to Arlene's heart I'm sure:

Birkenstocks: is it a good testimony to look like a Mennonite hippie?

Down on their level: do shorter guys make better dads?

Spic and span: should moms with four young children be expected to wax their floors?

Up on stuff: do Mennonite moms really have time to be news junkies?

Blogs: would a MennoMom's time be better spent waxing her floors?

"Curves": would Menno Simons approve? Would Bishop Troyer?

Gold Canyon candles: do you really need your house smelling like Shirts on the Clothesline Ginger Lime Cinnamon Deodorant Verbena?

Adoption: are the boneheaded people and their comments sent from God to teach us some sort of truth when we're lying awake at 2 a.m. thinking of a snappy comeback?

Debate away.

My apologies if you are out of a few in-jokes here. Feel free to debate anyhow.

Quote of the Day:
"When someone knocks on our door at night, I go get the gun and take it to my dad, and he goes to the door and shoots 'em!
--Arlene's son, in Sunday school, causing the other kids to stare at him with huge round eyes, Emily the helper to hide her face behind the SS papers, and me to do some hasty damage control

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Busy Busy

We are in the middle of harvest, which means that Paul is gone many hours of the day, the boys work odd shifts sacking seed and cleaning at the warehouse, our schedules are so erratic that someone always shows up in the kitchen to eat their next meal right after I wipe the last countertop, and everything from boys to petunias to Pigga the cat seems to be constantly hungry and thirsty.

Not only that, but my sis Becky and her family are coming for 5 or 6 days at the end of this month. Now that is cause for celebration and I can't wait. However, I don't get a blessed thing done when she's here so I have to do everything up ahead that I possibly can.

And, not only that, but as soon as Becky's clan leaves, we begin our Big Adventure, the logistics of which IMHO make D-Day look like a run to the grocery store.

I have a new book coming out, Paul's nephew Byran is getting married, and Amy is moving to Abbeville, South Carolina to teach school there. So, the Lord willing, as people say before a big undertaking, Amy and Emily and I will set out at the end of July in Amy's car and drive across the country. First to the BMA (Biblical Mennonite Alliance) convention in Ohio, where Amy will look up Bible school friends while I have book signings in that area. (And Emily hopes to have someone cool to hang out with--see me for applications [girls only please])

From there we go to Pennsylvania to my sister's house. Then Paul, Matt, and Jenny fly in and we all go to Byran's wedding on Friday, August 10, which happens to be our 23rd anniversary.

(Meanwhile, Ben and Steven are staying in Oregon with friends/neighbors and looking after the dog and cat and petunias and such.)

Then we go to Lancaster for more book signings on Saturday and we also spend time with my niece Annette and her fine husband Jay.

After the weekend the others fly back home, and Amy and I drive to South Carolina, where I get a glimpse of her life for the next school year before flying home the next day.

Now I am by nature an in-the-moment/deal-with-whatever-crisis-is-in-front-of-me person, but I know that if I'm going to survive with a shred of sanity, I have to do lots of planning and preparation NOW. So before Becky gets here I'm trying to write my column for August, make food for Paul and the kids, make lists for Ben and Steven, arrange for places for them to stay, make a list of the clothes Jenny will need to pack, file my flight info where I won't forget it, make motel reservations, plan routes, and a hundred other things.

Paul's cousin Trish is a true Smucker who loves to plan. She is also going to the wedding, and she sits on the combine these days and happily plans and plans, even though she has probably 1/4 as much to prepare as I do. How I wish I could have her do all the planning for me.

I will post the locations and times for signings as soon as I get them, and I do hope to meet some of you wonderful people.

Quote of the Day:
"A little runt like you??!!"
--Paul's mom, to Amy, when she found out that Amy was going to teach high school students

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Sleepy Young Lady

My sister who reads lots of parenting books says that it works best with teenagers if you try to defuse a situation with humor, preferably written. I tried it. It worked. See more here.

Quote of the Day:
"We will be chite and bite the kite."
--Ben and Steven, who have been exposed to some Dutch but not enough, trying to come up with rhyming words
"chite," or as we always pronounced it, "Kschiiiet," is an all-purpose adjective meaning "proper, as things ought to be"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to Have a Lemonade Stand

1. Choose the hottest day of the summer, so far.
2. Do not plan ahead. Never mind that the 5-day outlook in the paper, that you read and discuss every day, has been telling you that today will be hot. No no. Wait. . .
3. . .until lunch is over and your mom is thinking Please, God, all I need is ten minutes with no one talking to me. Please, would that be so hard? Maybe I could read a few blogs in peace and quiet. Or sleep. Yes, wait til then.
4. Say, "Mom, can I have a lemonade stand today? Can I? You said one time I could when it got hot. So can I? Huh? Can I, Mom?"
5. She will sigh and say, Yeah, I guess. Then say, "I need signs. Emily, can you help me make signs? Ben, can you help me make signs? Mom, can you help me make signs?"
6. Say, "Mom, what shall I use for a table? Mom, do you have some pop I can sell? No? Can I get some pop from the warehouse?"
7. Call Dad at the warehouse to ask if you can get some of his pop from the 'pop fridge' to sell. Hand the phone to Mom to explain what you mean.
8. Say, "Mom, can you take me to the warehouse to get some pop? Dad said it's ok. Can you take me, Mom? How soon can we go? Hey! [pat pat poke] Can we go get some pop when you're off the phone?"
9. Have Emily take you to the warehouse for pop.
10. Color in the big letters on the sign that Mom drew on her big roll of paper.
11. Have Emily carry the table out under the oak tree.
12. Ignore Mom who has been through this for seven summers and says that people going by on this curve on a brilliantly sunny day can hardly see anything in the shade of the oak tree.
13. Set up the table and a chair.
14. Have Ben carry out a cooler of pop and ice. Mix lemonade and take it out.
15. Try to tape the sign onto the table. Have the wind blow it off.
16. Try again.
17. Get hot and sweaty.
18. Cry.
19. Get Mom.
20. Have Mom try to tape the sign, weight it down with magnets, pin it to the tablecloth, tie it to a bucket of sidewalk chalk, and weight it down with the cooler.
21. See the wind blow it straight up.
22. See Mom get all hot and sweaty.
23. See Mom cry.
24. Just let it flap in the wind like Mom says to.
25. Wait for cars to come by.
26. Wave at them.
27. Wait. Get hotter. Wave at trucks.
28. ditto
29. ditto
30. ditto
31. Come in for a drink.
32. Wait. Get hotter. Listen to Ben and Steven having a great time in the creek.
33. Cry.
34. Watch a car...yes!!! pull up and stop.
35. See a nice lady with short blond hair ask for lemonade.
36. Realize you forgot cups.
37. Run into the house for cups.
38. Run back out. Pour her some lemonade.
39. See her give you a dollar.
40. Dig the change out of a yogurt cup.
41. Hear the nice lady say you can keep the change!
42. Wave as she leaves.
43. Run into the house and show Mom your dollar.
44. Wait in the heat and wave at cars.
45. Buy and drink a can of pop. So? You still made 75 cents.
46. Hope the warehouse guys will come by.
47. Decide to go swimming with Ben and Steven tomorrow.

Quote of the Day:
"And this, kids, is Grass-seedus Sackerus, an endangered species because no one wants to do it."
--what Matt thought the tour guide should say here.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Today's Letter from Harrisburg is about our recent canoe/camping trip down the Willamette River.

P.S. And please, please remember that it's wil-LAM-mut and not willa-MET.

P.P.S. Amy and I just now looked up "Willamette River" on Wikipedia to see why it's pronounced like it is. No answer to that one, but there, just a bit down the page, was a photo of the Willamette at Harrisburg, including the riverbank where we sat the other evening listening to the Knox Brothers and watching the fireworks. How cool is that? You can see it up close here.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Summer in Oregon

Last night I went on a long bike ride.

The air was cooling off after a hot day and smelled of grass-seed harvest. Golden windrows lay across large flat fields. As I rode along Isom Road, balers and stackers zipped around a nearby field, raising a cloud of dust illuminated by the sun setting behind Mary's Peak.

I think the Willamette Valley in summer is just about as close to Heaven as we get on Earth.

Quote of the Day:
"One of the great things about being male is your phone conversations last less than ten seconds."
--Matt, after a phone conversation that consisted, on his end, of "Yeah?. . . See ya."

Monday, July 02, 2007

One Year

Today it's a year that my nephew Leonard took his own life.

"There are no more answers than there were a year ago," his parents, Marcus and Anna, tell me.

And yet they also testify to God's presence. "It isn't just a cliche that God is really there with you. It's true," Marcus says.

This has been one of many lessons for me: the pain and the grace do not cancel each other out; Both are present in full measure.

In Minnesota, a small group of friends and family is gathering to unveil the grave stone and to release balloons with personal notes attached.

My SIL Geneva and I endured that week together last year, the hardest and horriblest of my life. We both feel pulled toward Minnesota today, but of course can't go, so we're getting together at a park in Salem. Not to stir up the depths so much as to just be together because we need each other today.

Life has moved on for me in many ways. I am able to live in the moment and make decisions and enjoy people.

But I miss him, and it still hurts, and I am still learning to make peace with all the unanswered questions, and I still wince when I see someone in black jeans and a Western shirt and cowboy boots.

Quote of the Day:
"We love you, and we're praying for you."
--what my brother says is the best thing to say to a grieving family, and maybe even the only thing