Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ben, on Jenny

Yesterday Ben was supposed to write a few descriptive paragraphs about someone. He chose Jenny. Here's what he wrote; I added the photo to show that he knows whereof he speaks.

Her red hair and freckled face jump out at you like a crouched frog. Well, actually her energy does. Small and skinny, Jenny Smucker can often gets hyper, especially around those besides her family.

Her attitude is as wild as the color of her hair. She is often cheerful and happy, but mornings aren’t really her time. She can be picky about some things (like her food) but could care less about other things (like how her clothes match). Overall, Jenny Smucker is rather rambunctious and often fun to be with.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I am old

I am privileged to be the teacher of the youth girls' Sunday school class, and today the lesson focused on Jesus' example of servanthood. Normally, I said, the lesser gives his life for the greater, such as the slave who would taste the wine for the king to see if it was poisonous. Or James Brady throwing himself in harm's way to shield Ronald Reagan. But Jesus was the opposite, a king giving his life for us slaves.

[Oops, correction. Tim McCarthy was the Secret Service guy who leaped in front of Ronald Reagan and was shot in the chest. James Brady was the press secretary who was also shot but not as heroically. Thanks, mdbeachy]

So I was rattling on about this, including the highly irrelevant fact that until Reagan was shot, many of us had no idea that those briefcases the Secret Service men carried actually contained some pretty impressive weaponry. And then I suddenly realized that probably none of these girls even remembered when Reagan was shot. In fact, probably none of them were even born then.

I asked. None were.

I felt very old. I remember it like it was yesterday, my sweet landlady in her Dutchy accent calling me after school at that little one-room school in Minnesota where I taught, and me answering the heavy black rotary-dial phone at the back of the room, and hearing the news, and being all alone in that echoey room, and wondering if Reagan would live or die, and sensing that this was an important moment in history.

Yes, well. The point is that Jesus took the bullet for us. And we ought to respond with gratitude and devotion and service.

Quote of the Day:
"You must feed him a sheep a day!"
--Richard A., my SIL Geneva's dad, when he saw Hansie

Friday, September 26, 2008

Glass Ceilings and stuff

Several years ago when I was first asked to speak at local events I decided I could handle something like this about once a month. And ever since I have had about one request a month come trickling in. Some months have none; last June I had four events. But it pretty much averages out to one a month, and I have very seldom turned anyone down, and we all lived happily ever after.

But in just the last few days I suddenly got splashed with about six different speaking requests, plus there's a few more with which we're still in discussion mode. I have no idea why this is happening, and I'm trying to figure out if I can portion these out to last six months, or if I need to start saying no.

Paul's comment about this flurry of fame was an amused smile and the comment, "No glass ceiling for my wife, eh?"

Which brings me to what I'm actually talking about here. The "glass ceiling" term gets batted around a lot, like it's an indisputable feature of the work world for women, and I think I've especially heard it since Sarah Palin's nomination.

Whenever I read about the "glass ceiling," I always wonder what's really with that. I have never had to compete in the big business/political world out there (thank God) so I don't really know what goes on.

But I've often wondered, what would happen if women pursued excellence and servanthood instead of position? What if they made themselves indispensible? What if they tried to make everyone around them successful?

Paul has (oh dear, what is she? Gotta draw a diagram quick...ok...) a second cousin who grew up just down Powerline Road and who was born Lela Fern Kropf and eventually became the much-more-sophisticated-sounding Lee Snyder, who for a number of years was president of Bluffton College in Ohio. Lee is smart and confident, but she is also physically tiny, with a warm, gentle personality. I am told that as she rose through the ranks in the academic world, she never applied for or sought any position. Each time, it was offered to her because of the credentials that people saw in her.

I find that very interesting. I think we could all learn from it whether we are career women or not.

P.S. And since I am supposed to teach a Sunday school lesson tomorrow on Jesus' example of servanthood, to young ladies who are or will probably soon be employed, does anyone have wise insights into how servanthood relates to the real work world and specifically to a situation such as Mary Kay Ash's (see Naomi's comment)?

Quote of the Day:
"What do you call a disgustingly bad author? Charles Sickens!"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I've always said that having children exercises your brain more than sitting in a classroom. (Actually the first chapter of Upstairs is about this.) Well, today I am wading through a list of titles such as, "Asymmetric Synthesis of Four Diastereomers of 3-Hydroxy-2,4,6-trimethylheptanoic Acid: Proof of Configurational Assignment" and "Allergens of the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana" and [this one makes sense at least]: "Effect of environmental intervention on mouse allergen levels in homes of inner-city Boston children with asthma"

I have also learned to use the term "Helminthosporium sativum" in everyday conversation.

Emily the lovely semi-invalid daughter was recently diagnosed with a strong allergy to a mold (Helmintho-yadayada) that grows in cool, wet, climates, on wheat and grasses. Which is to say, on millions of plants, all around us, all winter.


The doctor didn't know much about it except for the paragraph that came with the test results. It's a delayed-reaction immune-system sort of allergy, rather than a rash or wheezing, so no one seems to know much about it. So I have been doing lots of research, starting with our farmer friend Larry, who told me all he knew including the fact that last year the farmers planted at least 5 times as much wheat as normal (signifciant, perhaps) and referred me to Mark at the county extension office, who told me all he knew including the fact that there's residual helminthosporium in the air all the time but it really explodes in the cool, wet months and referred me on to the Jan the home economist who didn't know much except that we should for sure have a HEPA filter on the furnace.

What we want to know is when is the mold most prevalent, is it air/water/food-borne, is it the same as mold in bathrooms, is Paul bringing it home from the warehouse on his clothes, and what should Emily be doing to avoid it?

And, a big question, is it found in other areas of the country, and at what times of the year? And an even bigger question that won't be answered by county extension people or on any websites: do we need to ship Emily off somewhere else all winter, or is God telling us the whole family needs to relocate, or what??

Ok, gotta go read up on Organization and expression of the double-stranded RNA genome of Helminthosporium victoriae 190S virus, a totivirus infecting a plant pathogenic filamentous fungus.

Quote of the Day:
"You can tell it's a 'Plugger' blogging site because it has a big button that says, 'What's a blog?'"
--Emily, making fun of my lovely Blogger home page

Monday, September 22, 2008

One Last Trip Post

Last night I was talking with Paul's nephew Randy's girlfriend Shelley about the quirks of Kalona. It is a fascinating little place, a small town in the middle of the Iowa cornfields, completely devoid of any franchise fast food places* or espresso stands, that is nevertheless famous for its quilt culture and the Amish, with hitching posts at the grocery store and lots of other businesses around town.*oops, Randy tells me there's a Subway. Didn't see it I guess.
The Amish/Mennonites were among the first to settle in the town, as I recall, and today, the lineup of high school cheerleaders in the picture in the Kalona News reads like a list of students at Calvary Bible School--Yoders, Schrocks, Swartzentrubers, the whole lot.

Rebecca and I had fun walking and driving around Kalona and seeing the house where we used to live, Aunt Edna's house just down the road, the sale barn, and the store that used to be Reif's Family Center. We stopped for coffee and an exquisite fluff-filled bar at a bakery that I believe is called simply The Bakery, and where the regular coffee costs 50 cents.

One morning I walked past the Kalona News office and decided to stop in and thank them for the nice little piece they printed about my book signing. I pushed the screen door open and stepped into what looked like something straight out of the 1950's, except for the computers. No one was around that I could see. I cleared my throat and peeked around the divider but the place was empty. So I found a green pad of paper on the wooden counter and instead of writing some advertising copy on it, I started writing a thank you note. Just then the door opened and a gentleman meandered in with a cup of coffee. The editor, it turned out, who looked and talked just like the editor of the Kalona News ought to, and who had all the time in the world to visit with me, and who offered to reprint my column now and then.

I think we could all use a Kalona in our lives.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, I have an American cultural question: what do I do with a wet umbrella?"
--my nephew Jason, who is all at once adapting to America, college, and rain after spending most of his life in Yemen

Saturday, September 20, 2008


There's a BeachyAmish/Mennonite custom of having a week of revival meetings every year, the speaker, or "evangelist," usually being a minister imported from another church. I think the Beachies more than some other groups will use the phrase "meetings 'with' so-and-so" as in "I hear they're having revival meetings with Raymond Stoltzfoos at Hope Fellowship this week."

Well, it so happened that they were having a week of revival meetings at Mom and Dad's church when I arrived, the speaker being Nathan Yoder, who grew up in that very church, the bishop's son in fact. He was older than me and his time there and mine had overlapped for--I'd guess--five years, and I remember he taught our vacation Bible school class one year. Then he went off and married and spent many years at Faith Mission Home in Virginia.

Anyway, so my first afternoon at Mom and Dad's I was talking to Amy on the phone and I said virtuously, "I need to go. Tonight I'm going to revival meetings with Nathan Yoder that grew up around here."

And she said, shocked,

Quote of the Day:
"MOM! Does Dad know about this??"

Trip Musings 3

Of course the best part of the trip was the people. From parents and siblings and nieces to reams of relatives on both the Yoder and Miller sides.

On our first evening in Iowa Rebecca and I went out to eat with three cousins that we hadn't seen in years. Well, actually they're first cousins once removed, thanks to their grandma, our Aunt Edna, one of the older siblings, getting married at 17 and our dad getting married at 37. We girls used to have slumber parties in Henry Bontragers' loft above the garage. Our evening out with these girls was one of those unexpectedly blessed times that you take as a gift from God. We talked and laughed until Olive Garden closed, and they nearly had to toss us out. And then a few of us profusely thanked the young man by the front door for being so patient with us, and then realized he wasn't even an employee, one of many many good memories of the evening.

Laverta, Rebecca, Marilyn, me, Loretta

Edna used to serve those orange circus peanut candies to all the children who came to her house, so Rebecca brought some along and we feasted for old times' sake.

My dear uncle Mahlon perked up and recognized us when we visited him and reminded him of how he used to take us both onto his lap and give us whisker rubs. He grinned and said, "You liked it, too." Everyone at Pleasantview Home just loves him, they say. I do too.

Here's Mahlon and my mom, obviously siblings.
Here we are having a Miller-family supper at Vina's house. On the left in the white blouse is Vina talking to her cousin Leona (Mom's Uncle Noah's daughter). Next to Vina is Dad, then Mom, then Leora and Lavern, who is telling me about his trip to the Shetland Islands.
Partly cut off there on the left is Mom's cousin Sarah (her Uncle Levi's daughter) who ran a famous quilt/fabric shop for years and travelled all over the place to lecture on Amish quilts. She's talking to Rebecca, who is next to John who is the pastor at Sunnyside church, next to his wife/my cousin Anna Fern, who is next to her dad, Uncle Mahlon. And then we are back to Leona. My cousin Merlin took the pictures. If you live in the Kalona area, or are related to us, you probably got talked about that evening. In a good way of course. And in Dutch.

Quote of the Day:
"It couldn't have happened to a nicer person."
--John, when Lavern told what happened when they asked him to take off his belt at the airport security and his hands were full and his cargo pockets were overloaded with insulin and needles and stuff.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trip Musings 2

In the Menno/Amish world, it's all about connections. It's especially so around Kalona, which has hundreds of Amish and Mennonites, so there's lots of news and drama, but is rather insular and isolated, so that you either know everyone else in the community or know someone who does. Privacy, I gathered, is hard to come by--everyone seems to know everyone else's business and no one seems to think there's anything wrong with this. My sister once overheard a conversation in which two Beachy-Amish women were discussing the distressing fact that there was obviously something going on at the funeral home and they didn't know who had died. Amazing, Rebecca said, that this person actually died without asking their permission.

So, yeah, it's all about your pedigree and who you belong to and who you know that knows someone else. Which is why my cousin's son, Lee I think it was, applied for a job and said he's Adam's Mahlon's LaVern's Lee, and was hired.

I listened to Aunt Vina and Mom talking and jotted down snippets of conversation from the middle of their stories:
"de Cheff Roop Laurie yidda shweshta"
"us Check Bondraya's yidda maedel"
"da Henry sei boo Calvin vohnt ins Henry's ald haus"
"du vaysht us Yoni Esha maedel? . . .oooh no kommt de Minerva raus, un ooooh, no hot's mol gmacht, un do wah's Yoni Esha maedel!"

Translations don't do justice to the Aunt-Vina intonations but here they are anyhow:
"Jeff Ropp's wife Laurie's sister"
"Jake Bontrager's daughter"
"Henry's son Calvin lives in Henry's old house"
"You know Joni Esh's daughter?--oooh then comes Minerva out, and ooooh, then it did make, and here it was Joni Esh's girl."

Rebecca has been out of the Mennonite loop long enough that she's not that good at all this, especially with spending all those years overseas. But I get so excited about connections it's embarrassing.

Quote of the Day:
"I missed you so bad while you were gone. I didn't have any tea in the mornings--that was the main thing."
--Jenny, who honestly wasn't trying to deflate my ego

Trip Musings

The most astonishing thing was that it actually all worked out. We kept our expectations low, knowing that among my family in Oregon, Rebecca's in Virginia, and Mom and Dad in MN, a hundred things could crop up to make it impossible for us two sisters to get together and take Mom and Dad on a trip to Iowa.

Rebecca and her family are back in the U.S. for a year, living in Virginia, where their oldest son just started classes at the University of Virginia. Both she and I wanted to visit the folks, and we decided to do it at the same time. Then we got the idea to go to Iowa, where Mom and Dad have lots of roots and relatives, when their trip there with Marcus and Anna was cancelled at the end of July when Anna's dad died.

So I flew in to MSP on a Tuesday, rented a car, and drove to Grove City. That evening Rebecca flew in and spent the night with an old college friend in the Cities. The next morning Mom and Dad and I set forth, picked up Rebecca, and were off to Iowa, exclaiming in wonderment that it actually worked out.

We stayed at Aunt Vina's in Kalona, a lovely place filled with Vina's touch and exquisite quilts. In the evenings we got together with friends and family groups, and during the day we drove Mom and Dad around the countryside and visited old friends, most of them Amish.

I am pretty far removed from my Amish roots, so pulling into a driveway and seeing ten little children playing on a swing set--boys in straw hats, girls in organdy coverings--turned me into a gushing tourist wishing I could snap pictures all day. But when we actually got to visiting I clicked right back into Amish mode--talking "Dutch," making connections, discussing freindschaft and gardens and babies.

We went to visit "Cho Hoshbyah" (Joe Hershberger) who is a hundred years old and who was sitting at the kitchen table wearing thick black-rimmed glasses and reading his Bible. The house was plain as all Amish houses are--hardwood or linoleum floors, plain painted walls, plain austere furniture, and just a bit dark even though it was the middle of the day. Partway through the visit Rebecca and I took our leave and slipped over to the fabric store next door, run by Joe's two maiden daughters. There in the semi-darkness we browsed among baby bibs and those strings of plastic beads that all Amish babies play with and racks of solid fabric. Then suddenly a voice said, "Who do I hear out there?" and there was my dear cousin Katie and her husband Harley coming around a rack of fabric, and we had ourselves a fine reunion right there.

Of the many things I exclaimed about, probably the top of the list was how much these Amish ladies get done. Joe's house was the most immaculate, with not a speck of dust or cobweb anywhere on the screened porch or anywhere else, but the other places weren't far behind. The flower beds are lush and colorful, the gardens are huge and healthy, always with a row or two of zinnias and cockscomb, and all around the many outbuildings the grass is trimmed and everything is neat and tidy.

Then they casually mention that they milk 200 goats and grow produce for a co-op, hence the piles of onions in the shed over there. Or they have 5000 chickens and also milk 40 cows and I forget what other business ventures--that was my cousin Perry and his wife Rebecca, who I gathered do all this to keep their family busy. But the family isn't that big--five children I think.

Work, one gathers, is top priority. Well, no, not top priority. That's reserved for guests, since everywhere we went they dropped everything they were doing to visit with us. The barefooted woman with twelve children who was canning meat for a wedding in two weeks. The large clan at Glen and Susan Beachy's who were having a workday for their parents/grandparents and who came out of the woodwork in droves when we arrived--men, women, teenagers, maiden aunts, and lots and lots of children. They all left everything to talk with us. We felt like royalty.

Rebecca and I have a terrible way of giggling like 12-year-olds when we're together, at stuff that isn't necessarily that funny but there's something about the chemistry and the moment that sends us off. Well. One morning Mom and Dad said we're visiting an old widower next--let's see, I'll call him John Miller. So we pull up to his house, with the Iowa mud and gravel in the driveway sucking at the tires. Dad went to the house to see if he was home, since you don't call ahead to Amish homes of course. While we waited in the car, Mom very casually and randomly said, "I used to date John for about six months. 'Eah het mich gaehn vedda.' ['He wanted me pretty bad.]" Rebecca and I reacted with astonishment of course. John turned out to be home, so we went inside, and as Mom and Dad greeted him and we came behind them in the little entry, we took note that poor John was a crippled, stiffened old man in a straight white beard that made Dad look like a healthy young hunk, as Rebecca put it. Rebecca very irreverently whispered in my ear, "Dorcas, that could be your father," and suddenly we were shaking with laughter in that little entry/washroom, trying to compose ourselves back into grownups. Well we finally managed, and Rebecca muttered, "Don't you dare look at me" as we went inside. We had a nice visit and we behaved ourselves very well, but then Mom was the last to leave and we heard John saying, "I hadn't seen you for such a long time, Sara," and that put us right over the edge again, and we held ourselves together until we were about fifty feet down the road and then we cut loose into screams of laughter. It doesn't sound that funny in retrospect I guess but believe me, two sisters discovering their mother's old beau is funny.

Quote of the Day:
"Speiss Gott, trank Gott
alle aumer kinner
de auf Erden sind."
--the prayer Mom and her siblings would say. Rough translation: "God, feed and water all poor children on earth."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I came home this morning and am too sleepy to say much except that I had a wonderful trip. Lots of posts and processing bubbling in my head but for now I will limit my observations to this:

Is there something in the Mennonite/Amish odning [aka Ordnung in all paperback Amish novels] that says Amish/Menno place names can only have two syllables? Thus we have:
Lankster, (PA),
Klona, (IA), and
Hairspurg, (OR)

Monday, September 08, 2008


I'm leaving shortly, driving to SeaTac, catching a flight to MSP, spending a week with Mom and Dad and my sis Rebecca, and driving to Iowa for a few days with all of the above. The Lord willing, I should add, knowing how quickly plans can change. For example, today somebody from this house was driving to Halsey and started passing a combine and didn't realize a large truck was trying to pass both of them. All ended well, praise God.

Quote of the Day:
"I knew you were leaving today, but I forgot today was the day you were leaving."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Bargain Genes

Today Jenny and I went garage saling. I've hit a few sales here and there all summer but never really "went saling." Anyway, today was the day, probably the last one for the season.

Now there's nothing like the prospect of a good bargain to make all my Yoder genes come to the fore. Honestly, we were about the most frugal, bargain-hungry family I've ever met. [Well, I guess the Miller genes played a part too, with Aunt Vina roaring off to the garage sales in Iowa City "before the hoarders get there!"]

So Jenny and I went to a huge sale at the Assembly of God church and debated about that pink fuzzy hat for Jenny and that towel rack for me, and then I heard the lady in charge announce that at 2:00 you can have anything you can stuff into a bag for $2.00.

Well. Were we going to pay $2 for a hat when we could get the hat plus a sackful of other things for the same price an hour and a half later? We were not.

So we left and hit a few more sales and bought groceries and then stopped by the road and organized all our purchases and picked up the granola bar wrapper and old church bulletins in the car, just to kill those last ten minutes.

And then we went back and gleefully stuffed three plastic grocery bags with candles, girly stuff, flannel fabric, a purse, jeans for Steven, and books. Sadly, the pink hat was gone, but Jenny was still very happy with her loot.

And suddenly I had this exquisite, sharp memory that made me laugh. My sister Margaret is, believe it or not, far more of a determined bargain hunter than I am, to the extent that she used to keep an old-lady coat and scarf in the car and put them on to disguise herself when she went dumpster-diving.

The Catholic church in Litchfield, Minnesota, had a big rummage sale every year, and on the last day you could fill a paper sack for a dollar. Mom and Margaret used to go and have the time of their lives and believe me, no one can stuff as much into a bag as those two.

Well, one time Margaret had a stuffed bag and was determined to get one more item in there if it was the last thing she did. So she quietly carried her bag behind one of the tables at the back, right by the wall, and then carefully set it on the floor. Then she steadied herself on the table and put her feet in the top of the bag and stood on its contents and gently bounced to flatten them down further. Suddenly she was startled by an old man who was leaning over the table leering at her with great amusement and saying, "Can I help you with that?"

For once Margaret didn't know what to say. I don't remember quite how she handled the situation but I do know that hearing her tell about it afterwards made me laugh to tears.

And I laughed about it again today even though it's been 20-some years. And I did not step on my bags to flatten them down further.

Quote of the Day:
Bible PACE: "How can we be certain there will actually be people such as Jesus described in the Beatitudes?"
Emily: Dad, I don't understand this question.
Paul: Well, you know the Beatitudes--'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly. . ."

Thursday, September 04, 2008


I just love to connect seemingly unrelated dots.

So here we have Tiger Woods.

And we have our young friend Dan who works for our older friend Larry.

And there's actually a connection.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I'm the boss, Applesauce

We decided to rally the troops and turn our apples into applesauce on Labor Day. Paul approaches a job like this like a general storming the beaches of Normandy, and believe me things get DONE. We had a very helpful crew.

We did a lot of the work outside, so poor Hansie had to stay tied up.

I was so preoccupied with stirring and dipping that I didn't notice I was getting rabbit ears.

Our reward was going out for dinner at the Thai restaurant in Harrisburg. With a family the size of ours, we seldom go out to eat, so this was truly a treat. The food was very different but delicious.

Quote of the Day: "It's like reverse engineering." --Matt, as he and Jenny tried to re-construct their napkins into a crown shape.
Over 60 quarts in all.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Mrs. Smucker Rants Again

Time for another rant, I think.

Today I read this and I thought, Have we lost all common sense, or maybe our minds?

Basically, researchers who no doubt spent lots of money have discovered! that kids with ADD! do better in school when they can have recess! especially if they go outside and engage in active play! How about that!

Meanwhile, it says, 40% of elementary schools have cut back or eliminated recess. "Our school board had an unofficial anti-recess policy," Lee explains. "They wanted to use school time in a 'more productive' manner.

Plus, kids' after-school time has been swallowed up with scheduled activities and electronic media, so they don't have outside play then either.

It's not just the lack of recess that bothers me here, but the idea of all these parents letting their children grow up without really getting to be children, and drugging them if they don't fit the mold, and not questioning the system.

And the opening example--10-year-old Tyler discovered he did better on his homework if he took a few laps around the house first. But that was before he began taking medications for ADD. Now he can sit still just fine. Does it not cross anyone's mind that maybe he could learn what he needs to in school and not even have any need for homework if he played or worked outside after school? (And I think 10-year-olds shouldn't have homework, another rant for another day)

I have about three children, and maybe even six, who would no doubt have had to be Ritalin-ed to fit the standard school mold. For what it's worth, here's my recipe for curing many or most cases of ADD:
Little or no background noise (radio, etc)
Very little electronic time of any kind
No school until they're at least 6 years old, maybe 7
Firm behavior boundaries
Lots of staying at home
Lots of chores
Lots of time outside with sticks, mud, balls, cats, friends, tadpoles, swings, etc.
Daily quiet time--reading alone or with parent, drawing, Legos, etc.
Daily family meal times

Maybe I could get a million-dollar grant to research this further.

Quote of the Day:
"I gotta empty the carter."
--Ben's euphemism for blowing his nose. Only warehouse people will get this, sorry.