Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Comment from Matt

folks, Mom is now signed up for facebook, and you can find it here:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Facebook, DC, and Outwitting Security

So the other day Matt got after me for not signing up for Facebook yet. "One of these times I will," I said. [BTW I reached the Yes decision based on my friend EG's email that assured me I can opt out of all the throwing-sheep foolishness and on my friend Kay's reasoning that going on Facebook is a great way to keep {loving, concerned} track of your big kids and their friends, which is why I first went on Xanga.]
Then Emily, who was on the computer, said, "Hey, Mom, why don't you go on Facebook as soon as you get 300,000 hits on Life in the Shoe?"
"Ok," I said, much like Jephthah must have said when someone suggested he sacrifice whatever comes out to meet him when he comes home.
So we came back from our wild two days in DC and I checked my blog, and to my surprise it was at 300,298 hits.
Ok. Facebook coming soon, like when I'm on my own computer again.

How to summarize two wild days in the nation's capital? First of all, who would have thought that everyone else within a 200-mile radius also had the bright idea to put the family and in-laws in the van and go see the Museum of American History? Everything was crowded, busy, full, loud, and full of people people people.
Of course the monuments were accessible and moving. The Korean War Memorial, with all those wet, battle-weary men stumbling uphill, guys the age of Matt and my nephew Jason. And the new WWII memorial, which is simple yet profound and very beautiful, and it's too bad it didn't get built until so many years after the war.
You know, you don't realize from pictures in high school textbooks how huge these places are. Like the Jefferson Memorial always looked like an oversized gazebo in someone's backyard and in reality it is enormous, with tall columns and lots of marble steps and rounded stone platform things out the back where you can sit and soak up some sun on a very cold day.
Unlike the open-air monuments, the museums were unbelievably full. We gave up on the Museum of American History, when the line snaked down the long flights of steps and far down the sidewalk, and they were letting in only a handful of people, every 20 minutes.
We tried the National Archives and the story was similar. However, we did see the wonderful displays at the Conservatory and also the Air and Space Museum and a few others.
And we toured the Capitol, a very very different proposition from ten years ago when we wandered all around the tunnelly things on the outside and saw Newt Gingrich get whisked into his black Suburban and then we went up the steps and the security guy chuckled at Matt's big pocketknife and handed it to Aunt Rosie for safe keeping and we were free to wander at will.
No no. No more. Way out on the back lawn of the Capitol we descended some steps and waited in line while a uniformed guy told us to put all water bottles in the garbage, all food, all lotion, all perfume, all drinks, all sprays of any kind.
Well. I had in my purse a dainty little tub of a new hand lotion that my fine neighbor Anita had given me for Christmas. I was not about to consign it to the garbage. So I rested a while on the little stone curb thing by the flower beds along the stairway. Hmmm hmmm, la di da.....and I reached back and gently dug out some dirt near the edge, quickly inserted my lotion and hand sanitizer, covered them with dirt and leaves, noted the spot, and casually took my place in line.
Surely security was watching all these things, surely the city was alive with a thousand spies before the inauguration. Would I be found out, or not?
We took the tour, a very tightly-controlled experience compared to ten years ago, but still interesting. The capitol is an amazing building and that is the truth.
Then we went back outside and I rushed to my flower bed. . . hmmm, right there I think....Yes! there they were, safe and sound.
Maybe the FBI had more important things to check up on, with the inauguration and all.

Oh, we also saw the Lincoln Memorial and decided he doesn't really look like he's smiling on one side and frowning on the other. And of course one of my sons, that one that crashes into church beams, had to sit on the banister and go sliding way way down, in sight of three security guards and a sign that said, "Do not slide on banisters." We pointed it out to him. "Oops," he said.

Quote of the Day:
Jason: Ask me if I'm a red truck.
Emily: Are you a red truck?
Jason: No.
--Jason's idea of a good joke. Emily and Steven and Jenny thought this was really funny

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Snapshots of vacation in Virginia:
a houseful of mostly males
and noise
and smells
and laundry
and food
and games
fitting in occasional private conversations with the sister
meeting the neighbors who are probably characters in Em's future novel
as he is scared of mice
and plays taps at military funerals
only he raises the bugle and pushes a button and it plays by itself
and she loves to watch football games on TV.
cousins interacting
a full dinner table
with piles of awesome food.
watching people
and trying to figure out all the shades of Mennonites in the area
which is completely confusing
trying to get the Old Order Mennonite horse to come to the fence
and talk to us.
going to Washington DC tomorrow

quote of the Day:
"Our coats are no-nonsense. That is the only thing that makes sense to us."
--Derek the nephew, quoting this

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Auf wiedersehen

Today, the Lord willing, we all go to Portland by various routes. Tomorrow morning, the Lord willing, we all 8 fly to Virginia to my fine sister's for a week. Then Amy catches a ride to Bible school from there, and Emily stays an extra week for some aunt time.

The weather and road conditions these last couple of weeks compel me to say "the Lord willing" more than normal.

Hansie and Michael the neighbor will be taking care of things here.

I wish all of you a memorable Christmas, full of joy unspeakable, the peace that passes all understanding, faith--the evidence of things hoped for, and love--the greatest of these.

P.S. Oh my. That was the longest drive to Portland ever. 4 hours. Lots of packed icy snow in odd bumpy lines in the lanes, and a few extra bad spots made traffic back up for miles and miles. Let's hope the plane leaves tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Comparison Shopping

I know some of you readers have done the circuit of our heavily-initialed Mennonite Bible schools. For the sake of the dear daughter trying to plan her future, I'd like to hear from people who have attended both EBI (formerly the more ponderous BMABI) and SMBI. (Or if you attended only one but have something to say, say on.)

Which is the more academically taxing?
(Or is that up to the student?)
Which has a more intense social life?
How hard is it to be alone at either (for introverts who have to have time away from people)?
Which would have a more supportive atmosphere for someone in recovery?
What is the dress code for girls at SMBI and is it true they have to wear nylons? [Unfortunately this is very important to the DD]


Quote of the Day:
Miss Amy: Sit down and be quiet!
Drennan: I'm not very good at multi-tasking.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More on Young People

After my recent post about young people, someone commented with this:

So what should you do if you happen to know that quite a lot of youth are living private lives which might just slightly shock the elders in their church? Not to say that none of the youth are wonderful and all.

I'd really like to hear from young people in particular on this.

What is cause for alarm? What isn't? How can older people intervene effectively?

I realize we all have different standards of what is alarming. I spoke at a church recently where they had just been made aware that the young people were smoking pot in the parking lot during church services. And then on the other end of the pendulum swing we have the example that made my kids hoot with laughter the other morning: that when I was their age we were supposed to part our hair exactly down the middle and if we wanted to be a little bit cool and rebellious we would part it ever so slightly on the side, like half an inch. And in between we have my niece who is in on troubling information about what her seemingly straitlaced friends are actually doing while their parents and the church are oblivious because they look so good during daylight hours.

But hey, from hair to pot, it's all about where your heart is at.

So, young people and young at heart, I want to hear from you about this. Answer the specific question or ramble, I don't care.

Quote of the Day:
"Most of the time big women are, like, comforting, and skinny women are, like, grouchy. [pause] No offense, Jenny. Or Emily."
--Jenny's friend Deana

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gray Hair #249

Last night was the annual Christmas program at our church school. As always, everyone showed up starched and shined. They sang their hearts out and astonished all of us with their performance of "He Gave Everything," a drama that had us laughing at times and crying at others. Well, Rita Baker, she of the soft heart and five boys, cried. I don't know that the rest of us did.

(Here's Jenny surrounded by boys, which often seems to be her lot in life)

By what combination of skill and luck and sheer magic Miss Amy pulled believable, authentic performances out of teenaged guys, we will never know. All I know is that she had 15-year-olds, a species known for mumbling and scoffing and shuffling, up there enunciating clearly and taking on their characters like they meant it.

As the principal's wife and the teacher's mom, I played my usual role of sending my frozen Christmas turkey to school and seeing it get schlepped around onstage, scavenging at the last minute for a flashlight for Paul the lighting guy, and arranging dozens of plates of food afterwards, a Mennonite Christmas-program feast at its best.

Unfortunately, a few teenaged boys, no doubt tired of being trussed up in white shirts and dress pants, relieved that the program was over, and fueled by a few too many pieces of Aunt Bonnie's famous fudge, decided to go into the sanctuary and run around the perimeter. . . with the lights off.

Now there are these thick beams that go up the walls in the sanctuary and arch up like they're holding up the roof. And you know what's coming, don't you? One of the boys--that would be mine of course--crashed into a beam.

I was shortly summoned to the boys' restroom, where I got to see my nice calm son with a chunk of flesh dangling from his upper lip, with lots of blood all around. His tooth had gone right through his lip and ripped off a pea-sized piece; amazingly, the teeth are fine.

We took him home and gently fitted the chunk back where it came from and held it there with a band-aid. Today he went to school and my nurse friend Sharon came and looked at it and said we did the right thing, and they seldom stitch up things like this so there's no need for a doctor unless it gets infected or something.

Today, I am fine again. The son is also fine, except he's having a little trouble with eating and drinking, especially since his mouth was still sore from when he stuck a lighted match in it a few days before, showing off of course, and miscalculated the temperature and direction just a bit.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, we weren't running; we were jogging."
--my son's friend

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weather, Parents, and Such

Sunday night it started snowing and blowing; by Monday morning the temperature was down in the low twenties, setting a new record, and there were little drifts of snow along the hedge and in the ditches. This simply does not happen in the Willamette Valley.

It actually wasn't that much snow, maybe an inch. Ben came in from getting the newspaper, all astonished. "It's so weird! Some places on the sidewalk there's no snow, and then some places there's several inches!" I thought, how can a child who was born in Canada be so ignorant about the effect of wind on powdery snow?

The weather basically shut everything down. There were lots of accidents in the area, and a lot more further north toward Portland, where the roads were much worse.

Paul was across the mountain so we had lots of calls back and forth and to various ones already out on the road regarding should we have school or not. Those who grew up in colder climes generally said it wouldn't be a problem to drive to school; the natives weren't interested in going anywhere. But the kids really needed to practice for the program, so we started school at 11:00, and I drove the school van in, all my Minnesotan instincts coming into play because the roads were not nice at all--packed snow here and ice there and lots of places where you couldn't tell what was underneath you.

I left the children at school and came home and called my mom just to chat. You may recall that Mom and Dad still live in Minnesota, and Mom is 88 and Dad 92. "It's 17 below this morning," Mom said cheerfully. "But we're staying nice and warm. Yesterday it was really blowing snow and ice, so we had to really be careful driving to church."

I think my mom would have driven that school van without a second thought.

Quote of the Day:
[in a conversation around Thanksgiving]
"It was so nice this week. I even went out and washed the car. And Dad spent the last two days out in the barn fixing up his rabbit hutches. [chuckle] He has a new business--raising rabbits!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Drumroll, Please

I thought it up, jokingly, off the cuff, just because I needed a file name for my manuscript. And Good Books thought it was clever and fit the series well, so the title of my third book is:


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Notes While Waiting

Sunday night. Children in bed. Paul over the mountain with Emily. Peyton the cat safely in back hall. And outside it is snowing and blowing. Yes, here in the Willamette Valley, it is blowing snow like it's Minnesota. Amazing.

And I got the bright idea to sign up for YouTube (yes, YouTube; yes, me) and upload (wait, this is as bad as jumper cables--uploading is when it goes from my computer out the wire and into the plug in the wall and down the road and off somewhere else, right?) the little video Amy took of the Joyful Noise concert and Ben's solo, the one that makes me feel like my children have been freed from the curse of their mother's unmusicality. It is now 11:14 and this has been going on since 10:41 so I have a sneaking suspicion something is going wrong but meanwhile I'll post again while I wait.

How can two people have such different reactions to the same person?

So there's a certain person who I obviously will not name who sets my teeth on edge and has for years, but they don't know it. I feel this way for good reason of course, like how they treat people, tsk tsk, and that attitude. And then one of my beautiful daughters meets this same person, and Hits It Off, and they laugh and joke over lunch like old friends.

Today I again taught the youth girls' Sunday school class. First they practiced a song with the youth guys, for the program, and sounded wonderful, and I thought to myself what a marvelous bunch of youth we have. And then we had our class, and I once again was amazed at this bunch of girls and how much potential is around this table and do they realize how they can go out and change the world.

On the way home from church we got to talking about the people, both in the church and vaguely connected to it, who buttonhole us now and then to tell how they are deeply concerned about our youth group, usually in very vague terms and shaken heads and ominous insinuations, mmm-mmm-mmm, these young people, and did you hear so-and-so got a call from a minister from another church wondering what is with our youth, and we should all be deeply concerned.

Me: So what's with that? How can we have two such different views of the same people? Or do I just as always not know what's going on?
Amy: Maybe older people just always feel that way about younger people.
Me: I don't think so [and I was thinking about Ralph and Mildred Myers who at 90-plus made everybody think they were wonderful, young or old]
Amy: I don't understand it.
Me: I think we have an amazing bunch of young people. They talk, they get involved, they're really seeking God, they care about people... And they think!
Amy: Maybe that's the trouble.

Ok, let me scramble to say I am not trying to minimize legitimate concerns, in case any of the concerned are reading this. I certainly don't know everything that goes on and no doubt might be more worried if I did. I just know these girls are a sight more insightful and mature than I was at 18, and they challenge me, and encourage me, and I am honored to know them. And if they need a little extra grace extended to them now and then, well, don't we all need grace from our elders when we're 18. And when we're 46.

AAAAAAAAhhhhh! I think the video actually uploaded! (Downloaded??) Ok, let's try it. Click here. Ben sings the solo. Steven is two guys to the left of Ben.

Racial Issues

Once upon a time, Paul's aunt Nadine married a black guy from Cleveland and gave birth to Chris and Cathy, both of whom are smart and ambitious high achievers who make their Oregon cousins look like, well, like seldom-seen, nice, slightly backward cousins from Oregon.

I think Cathy is now a psychiatrist. Chris graduated from Princeton and was president of the alumni association, and so sat on the platform with the likes of Steve Forbes at graduations, and then he caught the Internet wave and with a friend or two started a company called Cyveillance that blossomed into something huge, and then he got out of that and is now a consultant or something in Washington DC or somewhere. I've kind of lost track.

We always figured he would be the first mixed-race President and in fact Barack Obama reminds me of Chris in a lot of ways.

There was something that always mystified me about those cousins. A lot of noise was made about them being such high-achieving young black people, and the fine example they set, and so on, based on the newspaper clippings that came around the Smucker aunts' circle letters. And I would think, yoo-hoo, hellooo, they're half black. What about the other half that's getting completely ignored here, this white, red-hair-and-freckles, mashed-potatoes-and-roast-beef, proper Mennonite half of their heritage, sitting anonymously out here in Oregon??

I once asked Chris about this at a family reunion. He sat there with his grandpa Orval's nose, and the ubiquitous Smucker freckles, of all things, and talked about his racial identity. He tended to take on the "black" label, he said, because that's how everyone saw him and treated him accordingly. No one looking at him would ever say, oh, I'll bet he comes from good Mennonite stock and his grandpa raises grass seed in Oregon. Which is not to say that he doesn't appreciate that side of his family, because he does.

We emailed Chris for advice when we adopted Steven. Are we nuts, we said, to bring an African child into this setting. Chris said no. "If anyone can do this successfully, the Smuckers can," he said.

All of which brings me to an interesting article I read today about Barack Obama and race. I was surprised how many parallels there were to Chris.

A perplexing new chapter is unfolding in Barack Obama's racial saga: Many people insist that "the first black president" is actually not black.

Debate over whether to call this son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan biracial, African-American, mixed-race, half-and-half, multiracial — or, in Obama's own words, a "mutt" — has reached a crescendo since Obama's election shattered assumptions about race.

Obama has said, "I identify as African-American — that's how I'm treated and that's how I'm viewed. I'm proud of it." In other words, the world gave Obama no choice but to be black, and he was happy to oblige.

+ + +

A Doonesbury comic strip that ran the day after the election showed several soldiers celebrating.

"He's half-white, you know," says a white soldier.

"You must be so proud," responds another.

+ + +

It'll be interesting to see what issues Steven will have to face, being 100% black/African racially, but raised in a white minority-culture community. Already, he finds things confusing at times ;

Quote of the Day:

Steven: [looking at the back of a folding chair] What's 'Samsonite?'

Me: It's a brand name for chairs and suitcases and stuff that are supposed to be really strong.

Steven: Oh, I thought it would be like 'Mennonite'. . . .'Samsonite'. . .

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I sat next to Bob Welch at the Eugene Library's Authors and Artists Night last week. Bob and his wife have two boys and now they also have two grandchildren, the younger of which is a girl.

"Girls are just so. . . .different. . . from boys," Bob said. He and his boys are all the sort who bond by playing football and tackling each other, so having a delicate little girl in the family has been a whole new thing. He has learned to be more gentle and cuddly with her.

I told him I am happy for his wife, who must have felt very overwhelmed with all the males around her all those years.

It got me to thinking how very blessed I am to have daughters. Three of them, enough for lots of variety and fun and endless fascinating turns in the plot. And it seems that with almost anything I enjoy, I have a daughter who shares my tastes--tea, fancy coffees, knitting, cool old movies, quirky humor.

I could also go into how sweet and nice they are, and how cute, and talented, but I would soon embarrass them. But I will say this--they are all good writers and will no doubt far outshine their mother before too much time passes.

Amy doesn't post often on her Xanga but when she does, it's a treat, like this essay about her car that made me laugh the whole way through. She sounded surprised. "I wasn't trying to be funny." Well, sometimes if you just tell it like it is, it's funnier.

Emily, as I told you, is writing a book about the last year. And she just reached another milestone in her recovery. I feel really bad about this, but it didn't even register what was happening and how important this was, and I was sitting right beside her. Sometimes you're too close to the situation to really notice things.

And Jenny has sign-in lock on her Xanga so I will cut and paste a paragraph that amused me.
"I hate it when I have a tickle in my nose. Like it feels like it's gonna sneeze, but it doesn't sneeze. If you ask me, it's very weird. I get it when I'm drinking pop."

And here's a poem Jenny wrote:

"I have a sister named Emily.
We argue all the time.
She has moved to Redmond.
And she didn't do any crime."

Well, most of the time my girls are sweet and nice.

And I am very fortunate to be their mom.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Cool New Gadget

I am not a gadget person. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, loves to give me the latest in egg slicers and stainless steel upright spoon holders. Which is fine, but I am the sort that is happy with a sharp knife that I got at the dollar store years ago, and I use it until the wooden handle breaks, and then I tape it together and keep using it.

But today I got a cool new gadget I am very excited about.

Before we go there, a confession: I have never learned how to use jumper cables.

Crazy, yes, seeing as how I grew up in Minnesota and spent 8 years in Northwestern Ontario in Canada, both places where the winters get so bitterly cold that the little hairs in your nose get frosty and the ice on the lakes gets so thick you can drive on it.

And where every self-respecting car has a little cord hanging out the front, and so when you get home from work you pull on the thick gloves and wrap the scarf around your mouth and nose, and then you wade through the snow and kick around until you find the stiff, frozen extension cord under the snow, and then you plug in your car and go inside knowing that all will be well when you go to start it the next morning.

But sometimes you are parked somewhere else, like a church or mall parking lot, and you come out and turn the key while your breath fogs up the inside of the windshield and your teeth chatter, and all that greets you is a feeble rrrrnnnn rrrrnnn and then silence.

Or sometimes, even when it's not winter, you leave your lights on and the same thing happens, like that one time I had left the car in long-term parking at the Portland airport and was left stranded at midnight.

And then you need to use jumper cables. Would you believe I have always always been so blessed, not only to be rescued, but by someone who knew what they were doing? Always, the other person, usually a burly hairy lumberjack type with a pickup truck, pulled up to help me and calmly attached the cables while his breath whooshed away in clouds and his moustache turned frosty, and soon had me on my way.

This is what I can never remember--is it positive to positive or positive to negative? My dad tried to teach me this, my brothers, my landlord, my friends, my husband, and to this day I cannot remember.

And the story is if you get it wrong you'll have sparks and battery acid spewing in all directions. Or something.

For the last ten years I haven't had to deal with cold killing my car battery but I have had to deal with a little bare-bones Honda that is wonderful in many ways but has no warning system when you leave the lights on.

The last time I did this was out at Emily's and I would have been sunk if our friends Ted and Mary hadn't been in the area. Ted pulled his truck up like a good bearded Minnesotan and attached the cables and rescued me.

And once again I didn't have to do anything except turn the key when I was told and act grateful, which wasn't hard.

But now, at last, I'm all prepared for the day when my battery dies and the other party is a scatterbrained female who doesn't know how to use jumper cables either.

Paul's Aunt Susie sells Avon products, and the girls and I like to sniff through the catalog now and then. Well, the last one offered, of all things, a charger that consists of a long wire and a plug on each end that plugs into the cigarette lighters. That's it.

Here it is.

I bought it.

Aunt Susie brought it over today. It looks wonderfully simple but capable. And unlike most electrical, masculine gadgets, it has directions written for people like me. One plug says: "Dead battery." The other plug says, "Good battery." The directions are so easy they fit on one small paper and there are only 5 steps. Step 4: "Start the vehicle with the good battery, and leave it running while it charges the dead battery." See? Isn't that amazing?

I am really tempted to leave the Honda lights on for a while tomorrow to see if this thing actually works.

Quote of the Day:
"It took me years to figure out that Skin-So-Soft wasn't some cleaning solution."
--Emily, since I used to get Avon SSS from Susie and use it as mosquito repellent and to dissolve sticker residue

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Ok, time for my annual attempt at being a salesperson.

My books, those two over in the sidebar, make a great Christmas present for the moms/aunts/grandmas/wives/sentimental people in your life.

You can click on the links and order them.

Or you can get signed copies from me.

And from now to December 15, they'll be $8 each instead of $10.

If you pick them up at my house, postage is free.

If you don't, it's $2 per book.

You can mail me a check at 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.

For more info, email me at


On Sunday I was talking with Konrad and Shannon, who are expecting their fourth child. Already, Konrad said, they are getting the standard-issue comments: "Haven't you figured out what causes this? How many are you going to have?" plus all the hostile looks and attitudes.

Now, Konrad and Shannon are among the most dedicated, responsible, fun parents I have ever seen. And their kids are the kind that make you say awwwww because they are just so cute. If anyone should have a big family, they should. Plus Shannon has low-maintenance pregnancies.

So it makes me sad to think of anyone disparaging them about having more children.

Then yesterday Emily was telling me about the featured weblog on Xanga. "I know you would have cried if you'd read it," she said. In essence, it was a woman telling of how she was young and pregnant, with high hopes of her boyfriend going through this tough time with her, and being a family, etc. Then one day he told her he had made a doctor appointment for her, and she felt so cared-for. He took her over to the "doctor," dropped her off, and left. And of course it was an abortion clinic, and she was too shell-shocked to protest, and her little girl was taken from her body, and now she gets to live with this every day of her life.

Obviously, this girl was exploited for the selfish purposes of others from the beginning of her story to the end, but that is a post for another day.

Meanwhile, this situation has a connection with Konrad and Shannon's.

Somehow, as a culture and even a church, we have become oblivious to the value of children.

Quote of the Day:
"If I'm going to have children, I want to have a lot. Big families are just so much more interesting. Plus, I want their children to have cousins."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comparing Ourselves Online

First I had the girls in my Sunday school class tell what they're thankful for. Then I had them tell their greatest current frustration. Would it occur to them, I asked, to be thankful for the frustration they just listed, to see it as a window for God's grace to come in, to really believe that "when I am weak, then am I strong?"

"Sara" I'll call her, said her biggest frustration is how she compares herself to others and constantly comes up short. Somehow this segued into talking about doing this online. "Does anyone else deal with this?" wondered Sara, this whole thing of looking at others' lives on Facebook and Xanga and just comparing yourself to them, how you look, what you do, just your life? I tell you, sometimes it's so bad I can't let myself get on Facebook. Now am I just weird or do other people do this too?"

Yes, they do, it turned out, although to a lesser degree than Sara, or at least they admitted it to a lesser degree.

I was one of the admittees, but in an entirely different sense than Sara. I confessed that I when I'm on other moms' sites I'm always looking at the backgrounds of photos, not the actual subjects--look at those perfectly clean kitchen counters! Arrgghh, no jackets or grocery bags loose in that kitchen. And everything's decorated to the nines. How on earth does she do it? Etc. etc. Compare, despair.

And then of course there are all the cool young snarky clever articulate blogger moms that I seldom let myself read because we are all happier if I stay away.

"I'm so much cooler online" one of the girls murmured, quoting from a song.

So, what's with this? Do we go online to communicate and catch up, or to compare[mostly unfavorably], or to do a little plastic surgery on our own persona before we post it?

"Why can't we just be real?" wondered Sara.

Well, why not? There's the TMI* factor, first of all. Do you really want to know about my athlete's foot or perimenopause symptoms? Didn't think so. And the privacy factor--does Steven want it splashed all over the internet why he lost his electronic time for this week? I doubt it. And the propriety factor--no way can I name names or even hint about all the people who annoyed me this week and what I would have loved to say in return, or who confided what in me, and so on.

And yet.

If you compare your life to my online rendition of mine, and feel inferior or frustrated or discontent because of it [hahahahahahaha what a thought] is the fault mine or yours? And what should you do about it? What should I?

What would you tell Sara??

*added for KaraBeagle's info: TMI is Too Much Information

Quote of the Day:
One Sunday morning:
Jenny: Ben! That's Dad's shirt!
Me: It was Dad's shirt. But he refused to wear it because it doesn't have a pocket.
Ben: Dad's gonna have to have a pocket on his white robe that he wears in Heaven.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Sad Story

My grandpa, Adam Miller, was killed when I was a year old; I’ve always known that. [Or wait. Was it Becky that was just over a year old and I was 3 or 4 months? I need to ask Mom.] He was driving a team of horses and a grain wagon down the road not far from his home near Kalona, Iowa, when a young man came roaring up behind him, way too fast, and hit the back of the wagon. Grandpa was thrown out into the ditch and killed instantly.

And that’s about all I remembered. Mom would refer to this incident sometimes but I don’t remember her ever telling it in great detail.

But recently, in the odd way that stories sometimes have of bubbling to the surface after 40-some years, I’ve heard about this from two other perspectives. And found it very interesting, and very sad.

When we were in Iowa in September, Aunt Vina told Rebecca that now that she lives near Harrisonburg, Virginia, she needs to look up Allie.

Allie and her husband Glenn lived down a long lane back somewhere behind Aunt Vina’s and Uncle Mahlon’s houses, as I recall. Glenn passed away a few years ago, and now Allie lives in Virginia and Rebecca needs to look her up, said Vina.

So Rebecca did, and had a wonderful time talking with this very lively and interesting woman. Allie recalled an old photo of all the teachers in the Kalona area, and both she and my dad were on it. And then she told Rebecca how she had been the first on the scene when my grandpa was killed and of course had the task of calling for help, an interesting detail that I had never known and wouldn’t have thought to ask.

Aunt Vina called me this morning to ask about getting some books. She said she had just gotten a letter from Rebecca telling about her visit with Allie. “Rebecca told me about that,” I said, “and how Allie was the first one there when Grandpa was killed.”

Well. That got Vina started, and within five minutes I knew more about that accident than I had known all my life.

It was a load of soybeans that Grandpa was hauling, and it was around suppertime, so I assume he was headed home to eat. (The soybeans spilled all over the road, Vina said, making it as treacherous as ice, so they had to stop all the traffic until it was cleaned up.)

Aunt Clara, Mahlon’s wife, was in the hospital very sick after a hysterectomy, so Art and Vina were going to go visit her. But you couldn’t take children into a hospital so Vina got the boys ready and was going to take them to Grandpa and Grandma’s.

But as she headed toward their house she saw a terrible commotion on the road up ahead. Then she saw Grandpa’s team of horses tied to the fence and sensed what was up. She walked over and found out what had happened and went to the house to tell her mom.

It was in October, and Grandma had just finished making supper, including a batch of late sweet corn from the garden. Vina told her what had happened and Grandma took off out the door and down the lane, [I can just see this] and Vina could hardly keep up.

At the scene, Grandma insisted that she wanted to see her husband, so they allowed her to. And I think what happened next is about the saddest part of this story: Grandma took off her apron and covered Grandpa with it.

Later, my two uncles went to visit the young driver. He was afraid they were going to sue him, but they assured him they only wanted him to mend his ways. I don’t know if he ever served prison time or not. Vina said for a long time afterward he avoided that road, going clear around through Wellman to get to Iowa City. But then one day he did go to Kalona, and he had an accident, and was killed.

A sad story, all around.

I'm so glad I had the chance to know my funny, feisty grandma. I wish I could have known my grandpa. I have a vague conception of a composite of my uncles, but nothing I can really visualize.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Here's my official annual heartfelt thanks to everyone who stops by the Shoe. Yes, every one of you, silent lurker, frequent commenter, or occasional visitor. I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful and your hearts are full of joy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The hardest thing about being a piano mom is not the money spent, the shuttling to lessons, the pushing to practice. It’s waiting for the next note. "Ho—ly. Ho—ly. Hooo…………." And I grit my teeth and wait, wooden spoon poised above pan—come on, come on, come on—and finally, if I’m lucky, he hits the "LY" dead on and I keep working and so does he. If not, I cringe at the discordant bang, one or two notches high or low, and the tension creeps up my neck as we have to go through the line all over again. And then finally we’re off to Lord. God. Al---- and we wait for the Might, spaghetti sauce dripping from spoon, and on it goes.

The one nice thing about this is that it tells me I'm not quite as unmusical as I thought. I'm sure they make a lot of mistakes that I never notice, but if they hit a real clunker, I can tell.

Quote of the Day:
"Oh, nice! We get to eat atomic element #6 tonight!"
--Ben, when Amy's brownies were a teeny bit overdone

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Ok, Facebook: still undecided, although putting off a decision is a decision in its own way. But 30 comments and counting--dear people, you don't know what you're putting me through. I am the worst sort of "people pleaser" and my opinion on something is usually what the last person I talked to thought, so this seesawing is making me queasy.

This was interesting, about Facebook Friends.

Meanwhile, I am trying to keep my kitchen from falling apart. First it was the stove. All summer, Steven and Amy, who cook in bare feet, kept complaining that the front/large burner shocked them. I was too distracted to deal with it, figuring they could always go put sandals on.

Then not long ago I had my big grape juice steamer kettle bubbling on the stove all day, which must have been the final straw because that evening I was trying to heat a pan of water on the same burner and it just wouldn't heat, so I lifted it off.

Oh my. There was a sudden terrible noise of zapping and hissing and popping, and flames shot 8 inches up, and sparks arced off the stove and all around Jenny and me, who stood there frozen in horror.

Finally things quieted down and I set the pan down and turned off the burner, and then Paul took things apart so it wouldn't do it again if someone accidentally turned it on.

Then last week I turned the fridge off and cleaned it out. And when I turned it back on again--nothing. Oh great. I pulled it out from the wall, banged around, rattled things, prayed. Still nothing. Then I reached inside and whacked the plastic box where the dial is, and with a happy hum the fridge started working again.

Then just a few days ago I was gone, giving a talk somewhere I think, and the others filled the dishwasher after supper, but it wouldn't start. They emptied it, and Paul tipped it over on its back, not noticing that he was dumping gallons of water on the floor, and discovered that a cord had come apart.

The kids mopped it up and yesterday he bought a new cord and now the dishwasher is going again, but I am feeling like all these appliances are going down the valley at the same time.

Maybe this is impetus for us to remodel the kitchen. I've been saving my article/speech/book money for five years for this very purpose, and I think I have enough, but to be honest I'm dreading the process, the mess, and most of all the DECISIONS. Oh how I wish I could set someone down and say, ok, counters around here, this price range, make a place where I can attach the Victorio strainer, light and airy, and make sure it looks like an old farmhouse kitchen. And then I would go off to visit my sisters and when I came back it would all be done. That's what I would like.

Quote of the Day:
"I know what, Mom. You need to write a really in-depth book about your family, and then as soon as you guys are dead, I'll publish it."
--Emily [this girl here, in the new dress she designed and made, with me hovering over her shoulder, but she did all the work herself]

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Matt was home today. "Mom," he said, "you need to get on Facebook," in exactly the same way that his cousin Byran used to say, "Aunt Dorcas, you need to have a blog," and look at how that took on a life of its own.

So, yeah, Facebook, something I lump into the same category as Ipods, YouTube, layering, lattes, text messaging, instant messaging, flattened hair, and snowboarding: something that young people are into that I avoid at all costs and take up, kicking and screaming, when I'm practically forced to and that I take forever to learn.

[although I do love lattes now, but no, I don't think you'll ever find me on a snowboard]

"Yeah, right, I need to get on Facebook," I said scoffingly.

Matt picked up my laptop and started tapping. I saw glimpses of 'notes on walls' and short updates and odd profile pictures. What a strange universe these young people inhabit.

Then I saw it: Arlene! "What? Arlene is on Facebook??" I shrieked.

"Yeah," Matt said, clicking on. Then he turned the computer toward me. There was a long list of his Facebook Friends.

Hmm-hmmm. College kid, cousins of cousins, another college kid, Hans Mast, Joe Kuepfer. "Teresa??" I shrieked again. "Teresa is on Facebook?? Teresa has four little kids!"

"Yeah," Matt said. I read on. More college kids, and then among the young people the names began jumping out at me: Tom and Jewel? Merry Yoder! Kay??? Merle Burkholder???!!! What on earth? John? Your uncle JOHN?? And then the one that sent me off the edge: Earl Kropf. Yes, that Earl Kropf, the most 60-something truck-driver-for-Smith-Seed big-n-burly good-Menno-stock guy around, the kind of guy you want to come along if you have a flat tire, but not the kind of guy you would ever expect to know his way around a computer, let alone Facebook.

Suddenly I had the feeling that I was out in the school playground la-di-da-ing around, picking dandelions, and everyone else in my class had not only heard the bell and gone inside from recess but left on the bus for a field trip to the Umpqua ice cream factory.

I thought about this. On the one hand, the last thing I need right now is something else to glue me to the computer. On the other hand, what if I'm the only one out there not on Facebook, and no one bothers with blogs or email anymore, and Facebook is where it's all happening and everyone else is there making friends with everyone else, and they don't even miss me???

Matt was getting ready to leave. "I expect to see a Friends invitation from you by the time I get home, Mom," he said as he went out the door.

Well, he didn't see an invitation, because I'm still waffling and wondering and debating. Surely I can survive without Facebook, but if Earl Kropf and Merle Burkholder and Arlene are In, then I must be the very last person left Out.

Quote of the Day:
"You know what, if you're fighting someone, the belly is always the perfect place to hit--it's soft on your hand and it hurts them really bad."
--a certain young girl whom I am trying to teach to be a lady while at the same time she has two big brothers who say things like, "Punch me as hard as you can to see if it hurts."

Friday, November 14, 2008


It all started, I think, when I was a child, with Ulf Oldenburg and his fiery eyes and vivid persecution stories. I would lie in bed cold with fear and horror, thinking of Christians "behind the Iron Curtain" being tortured in a hundred different ways, and imagine myself in similar suffering someday.

The weight of human suffering seems to be something that accumulates in my head. Happy stories can come and go, but terrible stuff sticks. Every time we drive to the Midwest I imagine those poor pioneers, especially the women, crossing Wyoming with their covered wagons and I just about can't stand it that here I am breezing along at 75 mph, in air conditioning yet.

When I drive to Emily's I imagine the wagon trains crossing the mountains and having to ditch their precious heirloom furniture, and at Tombstone Pass I always think of the teenaged boy who is buried there and what his parents must have suffered. [The wagon train had just climbed to the top of the pass and they were there resting I guess. They saw a deer, and this boy wanted to shoot it, so he reached into the wagon and pulled the gun toward himself, not knowing that something was caught on the trigger, and he shot and killed himself. His tombstone is there somewhere, hence the name of the pass.]

Holocaust stories give me nightmares, especially since we visited Majdanek in Poland and saw the gas chambers and thousands of shoes. I see trains go by here and I think of all those people shuttled off in freight cars to die.

I would not make a good counselor because I would get emotionally involved in everyone's abuse stories, and when I hear of a case like this, of a little Afghan girl having to support her family, I can't stand it because there's nothing I can DO. And of course then there are chilling stories of injustice in Yemen from my sister and sad stories of sickness and death from our friends in Kenya.

Then there are orphans and wars and the persecuted church of course, and obviously I could go on and on because human suffering doesn't seem to exhaust itself and with the vast supply of information at my fingertips there's a constant stream of suffering-stories to add to the pile in my obsessive mind.

The Bible tells us to remember the poor, to be compassionate, to remember those in bonds as though bound with them. But how do you keep it from getting overwhelming. I wonder, how much would I have known about if I had been, say, Dorcas in the book of Acts. Probably not much besides what went on in the neighborhood, and that was within her power to do something about, so she sewed coats and garments for the widows and orphans.

Hmmmm. A lesson there, perhaps.

Quote of the Day: [which has nothing to do with suffering]
"I try to get a bunch of different kinds of ramen noodles so I get a balanced diet."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Avast There, Ye Lubbers!

To my favorite Fierce Pirate:
You were very frightening, bursting into the office like that, brandishing that cruel glinting saber. And you fought bravely despite that gruesome wound on your arm that bled profusely as the battle raged.

However: even Fierce Pirates should keep a few things in mind. Such as: red finger paint is a brilliant idea, but if you get it out you should put it back on the shelf again, the lid closed, and you should not leave it on the upstairs hallway floor, open, because the next morning your big sister, who is a beautiful and comely lass but half-blind without her contacts, will come stumbling out of her cabin and kick it over, and you and your aged mother will spend way too much of your Sunday morning, in the pre-Sunday-school rush, grimly spraying and scrubbing the hall carpet.

But I must say that even then you were a brave and remorseful pirate, down on your knees, honorable to the last, your bloodstained fingers rubbing gallantly until the carpet would yield no more of its crimson bounty.

Quote of the Day:
"Surrender, or die!"
--Jenny the very Fierce Pirate

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tribute to Arlene

When someone I know dies, I think of how I appreciated them but never told them I did.

I don't know why it's hard to tell people what you appreciate about them. I mean, don't we all love it when someone does it to us, before we're dead?

So my friend Arlene came waaaayyy too close to the Valley of the Shadow this last week, with a tubal pregnancy that was treated this way but should have been treated that way, and thankfully she was persistent about something not being right, and it turned out that by the mercy of God she was trickling blood internally instead of gushing. And then there were further complications and now she is out of the darkest part of the forest with a (God-willing) clear path back home.

And if we had lost her I would for the rest of my life have wondered why I never told her how I appreciated her. So here goes:

You have this amazing gift of being REAL, and of making me feel ok. You will tell how you obsess about getting rid of your chickens, or drown in guilt about (virtually) nothing, and I just feel this vast sense of relief that someone else obsesses and feels guilty and is like me. You are a news junkie who can discuss current events with me, and you understood what motivated us to go to Kenya and adopt a child. And when I called you and told you tearfully and guiltily that I didn't like my adopted child that day, you said, "Good grief, I'm ready to rent out all of mine for the day too." You make me laugh until I cry. You say nice things about your husband. And mine, for that matter. And probably the best gift of all is that you speak TRUTH into my life. This matters, that does not, you tell me, and then I know exactly what I ought to do. You clarify the nebulous stuff and refuse to ever indulge in the safety of vague generalities. You are a wonderful friend and I appreciate you and I am so utterly thankful that your life was spared.

Quote of the Day:
"But is it right to get rid of them just because we're sick of them?"
--Arlene, obsessing about her chickens

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Just stuff

I am not going to say what I think of the election results because I do not discuss politics in public.

However, I am happy for the people of Kenya. In the Kisumu area, where we lived for over 3 months, I am told that everyone is celebrating wildly. Obama's dad was from the Luo tribe, so of course all the Luos are especially elated. People's lives are so grindingly hard there, and they look at America as next to heaven, ("Take me to Amedica with you," the orphan boys used to say. "I want to be fat! And I want to drive a cah!") and to have one of their own, so to speak, be President of the USA must make them feel like maybe there's hope after all, at least for their children if not for them.

And then there's the whole fact that Steven was also a Luo who came from an area not too far from the Obamas, so they're probably related, don't you think? See, I am just as tribal as a Luo.

And I am also secretly relieved that Sarah Palin can quit traveling and go home and be more of a mom and run Alaska instead of being VP.

= + = + = +

I am really bad for talking first and thinking later. Today is my fine son Steven's 14th birthday. He wants a slingshot. So I went to the bow-and-gun store [since I'm over here in Redmond this week] and asked if they have a slingshot. "I assume you have garden pests," said the nice man. "No, I have a son with a birthday," I said, and two hours later I finally figured out why he looked a little stunned.

{Paul, maybe you can make sure Steven doesn't read this til after he gets his gifts}

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

The last few days I've been teaching Emily how to sew a dress, and today she modelled it for the first time, a simple black dress with pink polka dots that makes her look like Jackie Kennedy.

Emily is a person who can wear stuff that the rest of us could never get by with. She's all about drama, as we know, and there's something about the tall, thin, dark hair, large blue eyes combination that means she can wear a mid-length black coat with embossed roses, long skirt, tall boots, and one black glove and one pink one, and look polished and classy, where if I would try to wear the same thing I'd look like I raided the Salvation Army discard pile.

"Trying," baileyandme says she used to call it, when people would try to pull off a look unsuccessfully, in her case, specifically, a mom trying to dress like a younger person. "Vit un kan net" {wants to and can't} a commenter said she called it. Well, Emily wants to and can. IMHO. I think the ever-so-savvy youth girls would back me up here.

Which leads me to my next point. She has a knack for taking a cough drop tin and turning it into a cute handbag, or designing clever vests and dresses, and I think she should start some sort of internet boutique, now that she is actually learning to sew and we have not shed each other's blood in the process. {Don't ask how close we got} And maybe she could actually make a few dollars at this, since she really really wants to be self-supporting.

If anyone out there has any words of wisdom about any of this--web design, possible products, business plans, quality control, accounting, etc--or if you are bouncing up and down in your seat saying yes! I want a little purse made of a cough drop tin with glued-on Sunday comics and a beaded handle! please comment or send a private message.

And don't give me any woeful tidings about starting a business with the economy going to pot because people are still spending millions on cute sweaters and such for their dogs, and on lattes.

# # # # #

Some people really really irritate me. Especially guys who talk too much. Oh mei zeit, I just want to dig fingernails in something and pull hard. Yesterday I was here at the library and there were three teenagers in the teen section, next to the computer kiosks, and this one was SO LOUD and WOULD NOT QUIT. And he had fat cheeks which did not gain him any clemency in my book. Here's maybe 5% of what he had to say:

Quote of the Day:

"You know what's really crazy? I laughed when I broke my arm, I smashed my hand on a piano and I laughed, I get a needle in my hand and I'm like AAAAAHHHHHH!. . . . And one time there's like this bucket, and like no one tells me there's a yellow jacket nest in there, and I stick my hand in and EEEUUUWWWWAAAA and my arm gets like swollen huge. . .So I was in church one time and it was like dead silent and I moved my back and it was like KKKKRRRHHKKKKK!
--(and there was a girl who giggled appreciatively through all of this. Unbelievable)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Emz and Election Coverage

I'm back with Emily this week. People have been asking how she's doing and I hesitate to say anything positive because a) I've hoped and then been disappointed so many times and b) a lot of people have no concept of the long continuum from sick to well and so if I say "about the same" they think it's terrible and if I say "a little better" they assume she's well and will go get a fulltime job tomorrow.

But. Two weeks ago, we would walk to the library and she would tell me to slow down. Now she marches along and I tell her to slow down.

And. She wants to sew, so I gave her my old sewing machine and bought her an iron and ironing board.

Happy news, yes, and progress, but she is not well yet.

Today I went hunting for election news both on the radio and here on the internet at the library and, can it be believed, there are no exit polls being reported, no guesses, no preliminary numbers. Can it be hoped that the media actually learned from the 2000 debacle? (Sorry, I don't remember what it was like in '04). Anyway, I like it when the media get something right and do the right thing even if might hurt them a bit.

Quote of the Day:
"That wind is brutal."
--a nice guy on the sidewalk, just to my left, on my way to the library. Unfortunately I didn't notice him until he spoke, because I was adjusting my scarf because of the brutal wind, and so I jumped and screamed, and he chuckled. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Slow to Speak

My father-in-law, who passed away in 2004, had two brothers, and those three men, for all their many differences, had this in common: they are/were very deliberate, slow talkers. Those of us with quicker minds can think whole sentences, paragraphs, sometimes even complete to-do lists between one of their words and the next.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, as they very much weigh each word carefully before it ever sees the light of day. Wilton was probably the most profound of the three, saying no to a Sunday dinner invite with, "I...believe...we’ll... decline... the... invitation," and, when I talked about how hard it is to write, he pontificated confidently, to my great irritation, "Weeellll,... that...would... be... because... of... the... discipline... involved," and when Rosie and Phil were having one of their famous arguments: "I... believe... you... two... enjoy... a.. bit... of... attention... where... your... differences... are... concerned."

The other day a certain Smucker uncle called me. "Now... regarding... the... number... of... that... field..., I... put... a... deal... in... the... warehouse... office... with... it... on. ...Now... it’s... about... five... years... old. . ."

Meanwhile, my mind was galloping along with, "Oh mercy me, field numbers?? I wish he would have called Paul about this because I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about and I know I’ll get it wrong if I try to pass it along and Paul will have all these questions for me that I won’t be able to answer and I don’t know beans about field numbers and I can just imagine what kind of paper that is if it’s five years old and it’ll probably just blend right in with all those old papers on Paul’s desk . . ."

So I wedged my shoulder in, between one word and the next, and suggested he call Paul’s cell phone. No, it’s fine, I said, no, it won’t disrupt school.

Uncle made sure he had the number and then finished the call like he always does: "And. . .I... thank... you. . ."

We would all get in less trouble if we talked that slow.

Quote of the Day:
"I haven't really followed the race between McCain and oh, what's his name, that Irish guy. . . ."
--my brother Fred, who has his own brand of humor and who actually knows more about the presidential race than I do

Saturday, November 01, 2008

My Great Talent

"Brent chose you specifically for the job," said my friend Rita. "You were the best," said a couple of others.

Perhaps if I were a better person, or something, I would be chosen for my great beauty and applauded for my great musical talent, or something.

But such is not the case.

Last night the church youth and their sponsors put on a lovely haystack dinner for all the parents and siblings of the youth kids. After the dinner, we were told, there would be games. So we tried to guess song titles from short phrases from stanza 2, and the little kids tried to find balloons while blindfolded.

And then about six of us were asked to go to the church library and wait, and we would be called in one by one. I was one of the victims. We stood around the library and talked about what dreadful fate might await us, and threatened to all jump out the window and disappear.

After a long wait, Brent came in the door. "Dorcas, you're first," he said. Oh great. I followed him to the fellowship hall. On this side was everyone, watching and smiling expectantly. On the other side was a long line of tables, covered in the tablecloths from supper, with six large paper sacks turned upside down, all in a row.

"Ok, now we're going to time you," Brent told me. "You need to lift up each sack and name the object underneath, as fast as you can."

First sack, a couple of leaves. Second, the names escaped me, and then I remembered: knife, fork, spoon. Third, ketchup. So far, so good. Fourth--and my insides turned to slush and an unholy scream ripped out of my throat as there was a head, yelling at me. Oh people, I cannot tell you how frightening it was. It took me a minute to collect myself and then with wobbling legs and pounding heart I tottered to the chairs and collapsed gratefully while the crowd shrieked with laughter.

It turned out that Travis was actually kneeling on the floor between two tables, and the tablecloths had been artfully arranged, etc etc. The other victims' reactions ranged from a startled shriek (Phebe) to no reaction at all (Michael, who saw that there was a gap between tables and figured it out.) Last of all came Edna, who knew all along what was going on, and who lifted Travis's bag and slapped a pan of whipped cream on his head.

So, yes. I was chosen because Brent and Rita knew for sure that I would scream. And I was complimented for screaming the loudest.


Quote of the Day:
"You were funny, Mom."
--Ben and Jenny
(now that I've calmed down, I can see that it probably was funny)

2nd QOTD:
"I would have put one of the pastahs undah theah."
--Jenny's friend Janane, who has trouble with R's and who has always been half scared of Paul

Friday, October 31, 2008


Last week my friend EG sent me a link to an interesting article about the whys and wherefores of mid-life memory lapses. I was going to post it earlier but I forgot.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


After I wrote the last post I was thinking about how my lofty advice about small actions accumulating into a big pile applies to an area of my life where I continually set goals and fail to meet them: getting in shape. And this is the problem: with writing, I can work on something and put it away for three weeks, and when I come back to it, there it is. Not so with a brisk walk up Powerline Road. I can feel good about it the rest of the day but then the next day I have to do it all over again! And again and again and again. And if I "put it away" for three weeks it's like I never did it in the first place. This is the maddening thing about exercise.

My tri-athlete friend Robin wants to write a book about getting in shape, turning all the normal American magazine headlines about exercise upside down. Namely: it takes a long time, you probably won't be in shape by swimsuit season, you can be in shape without looking skinny, you won't meet every goal all the time, you will fall off the wagon, and you need to push hard and then back off. And so on.

I'm not quite sure how that relates or why I told you. ya vell.

Today Paul was hauling corn to Kropf Feed and I told him I'd like him to drop by the house and pick me up on one of his passes by, and then drop me off down the road so I have to walk back. Well. Did I get it done? No. I canned 19 quarts of grape juice and pressure-washed the carport and answered the phone about 25 times and vacuumed upstairs, but I did not walk.

See, that's the other thing about walking. It seems so pointless if you have no place to walk to. And that's one thing I love about being at Emily's place in Redmond--you can walk to the library or Fred Meyer and get a mile or two on the chart with none of this grimly counting telephone poles stuff.

Yes, well, I am yammering and Paul wants the computer.

Quote of the Day:
Girl A: Have you ever fell in love?
Girl B: Well, I did....
--two of Jenny's little friends, when Girl B thought Stevie in the Saddle Club was stupid for --something involving a boyfriend-- and Girl A wanted her to be reasonable, at Jenny's slumber party the other night, at which I received quite an education on what 4th grade girls are "into"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book 3

Today I sent off the manuscript of my third book (Downstairs the Queen is Knitting)* after way too many hours of going cross-eyed in front of the computer, copying, pasting, editing, and arranging. As usual I kept muttering Oh mercy, this is boring; I've already said this a dozen times; no one will ever read this; how trite; and all the other things you say to yourself when you have to read your own work over and over in grinding detail.

But now that I sent it off, imperfections and all, I am rather amazed at myself. Three books! I well remember the days when one seemed impossible. How did I ever get here?

Well, I got here not by any big splashing accomplishments but by doing small things over and over and watching them accumulate--words into sentences and then paragraphs, paragraphs into essays, essays into books.

Which I hope is encouraging to anyone out there with goals that seem impossible. It's good for me as well, in some of the areas where I'd really like to accomplish something but feel like I just can't.

Oh--forgot to say--the book should be out in April.

*just kidding

Quote of the Day:
"You'll write so many books, you'll need to dedicate it to one kid at a time."
--Emily. I guess I'm following her advice: DTQIK is dedicated to Matt. Which means I'm committed to cranking out five more.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I am the youth girls' Sunday school teacher, a scary experience in its way, because frankly this is a group that comes with expectations and isn't content to just sit and listen and read methodically and answer rhetorical questions and go home.

I am better at lecturing than discussing, and usually come with more notes than I can get through in half an hour.

But I want to learn how to lead a discussion, provided these young ladies don't mind being my guinea pigs. And last Sunday for the first time we had what I would call a genuine discussion. It started with fasting, and morphed into callings and from there into how much people in the church should "speak into" your life.

And that was what was enlightening for me. I guess I never gave this that much thought, but assumed that, being 40-something and a mom, with high-waisted skirts and a pouf in my hair, there wasn't a whole lot that I could say to the girls that they would welcome.

Wrong wrong wrong. It turns out that young people seriously need and want older ones in the church to be aware of them, to notice their choices and goals and struggles, and to offer wisdom and affirmation and encouragement and even correction.

It seems to be a lot easier, said Phebe, for older people to tell younger ones that their skirts are too short rather than that, for example, they don't seem to have a lot of solid goals.

True true. The former takes a few glances on Sunday morning; the latter takes involvement and conversation and time.

So I have been chewing on this new flavor the last few days, wondering how, with mothering and vacuuming and speaking at the Viking Sal to 25 senior citizens and going to Luella Stutzman's viewing and working on my next book and taking Jenny to piano and sorting laundry and making trips to Redmond, I am supposed to get involved with the youth in a way that matters.

Because I really really don't want any of them to fall through the cracks.

Quote of the Day:
"Uh. . .90-degree angle. . . approximately 21 centimeters for that one. . . 20 for that one. . . . Steven, they're actually pretty close!"
--Ben, when Steven thought the pieces of pie weren't fair

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Caution: Bragging Mom

Today Jenny got the bright idea to write a story. Her opening line grabbed me by the collar and pulled me in.

Quote of the Day:
"Long ago, when dragons still roamed the earth, there lived a young dragon named Jennifire who couldn’t seem to do anything right."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Trials and Blessings

So Jenny and I left Redmond, and Emily was alone for just over a day. When she didn't answer her phone yesterday afternoon, I freaked out amid vivid visions of seizures, kidnappers, and worse. Paul told me it was ok that I did so, after all, I am the mom. But we note that he, the dad, stayed calm. Of course it turned out that Emily had taken a nap and the phone was in the living room on "vibrate."

But then later in the evening it was Emily's turn to freak out. She was texting a friend and her phone froze, just like a computer, she said, only you couldn't hit control-alt-delete. Suddenly she realized how isolated she really is and how much she depends on that cell phone to keep in touch, since she doesn't have a home phone or internet access at her apartment. But she came up with a plan--if her phone didn't work by morning she would walk to a convenience store, get some quarters, and call me on a pay phone. But this morning after a restless night her phone worked. And now Paul and Ben are with her for a few days, and Paul will I'm sure show her how to take the battery out of her phone if it freezes again.

And now for a Gratitude Post. One of the touches of grace in hard times is the people, the ones you least expect, who suddenly pop into your life for a moment when you least expect them, and just dump a pitcherful of blessings on your head.

Neither Paul nor I saw any of Emily's neighbors beyond a fleeting glimpse, and we were wishing that one of them could be something of an aunt to Emily when we can't be there. But how in the world do you make something like this come about? Well, the other night Emily, Jenny, and I returned from the dollar store and "happened" to meet a neighbor in the hallway. She was about my age and introduced herself as Kathy. I introduced us and explained Emily's situation and we each went our ways.

The next day Kathy was in the parking lot when I pulled in. She came over to me and said she's been thinking about Emily, having to leave home for her health, and me, having to leave her in Redmond. She's a mom, she said, and she knows how hard it probably is because she has a daughter in Portland but can't live with her because she herself is in Redmond because of lung-health issues. And, she went on, she really wants to be there for Emily in any way she can--if she needs a ride, a cup of sugar, anything--and her apartment is two down from Emily's and here is her phone number.

Well, I get teary-eyed just remembering the conversation, it was such a wonderful gift. I told Kathy she is an answer to our prayers. She was exactly, precisely, what we needed just then.

And just so you know, Emily tried knocking on Kathy's door when her phone froze, but Kathy wasn't home, probably because she works 24-hour shifts as a nurse twice a week.

Then today I got a call from a woman in Wisconsin who just wanted to connect with us because she is allergic to molds and has been reading Emily's Xanga and feels like she finally has found another person like herself in the universe. This lady has issues with hyperventilating and sleep paralysis and wacky hormones, things Emily has dealt with and we always thought it was just more of a long list of health issues and never once connected them with her mold allergy. So that was very interesting and validating. And I told this nice bubbly compassionate woman that it's so nice to know that Emily isn't the weirdest person in the universe after all, but the more I think about it afterwards, it strikes me that I shouldn't have put it quite like that.

Then Emily's friend Bethany called this evening and said, Hey, I'd like you to put me on your calendar to go spend a few days with Emily. Well, most gladly I did just that. This is the first non-family member to go over the mountains, through the deep vale to see her. Bethany has been a steadfast and loyal blessing to Emily for years but especially through this long ordeal.

Quote of the Day:
"Residents shall keep all premises under his/her control clean, sanitary, and free of accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin."
--from Emily's rental contract

Monday, October 20, 2008

Update on Emily, Life, and Stuff

Paul and Steven moved Emily and her things to Redmond on Friday and stayed there until Sunday. Evidently everything went fine except for the time Steven woke up Emily and probably all the neighbors with his singing. I had understood and repeated the story that he was singing in the shower. No no, I was corrected, he was singing underwater. Evidently he submerged himself in the bathtub and sang the way he sings when he thinks no one can hear him, which is extraordinarily loudly. This is not something I would try but Steven does lots of things I would never try, including putting a slice of chocolate cake in his breakfast sandwich along with the scrambled egg.

On Sunday afternoon, Jenny and I had a lovely ride through the mountains and the sunshine and the autumn foliage to Emily's apartment. We told Paul and Steven hello and goodbye and then they left for home. We plan to stay until Thursday or so and then we do another switcheroo for the weekend and so our lives will go for the next while.

Which isn't all bad. Not at all. In the last 24 hours I organized and sorted my vast button collection, labeled 8 pairs of socks with red or blue thread for Ben and Steven, hemmed four (unused) diapers-turned-dishcloths, helped the girls organize and clean the apartment, shopped for a toaster and bath mat, and cut out and started sewing a split-skirt for Jenny.

I also noticed the suspicious bathtub ring at the very very top edge of the tub, which corroborates the singing-under-water story. Gotta get a good tub scrub spray.

Now I'm at the library after having walked way too far trying to find the post office. "Go up this street; you'll walk right into it," said the nice man at the hardware store. Finally after many blocks I stopped in at a dentist office and asked again. "Right up this street; six or eight blocks." Sigh.

Of course it's too soon to tell how being here will affect Emily, but I think we could all do with a dose of change, clear blue sky, sunshine, independence, and cool libraries and intriguing places all around to motivate us to get out and walk, and I can tell all that is doing her good already, in spirit and body both.

Quote of the Day:
--what Steven said Emily should name her apartment. So she did.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stroke of Brilliance

Most days, my mental powers are nothing to write home about. I can't remember my children's names, I call green beans "corn," I forget the most important thing on the grocery list, and I leave my cell phone cord at the motel.

(Except when I called the motel, they said it wasn't there.)

And then some days I have a stroke of genius. Last night I went to Goodwill while the three 15-year-olds were at drivers ed class, and there I nosed through about a hundred cords of every sort until I found one whose plug fit my phone. Then I found a young man who had that Geek Look that Matt has. "If I plug this in and it's the wrong one for my phone, will it explode in my face?" I asked him.
"No," he said, and added, "Actually, if it fits, it'll work."

I bought the cord, for 99 cents, and found an outlet. I plugged in the cord, plugged in the phone, and with a happy little bweeep the battery-charge icon started ticking away.

I was very happy.

Quote of the Day:
"Keep Eugene Weird"
--local t-shirt

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On Renting and Talking

So Paul and I and Emz went to Redmond, checked out the little Mennonite church (first things first), spent the night, and went apartment shopping. This involved finding the perfect place, with three churches within half a block, and then having the rug yanked out from under us at the very very last minute, with the check written and all. Emily is supposed to post about this and if she does it will be interesting, trust me, so take a quick side trip and tell her to write it all down, pretty please.

Then Paul did his best to pull us all together, and we found another apartment, and he checked at the police station to make sure it's a safe area, and we did the paperwork, and yesterday we found out that all our criminal history checks and such came out ok, and Emily is good to go. Probably this Friday.

Meanwhile, on a completely different note: My little nephew Nolan had us all a bit worried because he wasn't talking. A year ago I was at their house and he laughed, hummed, made truck noises, and dramatically stood on the couch arm and leaped onto the beanbag chair to make us laugh, but didn't talk, despite being two years old and having two articulate siblings. One time he passed a mirror, waved at himself, and said, "Bah!" and that was it. I think my sis had him evaluated and all that, and I don't know what the conclusion was.

He turned 3 in July and still wasn't talking. Then yesterday I was talking to Margaret on the phone while she was trying to get Nolan to put on some underwear. "You're a big boy now!" etc etc. And I heard him saying, "I am da big boy!"

I said, What??! When did he start saying sentences? And she said, Right after he turned 3.

I said, "What all does he say?" She said, "What doesn't he say? I was playing trucks with him and I made a ksshhew sound like the air brakes and he said, 'No Mom, that is not how it goes. It goes psshhew with a puh.'" She added, "It was all there, in his head, and now he can finally say it."

I think that's very very cool.

Quote of the Day:
(Cleaning up the kitchen last night. I was exhausted and half sick)
Me: Jenny, please get a container for the corn.
Jenny: That's green beans, not corn!
Me: Dear me, I have no brains left. Just be nice and put me in a nursing home.
Jenny: I wouldn't do that.
Slight pause during which I think: Oooh, I have such a nice compassionate daughter who will take care of me in my old age.
Jenny: That'll be Dad's job.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Craigslist Again

I have been drying my tears and clicking around on Craigslist/Oregon/Bend/apts/housing and looking for an apartment for Emily, in Redmond, pref 2 bedrooms, in a safe neighborhood, [which Craigslist never specifies of course], for not too much money, within walking distance of Fred Meyer and the library, that can be rented month by month.

Yes, we decided to send Emily out of the Valley. Oregon geography being what it is, you can go from rain forest to desert in about 50 miles if you do it right. See the map here, it's rather fascinating, how abruptly it goes from green to orange east of the Cascade Mountains. We live along the Willamette River; Redmond is close to the Deschutes, near that dark orange spot, about 150 miles from here.

The plan is that we will rent a place and try to have someone with her all the time, either a family member or one of several friends who have volunteered. Paul and I are going out this weekend to spy out the land.

This is all not fun to think about. I'm sure I'll always feel torn--there and wishing I was here, or here and feeling my sick daughter needs me. I am not letting myself hope too much that she will actually get well there, oh me of little faith, but I have been disappointed so often. Instead I focus on the silver lining of being able to take my sewing out there for a few days and doing it without interruptions. Or I could even take a file drawer and organize it. How about that.

Meanwhile, I prowl around on Craigslist, looking at apartments and duplexes, and making phone calls. I also placed an "apartment wanted" ad, telling all about our poor daughter and such. And got a few responses. From "James" and "Justin" and "Mark" who would be happy to have her as a roommate. I will not go into all my savage thoughts about What The World Is Coming To when men email a young woman's MOTHER and expect her to say yeah, sure, my daughter can live with you.

And then there was the earnest plea from the woman who had to go back to Canada because her dad died, and could Emily live in her apartment and run her business from here, especially: Help me to co-ordinate payments from my clients and help me with the payment process.2. Cash Payments at your Bank3. To maintain the apartment when I am away and to help me receive payments issued in checks from my clients within the USA on my behalf in your name and have it cashed because they pay mostly with checks and have the funds wired to me here in Canada through money gram transfer/western union transfer.

Yes, well. Then after all my hard work I go to other areas of Craigslist for entertainment. Like this ad*, which sounds somewhere between a Mad Lib guess-the-adjectives page and a very bad joke and a sixth grade English assignment to write a descriptive paragraph with an adjective for every noun:

[*yes, I consider this entertainment. Yes, I need to get out more.]["this beauty's frame is the perfect contestant to display the masterpiece within" hahahahaha love it love it]

Quote of the Day:
Incredible Victorian Ball Room Painting From 1830's - $100 (Eugene, OR)
This Painting is a true one of a kind piece depicting a Ball Room scene from the Victorian Era at its magnificent peak. The exquisite artistry shines in all aspects. The attention to detail is extraordinary and every participant of this romantic dance shares his or her own personality through the beauty of expression. This masterpiece was originally painted with an oil medium. If you look closely in the photos you will see the excellent use of highlighting and depth breathing life to the scene, bringing you the viewer, into the scene in your own home.The artist of this alluring piece is unknown creating even further mystery to the picture. I have not seen the signature with my own eyes. It lies underneath the corner where the frame overlaps the painting. As any lover of art would understand, I lack the heart to tear open the back to find it. In fact I believe the mystery of the unknown adds an unexplainable attraction to this romantic dance.The physical size is a perfect 23" by 43" (inches). Not too large yet not too small. Just the right size to hang on any wall of your beautiful home. The reproduction material is clearly a high quality vinyl and shows no sign of wear whatsoever. This material is excellent when it comes to the subject of reproduction because of its long lasting lifespan. Not only is it entirely waterproof but entirely resilient to climatic effects. The vinyl gives the visual effect of it being a true oil painting. It even has the same textural feel and appearance. Judging by the frames design I believe this reproduction comes from the early 1900's.Carved from a high quality wood, this beauty's frame is the perfect contestant to display the masterpiece within. The frame boasts a flawless physique with a coat of white paint that has worn in areas revealing the beauty of the wood beneath. The backside of the piece is a durable paper material sealed to the frame, securing the paintings safety and ensuring its long wonderful life in your home.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My Day

Well, I admit I had the Soggy Weeps today, since we are working on sending Emily away for some time, details pending, as a last-ditch effort to get her healthy, and we all know how stoic and brave and nonchalant I am about sending my big kids out of the house, especially when it's for such a depressing reason.


Then this evening Amy was out on her walk and came home with a half-grown Siamesy-looking cat. Within minutes this cat was surrounded, fed, held, watered, cuddled, and named. Or I should say her name was argued over in typical noisy gotta-have-that-last-word Smucker style.

The cat followed her home, Amy said. It doesn't belong to Aunt Susie who has a few Siamesy cats in her flock.

Now Peyton or whoever she is is out in the back hallway with food, water, a litter box, and an old rug. She ought to be happy. She is not. She yowls. Constantly. WAOWWR! WAOWWR! WAOWWR! Over. and over. and over.

Actually that is how I was yowling in my spirit all day today.

Meanwhile my day was improved by the arrival of supper at my SIL Bonnie's hands, her payment, she said, for Amy taking Bonnie's turn driving kids to choir. Oh my. It was a very unfair exchange. We sat down to an exquisite Mexican repast and Jenny, who calls it like she sees it, squealed, "Whoa! Can you imagine living at Aunt Bonnie's house and eating a supper like this every night?!"

Yes, well, I love you too. But the supper was all Emily-safe and delicious and helped to soothe the troubled soul.

Part of the spread was apple dumplings, which we put aside for later this evening. We cleaned up the kitchen and I did some more laundry and came in the back kitchen door and realized I was all alone.

Oh, could it be? Could I enjoy some of that yummy dessert all by myself, in Peace and Quiet? I scooped some in a dish, poured on some milk, and ate a few therapeutic bites. . . . and was joined by Jenny. Who perched on a bar stool and said, among plenty of other things:

Quote of the Day:
"Do you realize how much that cat needs a home, Mom? It's so silly, in my Pace it talks about these missionaries and it'll give the man's name but it'll hardly say ONE STITCH about his wife. Like Adoniram Judson. I guess it does say he married a beautiful woman named Ann, but after that it just says The Judsons. I feel like that cat needs something. Something undescribed. Something like the best thing in the world. I think he needs love. But I don't know how to give it to him because when he climbs up me he scratches me. Mom! I'm almost like a human climbing tree for him! Look at me, you can see all the scratches where he tried to climb on me. It just breaks my heart, he meows so pitifully."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Words, Tea, Knitting Needles

First the Quote of the Day:

"If you aspire to be a person of consolation, if you want to share the priestly gift of sympathy, if you desire to go beyond giving commonplace comfort...and if you long to go through the daily exchanges of life with the kind of tact that never inflicts pain, then you must be prepared to pay the price for a costly education-for like Christ, you must suffer." F.W.Robertson

I found this quote on someone's blog and forgot whose--sorry--please comment if it was yours and I'll give proper credit.

I copied the quote and shared it with my nice niece Annette and also with Emily, who has relapsed horribly the last few weeks after being well enough to volunteer at school the first week or two.

Emily wondered what this quote was all about. I said, "For the rest of your life, when you meet someone going through something hard, especially a chronic illness, you will say the right thing."

She said, "I will? If I met someone like that right now I have no idea what I'd say."

And I said, "You don't have to know. The point is that when the time comes, the right words will be in your heart and they will come out of your mouth. You don't have to plan them out ahead of time, and you really don't have to worry about saying something ham-fisted and inappropriate, because you just won't."

My brother Marcus, who lost his son two years ago, often talks about people who said just the right thing and others who said exactly the wrong thing, astonishingly so at times. Someone overheard him saying this and murmured in my ear that they have no idea if they said the right or wrong thing but they suspect it was the latter, and how on earth do you know?

Well, how indeed? Here's my advice gleaned from the last year: you can't go wrong with, "I've been thinking about you," "We're praying for you," "Can I stop by to visit Emily?" "It must be very hard." "Here's something for your supper."

You can go very wrong with advice*, intrusive questions, cliches, and knowing all the answers.

If you don't know what to say, a hug says more than words, and you don't have to say a thing.

*Bad advice-giving: "Do this!" "Good grief, why don't you do this?"
Good advice-giving: "I have an idea for you. Contact me sometime if you want to."

Speaking of hugs, they can be rather dangerous.

Last weekend Emily was introduced to a wonderful tea called Rooibos that tastes as robust as black tea but doesn't have the caffeine. She came home and researched it on Wikipedia and discovered that it's actually the "bush tea" that Precious Ramotswe was always drinking in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. How cool is that. She really wanted some of her own, since she loves tea but shouldn't have caffeine, so today she and I researched the yellow pages.

After school I took Ben, Stephie, and Kayla to Albany for drivers ed class, then I followed my nose out to the Allann Bros. coffee wholesalers where I was told they have Rooibos tea. There it was, in a lovely little white bag on the shelf near, could it be, genuine Kenya tea! Both were put in a cool little paper sack with handles and brought home.

I took the bag upstairs and gave it to Emily, who was lying on the couch knitting a scarf. She opened the bag, discovered the Rooibos, grinned in delight, squealed, and enveloped me in a grateful hug.

Which was nice, but oh, such a sudden and terrible pain in my navel. It turned out that she had laid her knitting needles on her lap with the dangerous ends out, and when she hugged me, they stabbed me right in the stomach.

I haven't seen Emily laugh that hard in a long time. It was good therapy for us both I'm sure, and worth the pain.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Last week Paul and I attended his co-preacher Arlen's dad's funeral. It was a calm and lovely service, the best part being the astonishing crowd of grandchildren who massed all over the front platform and spilled off the sides and sang several songs, beautifully.

As a Mennonite minister's wife, I attend lots of funerals. I remember talking with my sister Rebecca about this. With being overseas for so long, she hardly knew how an American funeral was conducted. I, on the other hand, had attended probably 50 in the years she was overseas.

Old people's funerals are a bit boring, but nice. Most aren't very large. The minister says nice words intended to comfort the family, but especially if the family just got done watching Grandma be ravaged by Alzheimers for the last five years, there's more relief than anything. You can sit there and think pleasant thoughts and try to figure out who's who in the audience and wonder which married couples are happy and listen to the conversation behind you--"There's a fee if you ...murmur murmur...more than one check in six months." The minister always paints the deceased in the loveliest light: "Our sister was very concerned about others," when in reality she interfered waaaay too much in the neighbors' lives.

These funerals don't lend themselves to high drama, but they do have their moments. Like the time I stepped into the nursery with a baby and there were two black-suited funeral home guys rocking leisurely in the rocking chairs, these same fellows who tiptoe down the aisle and raise the casket lid like it was made of spun glass, without the smallest hint of expression on their faces. Or the time the graveside service was supposed to start at 3:00 and we got there at 3:05 and it was already over. Or the time the deceased's white head covering was on upside down.

Younger people's funerals are very different. Hundreds of people show up, looking subdued and stunned. Death, in these cases, was not a gentle event but harsh and terrible. The audience is hushed. The opening song brings quiet weeping. The family is desperate for comfort. Much of the grief is for what never was or will be.

My fine daughter Emily judges everything in life by whether or not it's interesting--books, preachers, travel, guys, everything. Obviously, younger people's funerals are more interesting than old folks' services. If I had the choice, though, I think I would opt for living a long time and having a boring funeral. I hope I'll have lots of grandchildren there; if they can sing, so much the better. And I do wish I could listen in on the service and hear all my faults put in the best possible light.

Quote of the Day:
"We are going down the valley one by one. . ."
--an old hymn I have heard at way too many funerals