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