Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Matt and Mrs. Obama

Matt has told his sisters that before they get serious about a guy, he's going to play basketball with him, having observed many times that what you see on the court is not always what you see at other times.

So I found this very interesting, from a Slate article about Michelle Obama:

So when Michelle first brought Barack around that summer, Robinson says, "He was just another one who wasn't going to make it. Not that she had a lot of boyfriends, because she didn't; it was hard to pass muster with my sister. He had a gauntlet to go through." Her sense of purpose matched his, and that was important as they met each other's friends—and each other's challenges. Before she even agreed to go on a date, "she asked me to play basketball with him. Not to see [how good a] player he was, but because she'd grown up hearing my dad and I say you can tell a lot about a guy on the basketball court." And the findings? "No personality flaws with respect to the basketball evaluation, so they started dating."

Edited to add:
"Anonymous" commented:
You're stretching it a bit here, Mrs. Smucker!! Comparing Matt to Mrs. Obama could be construed as "political".
Yes, well, I've decided that it's a good thing we ex-Amish don't get involved in politics, and this is why: I don't agree with a lot of Obama's policies but I keep making excuses for him in my head because he might be related to Steven, who was a Luo from the Kisumu/Kakamega area of western Kenya, and so was Obama's dad. And Odinga (the opposition guy in Kenya) says he's related to Obama too--how about that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Snow Day

I love snow. We woke today to just enough snow to turn the yard white but with green circles still visible under the pine trees. But it was still snowing, a gentle wash of huge flakes that kept coming down down down.

Is it wicked to hope that church will be cancelled? Well, I did, wicked or not. Paul refused to start the decision/calling process--he decides this for school every time, he said, he's going to let someone else decide for church.

Then Arlen called and said his kids went to clean the church parking lot and it's very slippery. And it was still snowing. So, no church. We didn't want older ladies sliding on the parking lot, although Matt said seeing that would be fun if it weren't so mean.

The gleeful children got out of their church clothes and into snowsuits and out they went. I joined them after a while, walking down the road, making a snowman, turning my face to the sky to watch the snow fall and feel the cold flakes on my cheeks.

I love snow. I just absolutely and passionately love snow. Walking along, kicking thick white chunks in front of me, bundled up warmly, I could feel three months' worth of SAD slipping away and a wonderful lightening take its place.

It snowed and snowed and snowed. I went for another walk in the afternoon. At last, at last, winter was just what it ought to be.

How did I ever end up living in a place where it hardly ever snows? Normally, you know, it rains here, and winter is wet and sloppy and drippy.

And my girls love the rain. Amy rhapsodizes on her blog about the beautiful Oregon rain. Emily feels so cozy when it's raining outside. "Don't you love the scene in the new Pride and Prejudice where he proposes in the rain? Isn't that so romantic?" she says.
"Romantic?" I snap. "It looks wet and miserable, and how romantic is that, to propose with water dripping off your nose? Now to get proposed to in the twilight, in the gently falling snow, that would be romantic."
"In the SNOW??? Romantic? You can't be serious."

Paul said he'll be sure to tell that future young man to propose to Emily in the rain, if we approve of him, and in the snow if we don't.

Most of the snow stayed, so we stayed home this evening as well. And played games.

I do not like card/table games (except for occasional word games). Paul is the game-player/good parent of the family, who sits at the kitchen table for interminable Risk and Settlers of Catan games with the kids, while I read the Oregon Life section of the newspaper.

So at about 5:30 today I had taken my last walk in the snow and the others had finished their Monopoly game. Paul gathered the troops for another game and they decided to go with Emily's suggestion, Phase 10, a card/number game of mostly luck (bad, usually, for me), a bit of skill, and endless deliberating by the smaller Smuckers. I decided to be a good mom for once and play too.

We played. I answered the phone and made fruit smoothies for everyone, whirring the blender and adding bananas between turns. We played more. I snuck off and checked email while Emily dealt out cards. More turns. I texted Paul and told him he was cute. I called Matt to make sure he's ok, since he was stuck in Corvallis all day. The game went on and on and on. I couldn't get two sets of four to save my life. We all ate ice cream bars. The boys sang songs from Shrek and Remember the Titans. Still the game went on. I tried and tried and tried to get seven cards of one color. Paul knew good and well I needed a red card, but he refused to lay one out, which I was sure was proof he doesn't love me after all. Emily sided with Paul. I was determined to be a good mom, and kept playing, with a new appreciation of the true essense of eternity in Heaven. Finally Paul had mercy on me and suggested I leave the game at 8:30. So I did. I am a bad mom but I would be a worse one if I turned into a raving maniac with inch-long fingernails and cobwebs draping from my ears, weeks from now, still waiting for that last 6 so I could lay out my cards.

Quote of the Day:
"The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what shall poor robin do then, poor thing?"
--Mother Goose. Emily tried to help the poor birds today by sprinking sesame seeds on the porch rail, but they didn't find them.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Real Mom

This evening I felt like a real mom.

Some women approach motherhood with breezy confidence and always seem to know what they're doing. Their babies lie on blankets and coo instead of screaming with colic all afternoon, their teenaged daughters tell them who they "like" plus all their personal problems besides, and their sons say, "Just stay there, Mom, I'll get it for you." These Real Moms serve cookies and milk when the kids came home from school, and sometimes they all gather around the piano and sing.

I, on the other hand, have for much of the last 21 years felt like I was just feeling my way through this, wasn't sure what I was doing and wasn't a Real Mom--I was just pretending and hopefully no one would catch on.

(I also feel like I'm just pretending to be a writer, and one of these days everyone will start laughing and say, "Ok, joke's over, we were just playing along to make you feel good". . . but that is another story I think.)

But tonight Amy called me from her apartment in South Carolina three or four times to ask me questions about the dinner she and her roommate are putting on tomorrow for four friends. Does the cheesecake have to be refrigerated? Will it be ok if it looks like a volcano? How do you halve a butterhorns recipe that calls for three eggs?

I happily dispensed advice just like a Real Mom--"Oh, it'll be ok, and yes, put it in the fridge, and just use one egg for the butterhorns." Then I added, "And don't do a Grandma and point out all the flaws in your food to everyone!"

And the final gratifying cherry on the sundae of my satisfaction was when Amy said,

Quote of the Day:
"I'm glad I have a mom!"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Aprons, Aesthetics, and Hip New Things

It's always a strange feeling to find out that something I've always done is the hip new thing. Or, in a slightly different tack, to find out that what I always took for granted that people just did, most people don't do. And then when they start doing it, it becomes the hip new thing, usually for reasons quite different from why I always did them.

For instance, I grew up with a mom who wore aprons virtually every day of her life, and when I turned out to be a "kafflich" (Dutch word--prone to spills and splatters and messes) sort of cook, I wore aprons too, especially if I was working in good clothes.

I have made and worn cobbler aprons and lacy aprons and ruffled aprons, but mostly I come back to basic, hardworking, one-main-piece-of-fabric aprons.

Now suddenly the mommy-blogs are awash in women who are all excited about this new fad, and the sidebars are popping with links to sources for cutesy 50's-vintage aprons with cherry prints and scallops.

Which makes me wonder: were there really so few women wearing aprons that these women think they've discovered something new?

Then there are things like growing and canning tomatoes, reusing yogurt cups, and using a vinegar mixture to wash windows, more things I've just (almost) always done. Suddenly there are people "discovering" that these are actually options, and their motive is usually big words like environmental responsibility and sustainability and ecological something-or-other.

It always intrigues me to find someone who actually articulates reasons for doing this sort of thing, because that's not something I very often think about. I just do them. Why? Because, if I really ponder this, hmmmm, I guess frugality and tradition and stewardship and waste not, want not.

My friend Robin from our Red Moons writing group does not to my knowledge wear aprons, but she has put a lot of thought into her lifestyle and is determined to go against the cultural norm in terms of how her family eats, how much trash they generate, and so on. Reading her blog is fascinating, because sometimes she's discovering for the first time things that I grew up with and sort of figured everyone knew about, and often she spells out exactly why she chose to do something that I also do but it never occurred to me to think about why I do it.

Here she writes about "The aesthetic of the useful," specifically about clotheslines. I think I've had a clothesline in the backyard of all but one of the 15-ish places I've lived at, and I have many random photos of them. There's the web of lines from tree to tree to tree in front of our cabin in Round Lake, with hundreds of tiny garments flapping in the breeze, then the line of little pants when I got too ambitious too early with potty-training Matt, and more recently, a line of jeans against a setting sun with the air full of harvest haze.

Once again, I always hung clothes on the line whenever I could, because I liked to and it made sense. It's fascinating to see it through the eyes of someone who thinks deeply about such things.

Maybe there's too much that I do without ever really thinking about it.

Quote of the Day:
"Just so you know I am not an aspering wrighter like Emily told you I was."
--Jenny, on a guest xanga post

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Something Cool

I have my blog set up so that any comments get forwarded to my email account. Of course I love comments as much as any blogger, although I haven't resorted, as some have, to putting this box in my sidebar with an angry-looking older lady in a rumpled hat and the words, "Would it kill ya to comment?" And that's not just because I have no idea how to put boxes in my sidebar. As Emily says, what good are comments if you have to beg for them?

Anyway. Today the Harrisburg Hens met again after a long pause and we had a very nice prayer-and-share-and-coffee-and-rolls time at Mari's house.

When I came home a little after noon I checked my email. 7 messages! And while I was reading them, another you-have-mail flag popped up, and then another.

It turned out that at the exact time that I was checking my email, the third graders that I spoke to the other day were posting comments on my Sickness and Third Graders post, so they were popping up like popcorn on my screen.

I tell you, that was fun, reading comment after sincere, sweet, cool, well-written comment from those kids. Thanks and applause to them and to Mrs. Fischer, Ms. Chang, and the other teachers!

You can read their twenty-some comments here.

Quote of the Day:
"Hi Dorcas.Thank you for koming to therd grade."
--Torrien in room 1

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Doing Good

You know, sometimes you do what seems like the right thing and it turns out to be the wrong thing.

So this evening after church I was talking with Konrad and his lovely wife Shannon and admiring their three adorable children. I forget what we were discussing, just chitchat. And then I noticed that from the shoulder of Konrad's jacket hung an unmistakable green Goodwill tag. Now one of the things I appreciate about Konrad is that he is an expert on good and bad Goodwills, and you can tell him about some bargain you got, and he'll be happy for you.

Konrad also has a unique sense of humor. I appreciate that too.

Anyway, if you shop at Goodwill you know that they don't actually hang price tags on everything. They just pop on these skinny plastic color-coded tags, and every week certain colors are half price. Paul has several times gone out in public with a tag hanging off his shirt or pants, which I of course rectified when I discovered it.

So without even thinking I said, "Oh! You bought this jacket at Goodwill," and I reached out and yanked off the tag.

I expected Konrad and Shannon to look amused at their own oversight. Instead they looked shocked.

You know, that is a horrible feeling, to get the distinct sense that you just did something wrong, unknowingly.

Well. It turns out that the front of Konrad's jacket says Holiday Rambler. So when people would ask him if he owns a Holiday Rambler, he would say, "Ahem, no. . ." and direct their attention to the green plastic tag on his shoulder.

And then I ruined it all.

Of course I blundered around saying I was sorry. Of course he forgave me.

But still. Maybe I've been a mom too long, instinctively snaking out my arms to turn down upturned collars, brush off stray hairs, and tuck in shirts. In fact, at the last church potluck, a grandpa was talking to me with a drop of pie on his chin and it was all I could do not to whip out my napkin and wipe it off. I guess Konrad can be thankful I didn't find a little smear on his face and spit on a kleenex to wash it off.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: Did you know that it's bad luck to walk under a ladder?
Jenny: That's just old. . . dumby stuff.
Emily: You mean old wives' fables?
Jenny: Old UN-wise fables!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hollywood Catches Up With Me Again

I inherited the Yoder lower lip (big and poochy), about which my brothers made soul-scarring disparaging comments, and the first time I saw myself on video in 8th grade I thought it looked like my lower lip was a banana flopping up and down.

And then the world spun around a few times and suddenly all the stars in Hollywood like Angelina Jolie were injecting collagen into their lower lips to make them more poochy and banana-like.

How about that.

Then I had teenage daughters who rolled their eyes at my horrifying habit of wearing (whisper) knee socks! Oh, the shame of such a mother. Never mind that knee socks were warm and much more attractive than pale skin between skirt and ankle sock. They were completely unfashionable and uncool. And then what should I find this morning but this:

Shedding their school girl image, knee-high hosiery is getting a fresh update from some of Hollywood’s most stylish starlets. Ashlee Simpson keeps it sporty, pairing them with her low-top Converse sneakers. Jessica Alba playfully wears them in a contrasting color over a pair of black opaque tights. We’re not completely sold on this trend, but we’d love to hear from you. Tell us: Would you wear this look?

I don't know about "this look" but I certainly wear sporty black knee socks paired playfully with a long denim skirt and Josef Seibel mules, just as I have for years. It's fine with me if the rest of the world finally catches on to the wisdom and good sense of this.

I should add two things--in the last couple of years, my daughters have actually come around on the knee sock issue, and I honestly do not normally follow the Hollywood-star-fashions links on the Juno home page, really, believe me, honest, only when they mention something fascinating like knee socks.

Quote of the Day:
"Do you know what salt is? Salt is a highly reactive metal and a poisonous gas."
--Ben, who considers this normal family conversation

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sickness and Third Graders

We are grateful that, despite their coughing that sounds louder and more deep-chested than Hansie barking at the sheep, the sick ones are on the mend.

I was talking to Paul's sister Lois about taking Ben to the doctor and how vindicated I felt when it turned out there was actually something wrong with him. Is this a universal mom thing, or is it just frugal Mennonite moms without insurance who make it a point of pride to never take a child to the doctor unnecessarily? As Lois said, it's the one time when you want your child to be as sick as possible, just to prove your point. Like many moms, I've discovered that the surest way to bring the temperature down, shrink the swelling, calm the cough, and reduce the pain is to show up at the doctor's office. And when it turns out to be just a virus, I pin on the virtual Inept Mom badge.

Different subject:
This morning I once again spoke to about sixty third graders at Spring Creek Elementary School in Eugene about being a writer. It was so much fun. I love this age. They sat quietly, listened well, and asked lots of questions--"Do you write on a computer? How old were you when you started writing??--and got off on a big discussion of ages and birthdays--theirs, their parents', mine, my children's--until Mrs. Fischer gently got the conversation back on track.

Mrs. Fischer, by the way, is the teacher whose testimonial appears in the back of Upstairs, on the page about being available for speeches. I made sure I pointed that out to the kids.

Afterwards one child came up and shyly said, "You inspired me!" Another one made my day by whispering, oh so sweetly:

Quote of the Day:
"I think you're very pretty!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Normally the flu season hits at school about a week before the Christmas program, randomly picking off victims and resulting in obvious gaps in the singing lineup on the big night. Paul somehow always manages to stave off the bug until vacation, and he has spent more than one Christmas curled up under a blanket, flush-faced and glassy-eyed.

This year was different. We have 32 students, a new record, and I believe the only one missing at the program was Emily. And then we made it through vacation without much sickness.

But now it's hitting. Ben's friends have been getting sick one by one, and today he succumbed and I dragged him in to the clinic in Junction City, where the doctor said he most likely has pneumonia.

There's a terrible bug going around, the clinic ladies said, and it's very hard on the elderly. Glen Yoder, Paul's cute dumpy overalled bachelor cousin-a-few-times-removed, who used to stand placidly out in his front yard by the hour, waving at people driving by, passed away today.

And now Jenny is lying on the couch with her temperature percolating up a degree or so per hour. So I am in that strange sick-house netherworld, where the universe seems to boil down to this place, this room, these children lying miserably on the couches; taking temperatures, bringing drinks, cold cloths on hot foreheads. The rest of the world, of Paul going to work and Rita planning Bible Club and trucks driving down 99 and people in Michigan voting in primaries seems far away and almost unreal.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: How can I make sure I don't get what Ben has?
Me: Eat a teaspoon of fresh garlic every day. I think that's what I'm going to do.
Paul: I think I'll go get a motel room tonight.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Those Crazy Authors

Authors I know, even Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant have been telling me for years that you don't get rich off of royalties, and they sell the most books when they give speeches.

Of course I didn't want to believe that, hoping that I would be an exception and my books would be out there selling like hot cakes without any effort on my part.

Sigh. Not gonna happen. I just got my annual royalty check for Ordinary Days along with the disappointing revelation that book sales generally drop precipitously in the second year because everyone places their big orders right when the book comes out and then what doesn't sell over Christmas gets returned. In fact, Mr. Accountant at Good Books acted like I should be happy that I at least had something, because many authors post a negative number the second year.

Paul for all his practicality gets a bit dreamy about book sales, picturing the warehouse paid off by then and the house by then, but I keep my air castles in the maybe-remodel-the-kitchen-next-year level, which is simply not going to happen with royalties, it turns out, as with this latest check I can maybe buy a new stove but not one with that cool flat top.

However, my personal-appearance sales have been good enough that we are starting to design the layout of the new kitchen and talk about cabinet styles, so I guess all those other authors were right after all.

You know, there's this funny thing about authors. We always say our books are doing well. Always. No matter what. Last summer I had a signing where I sold four books, and when people asked me how it went I showed my teeth and said, "Oh, pretty good. Yeah, just fine. I talked to quite a few people."

And at the last book sale I was at I sat beside this woman who writes quasi-feminist novels. That poor woman sat there hour after hour talking to people about her stuff and was hardly selling anything that I could see. Toward the end she staunchly insisted that she had actually had a good day, quite profitable, mmm-hmmm, really, making connections and all, you know. Then at the end we had to tally up our sales because a percentage of our profits went to the library. "This won't be hard," she muttered, and it turned out she hadn't sold a single book. Ouch. Just then my old friend Linda from our writers group came by and bought one of her books, bless her.

So yeah, just so you know, we authors, even when we are good truthful Mennonites, find ways to convince ourselves and you that our books are doing well, really they are, I mean, we won't pay off the warehouse tomorrow, but the word is getting out there and the publisher is going to bat for us and a library in Kansas just bought a copy and we're happy with how things are going. Really.

[Seriously, I really and deeply appreciate all the Shoe readers who have coughed up their hard-earned money for my books. I will think of you when I cook on my new stove.]

Quote of the Day:
"If I bit you, would you get West Nile?"

Monday, January 07, 2008


I feel like I keep circling back to the topic of civilizing my boys. I'm sure some of you roll your eyes at my stories and say, Oh for heaven's sake, if that's the worst thing they ever do you have nothing to worry about." To you I say: go visit someone else's blog now, because I want some sympathy.

My friend Arlene recently posted about how she tries to make things easy for her sons' future wives but feels like she's failing miserably. Reading it I thought, Amen, Sister, I too feel like I should apologize to those future young ladies who have no clue what they're getting into.

It wouldn't be quite so hard to civilize the boys if we didn't have in our deck the wild card known as Hansie, a huge voracious dog who will never be fully civilized this side of Dog Heaven, (and we're not sure that he'll actually ever get there). You might recall the roast beef episode which resulted in Steven getting the lecture of his life on shutting that back pantry door. "Every! Single! Time!" "Yes, Mom, I understand, yes, really, I'll remember, really I will."

Well. The door stayed firmly shut for a long time. This time of year, hardly anyone ever uses it. But this evening Emily went out to the back pantry for something and shrieked, "What's going on? Why is this door open?"

Me: (Oh great) Are there Hansie tracks?
Emily: Yes.

There was also a large empty Tupperware container that had formerly been full of chocolate chip cookies. I still don't know how Hansie opened it, but he not only did so but also ate all the cookies and all the waxed paper between the layers.

Steven guiltily admitted using that back door today.

I went to the computer and Googled "How much chocolate kill dog?" One ounce of chocolate per pound of body weight, it turns out. Well, Hansie may have pigged out but he did not eat 150 ounces of chocolate.

I have no hope of ever teaching Hansie to quit sneaking in if the back door is open, but I had hoped to somehow get it through Steven's head to shut that door. Unfortunately right now I can only picture him coming home at 30 years old and still forgetting to latch that back door.

To his sweet young future wife: I'm sorry. I truly am.

Quote of the Day:
"Everyone says I get my craziness from you, Mom.'
--Matt, who posted this on his blog today. Yes, you're allowed to tell me that the reason I can't civilize my children is because I was never civilized myself.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Puky Little Puppy

Our family takes its comics very seriously, as Amy mentions here.

I enjoy reading Luann most days and want to shake her when she goes gaga over Aaron Hill and all that, but I am normally not as "into" Luann as I am Stone Soup or For Better or for Worse.

However, I am much more into Luann lately since she and Gunther have been reading to the kids at the library and having this conversation about The Poky Little Puppy.

Luann thinks it's a wonderful book. Gunther doesn't get it.

Years ago, my mother-in-law gave Matt a copy of The Poky Little Puppy. We didn't have many books for the kids back then, or access to more, and the children loved it, so I read that book so often I can still quote much of it from memory. "Five little puppies dug a hole under the fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world. Down the road, over the bridge, across the green grass, and up the hill, one after the other . . ."

I don't normally court controversy on this blog, but let me say that I DO NOT LIKE that book. It is stupid, senseless, tasteless, boring beyond description, sick, weak, dreadful, dumb, silly, and did I mention stupid?"

Oh, and cutesy and pasty and based on false doctrine too.

Why my children liked it, or how it ever got to be this "wonderful children's classic" are beyond me.

I remember the joy I felt when I finally threw it away, after the children outgrew it.

I am never giving it to my grandchildren. Never.

Quote of the Day:
Me: (messing with a candle) Ooooo, you drowned in wax again. Don't do that!
Emily: You're talking to a wick?? Is any stationary object safe?? 'Oooh, you're burning again! Sorry I have to blow you out, dear flame!'
Me: Humph!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Encouraging Emily

School started again today but Emily didn't go. She tries to be upbeat on her xanga but today she shared how discouraging this all is. If you like, you can go here and leave a comment to encourage her.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for 2008, from our family to yours.
(from left--Steven, Ben, Amy, Dorcas, Paul, Emily, Jenny, Matt)

The guys.

The girls.

The parents.

(photo credit: Ruth Swartzendruber)