Friday, December 25, 2009

Gotcha Day

Yesterday was Steven's Gotcha Day--his fifth "birthday" with our family. We made the usual Kenyan feast of rice, beans, ugali, fresh pineapple, chai, and sakuma. As always we "bemoaned" the lack of omena at Safeway, omena being little salted and dried whole fish. And as always we reminisced about when Steven came.

"Remember how Mom was so worried he wouldn't like our food, and she was sure he would get sick on meat like steak, because he would never have eaten a slab of meat like that. And Dad thought he might not like hamburgers." This evoked lots of laughter because for all my worries, food was never the slightest issue.

"And we thought he'd be so cold here, and we had it all planned out to homeschool him for a while and gradually ease him into school. And we were afraid the other kids might not befriend him."

More laughter. Even though the Kenyan kids used to huddle in their winter coats when it was 75 degrees, and there was ice on the puddles when Steven came, he never minded the cold a bit, and to this day he runs out to feed the chickens in pj shorts and bare feet when there's frost on the ground. And I ended up homeschooling him for about two days and we were both very ready to send him off to school.

I definitely have a pattern in my life of worrying about all the wrong things, not that this keeps me from worrying.

Quote of the Day:
"Ok, shall I be cowardly and smart, or brave and stupid?"
--Steven, contemplating a "boy" move

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kids at Home

Emily: Hey is this grape juice?
Matt: Yeah but Steven wants to turn it into wine. He was all ears when I was googling how to do it.
Emily: You mean all eyes?
Matt: Well no, because he didn't really see it. But it turns out it's awfully hard not to turn it into vinegar.

The son came home with a garbage bag of laundry so heavy I could hardly lift it. The daughter flew home via 5 airports in one day--Shenandoah Valley, Dulles/DC, Denver, Spokane, and finally Portland. The other daughter survived the stresses of the Christmas program and then instead of relaxing took all her younger sibs Christmas shopping.

We all note with amusement how much Steven is like Matt at his age. Attitudes toward dishes, little teenage tricks, just about everything. "I am NOT a clone of you," growls Steven, then challenges: "What music did you like to listen to at my age?" [knowing what Matt likes now].
"K-Love," says Matt.
"AAAAGGGHHH," says Steven, who listens to K-Love all the time.

We open the gifts from Aunt Rebecca (lovely, all of them) this evening and then the talk turns philosophical. Ok, you say this is blue and I say it's blue, but how do we know that we are both seeing it the same? (Ben and Emily) And don't you ever think about being filmed all the time like on the Truman Show? [Brother B reports that Brother C sometimes turns off the bathroom light for this very reason. Brother A reports that there's actually a psychotic disorder of this nature called the Truman Disorder or something.] And how do I know that you guys are actually real and not just some sophisticated computer program, wonders Matt. The thought freaks Jenny out. I frantically try to change this train's direction before the child is destined for nightmares. But Emily has to go off about how does she know that she is really herself? Matt pontificates about the species of animals who are self-aware in that they recognize themselves in a mirror--humans, dolphins, elephants, chimpanzees, and orangutans. He googles it on the computer that grows out of his lap. Oh, and dwarf chimpanzees and orcas and pigs. PIGS?? I squeal. Yeah.

Paul and the boys play a game. Jenny watches then is sent to bed, reluctantly. Emily gives the first paragraph of her famous speech at Bible School, leaving us all dangling. I want a video copy of this speech real bad but it resides in the hands of one William whom I am not allowed to email to ask for it. Amy goes to bed with a fever. Again. I try not to worry. Emily says she does not feel SICK-sick in Oregon, just draggy and tired and like she has no energy to do anything, which indicates that all my hopes are shattering like a spun-glass ornament dropped on concrete, but I am not in any mood to talk any more about this, so nobody ask me more, please please.

I made cookies in my new kitchen today and STOOD IN ONE SPOT to do so. I'm serious. This is a long way from my kitchen in Round Lake some 19 years ago when the water was hauled in in buckets and the only outlet was an extension cord way over here. Yes, well, but if God calls me from this kitchen back to that one or one like it I hope I gladly answer yes. After all the important thing in kitchens is that you cook good food and have the family all around the table to eat it. Yes, amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Foodie Gifts

Did people at church catch on that I haven't been able to cook/bake much with my kitchen under construction? Because we have been showered with food food food. Cookies, a big summer sausage, cheeses and crackers, cinnamon rolls, lots of good stuff.

Which is a nice reassurance that God knows our needs and meets them, because on other fronts in my life I am not always sure.

Quote of the Day:
Family: [buzzing Sunday dinner conversation. "John Smith's" name comes up.]
Kids: Isn't that funny that Mom used to like him?
Kids: [hoots and comments and laughter]
Me: [thinks] Why why why did I ever divulge this information?
Me: Guys, really, he's a nice guy.
Amy: Well, there's nice and then there's DAD!
Me: Awwwww. . .

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cookie Project

Today I helped out with the annual Gospel Echoes Cookie Project. Every year volunteers make thousands of hand-colored Christmas cards and then people from this area go to various Oregon prisons and hand out the cards, a small address booklet, and a packet of cookies.

About twelve of us went to the two women's prisons today. At each place we were shown which room to be in and then situated ourselves--who would greet everyone as they came in, who would hand out what, who would man the supplies, and who would sing in the background.

I shook hundreds of hands and wore out my voice wishing everyone a merry Christmas.

And a few times I wanted to quit smiling and just burst into tears right there because of the young women who came through the line who were obviously the ages of my daughters. Women my age I seemed to connect with, the grandmas were friendly and I could cheerfully shake their hands, but those young women tore me right up. If their eyes met mine it was bad enough, but when they were so curtained off from any connection that they couldn't even look a person in the eye, that's when I wanted to lose it. And then there was the young lady about Amy's age who was pregnant. Oh my, don't get me started.

On the way home, with all of us in the Gospel Echoes bus, we talked about wanting to Do Something. But how can sheltered Mennonite women living two hours away Do Something long-term for these women in prison?

I plan to start by sending my books to the chapel library, my grain of mustard seed, 'what is that in thine hand?' bit of doing what I can.

Quote of the Day:
"Oh Mother, when would you ever have the time?"
--Amy, injecting realistic logic into my dreamy rant about wanting to Do Something

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Principal's Wife

It's an interesting life
as the principal's wife.

I'm on this train of thought this morning because the Christmas program was last night. As the principal's wife I was in charge of the food afterwards, so I cooked up four crock pots of dip (two bean, two cheese) and bought lots of tortilla chips and told the moms to bring either cookies or fruit/veggie trays, and rather belatedly I put on the church hotline that anyone else that comes and is able can bring finger foods as well.

Some years the sanctuary hasn't even been filled for the program so I calculated for around 125 people, 150 at most. Paul picked up paper plates and cups in town for me. And when he hauled the huge box of chip bags to church he thought to himself, he told me later, "Oh my dear wife, we're going to be eating chips and dip for weeks."

Well, it was all good because I forgot that a lot of the little kids have grandparents and aunts and uncles from neighboring churches. Last night the sanctuary filled up, then the balcony, and some people were standing, which is wonderful, but what if I ran out of food?

I prayed that God would do a loaves and fishes on what we had, and he did, because it didn't look like we had that much, but it stretched and stretched and we had plenty.

Next year I'll calculate for 200.

(The program was wonderful, from the little kids' songs to the Other Wiseman play and everything in between. With two of my kids singing solos in We Three Kings and two in the play [Ben in the main role] and one in charge of it all and Paul in the back doing lights, my stomach was tied in knots. But everyone {not just mine!} did wonderfully well and the program was amazing.)

Being the principal's wife and the high school teacher's mom also meant that I spent a bunch of time sewing Roman soldier costumes and trying to make the front of the capes look like soldier capes and not Boy Scout scarves. My end table and a few other household items disappeared and eventually showed up onstage.

And I was in charge of cleanup afterwards but a lot of people helped out so it wasn't hard.

* * *
Normally, I am the last to know things--who is dating, bankrupt, breaking up, moving, and so on. There's also a lot that happens at school that we don't find out about but everyone else knows, because that is just the nature of things.

However, there is plenty that I know, being the principal's wife, cheerful information like which kids have issues with cheating/mis-scoring, which parents haven't paid their PACE fees, which teachers are frustrated with which kids and why, which parents think which teachers are incompetent or unfair and why, who has been squirting water at whom in the classroom, and so on.

However, and this compensates for a lot, I also get to read the occasional intercepted note, such as--

Quotes of the Day:
"I'm sorry I pushed you but you were being a pain in the butt."
"Miss Amy, I want to inform you that people have been squirting each other with hand sanitizer. P.S. Don't tell I told!!"

And we add one more quote, hollered by calm, unflappable Miss Amy as she marched through the house an hour and a half before the program, with a gold costume draped over her arm:
"I'm so TIRED of costumes!
I'm so TIRED of play stuff!
I'm so TIRED of school stress!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Blessed to Give

A few weeks ago I put out the word that I had some books to give away and readers could nominate worthy recipients.

I got a nice amount of responses accompanied by stories that had me in tears. I didn't have to say no to anyone, and sending out those books with the hope that they might give a suffering someone a little boost, was just plain fun.

Then the other day I got a letter in the mail that made it all worthwhile. In fact it was so nice I had it read out loud at the supper table.

Here's part of it, with a disclaimer that this gal would not "idolize" me if she knew me in person, we all know that:

Imagine coming home from town weary and discouraged. Grocery shopping is bearable, but Christmas shopping is torture! When grocery shopping, at least I know what I want.

Into the house I come, dragging all the stuff. And behold, there on the counter, among all the normal bills and junk mail, is an envelope, a big yellow one for me!? And it was from DORCAS SMUCKER. Unbelievable. Totally Unbelievable!

I immediately go into babbling. . . "Dorcas Smucker. . . why. . . I can't believe it. . . how did it get here. . .it's addressed in her very own handwriting. . ."

My children were perplexed at their Mom. "Dad, what's the deal? Who is this Dorcas Smucker?" To which he calmly replied, "Oh, that's just some woman Mom idolizes."

It made me very happy to know such a simple thing had made someone this happy.

Quote of the Day (from the archives:)
"When I grow up I'll have lots of nieces and nephews and I'll have them over to my house and tell them lots of stories. Just like Aunt Rosie. Except in the end I won't get married like Aunt Rosie."
--Emily, 2002

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kitchen Kalculations

Our new kitchen is suddenly happening! The old cabinets were ripped out and the lower ones installed while I was in Minnesota. Today the new fridge and dishwasher were delivered. Tomorrow the kitchen gets painted. Wednesday the new countertop arrives. And I think Thursday the upper cabinets show up.

As you may know this kitchen project is the result of about five years of saving all my book, speech, and column money. We started with a fairly solid number in mind of what it should cost. But of course we knew there would be unforeseen costs to ratchet up that figure.

For instance, we decided at the last minute to go with a better range hood. And today the countertop people called and said Oh by the way, we have to adjust our estimate because of the type of stove you have and we have to add $185.

This isn't so terrible, in its way. I mean, we knew it would happen somewhere. The painful thing for me is that I invariably think, "AAAACCCKKK, that's one column plus one speech plus 7 books!" Or, "Dear me, three columns and 40 books just for a dishwasher!"

If writing my column wouldn't be such torture this would all be easier. But a year's worth of newspaper columns for a fridge?! I love that new fridge but can it possibly be worth it??

I think I'd be happier if I found a different way to figure the math.

Quote of the Day:
"rod n boys r talkin bout sports.
Me: are you lost Jason?
Jason: oh totally. I hear the vikings won and I'm like, didn't they die out centuries ago?"
--text from Emily, who is having a great time at Uncle Rod and Aunt Rebecca's house

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Em's Online Chat/Interview

I couldn't follow Emily and her two fellow authors' interviews on Inkpop today (on how to write a teen memoir) because I had a talk in town but after I came home I found it and read through the whole thing.
If you're interested, here it is.

And I'll also link Emily's latest post, about seeing her SMBI dream come true. We'll see if it makes you cry too.

Quote of the Day:
"Embarrassing moments make the best stories"
--Emily, when someone asked how they handled embarrassing things they might not want the whole world to know

Friday, December 11, 2009

Motherly Wisdom

Jenny has a problem. Two of them, in fact. Their names are Kyle and Josh, two boys at school. Oooooooh, Kyle and Josh! They tease her! And they are so annoying. And when she makes a mistake in Bible quiz they laugh! Or when she makes a mistake playing soccer. And sometimes she says something and they look at each other.

Oooooooh, Kyle and Josh! [Dramatic sigh]

All of my questioning has not revealed that they do anything worse than mild teasing, the pigtail-in-the-inkwell type of thing but nothing nearly that bad.

I've tried all the old mom mantras. "Just ignore them." "They're just boys." "They wouldn't pay that much attention to you if they didn't like you." "You are a strong woman and you will survive."

But of course, none of this helps much.

And then, sometimes, to really complicate Jenny's already complicated life, her dad teases her! Oh, the audacity. It is so annoying.

So the other day she came to me all sniffy because Dad was just so annoying and he did this and then he laughed at her. Ooooh, what a hard life she endures.

I looked at her and said, "Jenny, there's something you need to know. In every guy in the whole world, whether they're grown up or young or in between, even in a preacher like your dad, there is a little bit of Kyle and Josh."

Jenny pondered this for a minute and then got a look on her face like finally, finally, the universe was making a little more sense.

I felt like a wise mom for once, and I think every girl needs to learn that little fact, and the sooner the happier.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December column

This one, coming between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is about the relationship between gifts and gratitude.
Read it here.

My Trip

So good to be home again! Not so very good to still be so wired from that cup of coffee I got so I could drive home from Portland without falling asleep. . .hence a 2:40 a.m. post.

I flew to Minnesota on Sunday, and on Monday drove Mom and Dad to Minneapolis (actually Bloomington) for Mom's glaucoma surgery. Mom was relaxed despite months of worry ahead of time, the nurses put us both at ease, and Mom came through with flying colors and my biggest challenge was getting her to stay put and let me do stuff for her, and to get her to take the occasional Tylenol.

The night before, at the Sunday evening service, numerous people told Mom they'll be praying for her, and one young lady, can't remember her name, gave her a hug and said she'll be on her mind. I was very impressed because I don't remember this sort of supportive atmosphere in the old days, and I know for a fact that if "Chon Maehdy" the bishop's wife had been going in for surgery when I was in the youth group I would not have cared that much, and for sure not hugged her ahead of time. "Do you see how the church is drifting?" Mom asked me. Well, this sort of drift is fine with me.

My parents like so many rural older people, have a horror of driving in towns of any size. They plan their routes to Willmar like they're refugees strategizing how to avoid the rebel army encampments. So when I drove to "the Cities" they were so impressed. "Oh good, there's not much traffic," I said when I merged onto 35W. "You don't think there is??" Mom said. I think she felt like we were being thrown to the wolves.

It was cold in Oregon when I left but in Minnesota I realized I've forgotten, in the last 15 years, the true meaning of cold. On Tuesday as we drove to Willmar, 25 miles away, for Mom's followup appointment, the snow blew across the road in swirling rivers and the temperature dropped. My heart did too, listening to the weather report. Weather advisory, blizzard conditions, and such predicted for Wednesday, when I wanted to fly home.

On Wednesday morning it was zero degrees with high winds. This sort of thing slices right through parkas, long johns, wool sweaters, everything. At 5:42 a.m. I was dreaming about being on a train when I realized I was hearing a tractor. There was my brother Marcus from next door, out on his tractor with no cab, pushing the snow off the lane so I could get out. I realized how often he must do this, in even worse weather, and no one ever applauds. So here's my applause.

Unfortunately my flight was cancelled because of the weather at MSP so I rescheduled for 4:30 pm. When I left the house at noon the lane had blown shut again and I almost got stuck but my little rented Ford Focus plowed through. (An hour later Dad drove out and got stuck.) The 2-hour drive to the airport was not anything I'd do for fun but not too horrible either since cold, packed snow is not that slippery.

Naturally my flights were delayed here and there. But the little Honda in the PDX parking lot started right up even though it's been well below freezing, and I got coffee and gas and drove home, where I got to see the beginnings of my new kitchen cupboards and they are lovely.

Quiz on A Mom's Life:
If a mom is driving on 494 in Minneapolis in blowing snow and her cell phone buzzes, what is the most likely reason:
a) Paul is worried about children throwing up
b) Matt wants advice about a girl
c) Emily wants to know at what temperature to iron her blue dress for the banquet

If a mom and minister's wife is looking for a place to buy coffee in Portland late at night and she thinks she's pulling into McD's but isn't, where is she most likely to pull into:
a) Napa Auto Parts
b) Office Max
c) The Romance Superstore

(c and c of course)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Life Turns Wild Once Again

Today was the Author and Artist Fair at the Lane County Fairgrounds. So much fun to see all the other authors again (quick hug, how are you doing, fine, and you? gotta run) and to have all the little ladies come by and say they read my column (or is it your mother's?" said one, confused, "you look so young." Oh how I love those fans) and to sell lots of books.

It's always a good day when you don't have time to eat.

There was one major drawback to the goodness of the day, however. You might recall last summer at the fair Emily and I sat at our table in the Atrium with the sun beating down through the glass ceiling and felt like we would perish right there. The air conditioning didn't work, or something, and it was tortuously hot. A senior citizens' group was playing instruments and singing in one corner, and a contingent of artist volunteers stood there fanning them while they performed, so they wouldn't keel over.

Well. Now we are having unseasonably cold weather. The readerboard said 25 degrees when I drove into the fairgrounds. And yes, you guessed it, the heat in the Atrium didn't work. Not only that, the air conditioning was on, sending an Arctic breeze wafting all around the poor vendors. Bill Sullivan did everything in his power to get the situation fixed but it took three hours for the heat to sort of get turned on. Meanwhile we all wore our winter coats and many wore hats and Lauren Kessler beside me sold her books while wearing hand-knitted wool mittens. "Tortuous" again describes it quite well. I wore nylons and would have given much for a pair of wool socks.

And I am wondering: is there something about me and the Atrium at the Fair? You know, like me and whichever grocery line I pick. After the sale I ran over to Costco for a few things and then picked the shortest line (grim chuckle) and should have been warned when the frumpy woman in front of me was unloading brownie bites and other unhealthy premade food inefficiently with one hand while talking on her cell phone and her little boy waved the grocery-divider-bars like sabers. Yes, as I stood in line and Jenny called me wondering sadly WHEN I'll be home, the lady's debit card didn't work, well maybe it's the wrong PIN, are you sure you pressed Debit? oh dear I guess I'll have to call my husband in the car, ok, he'll be in here pretty soon. Argh argh.

And no, dear commenter, I did not think to stand in line and pray for her. All I could think of was how horrible it is when I have kids at home who want me home, and I have to shop, and the kids call and want to know when I'll be home, and I never know what to tell them because there's no accounting for the people in line ahead of me, and I would rather be home myself, rather than shopping, thank you very much, a hundred times rather.

Now Jenny is safely in bed and I don't know if I'll go to bed much because I need to leave between 2 and 3 in the morning to head to Portland to catch a plane to Minnesota where I'll be with Mom and Dad for a few days. Mom has glaucoma surgery on Monday so I plan to take her to Minneapolis for that, and to Willmar the next day for a followup appointment.

Prayers appreciated for my trip especially that it wouldn't snow too much with all that driving, and that Mom's surgery would be successful.

Quote of the Day:
"I'm one of your very very few male fans."
--a nice gentleman my estimation 90-95% of my audience is female

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Onion and I

Matt is a fan of The Onion so sometimes I follow his links to their website where they feature clever spoof "news" stories. They can be kind of over the top and crude at times, but at others they hit the truth dead center.

Matt liked this article about new electronic devices, which put precisely into words what many of us have sensed but never could quite explain.

And then I found an article entitled "Grandma Concerned About Dinner Roll Count" and I giggled guiltily through the whole thing because it nailed so precisely every grandma I ever knew who hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and far, far worse, it reminded me of ME and how I agonized over how much stuffing to make for the Thanksgiving dinner at church, for roughly 45 people. I consulted my sister Rebecca who gave me the recipe, Aunt Susie whose husband loves stuffing, Sharon who I was helping with the dinner, Paul who is logical and mathematical, and my mother-in-law who has cooked way longer than I have.

A few quotes from the article:

ROCKFORD, IL—Local grandmother Eileen Stafford, 78, expressed concern Monday over the number of dinner rolls she should have on hand for this year's Thanksgiving meal, appearing distressed when discussing the implications of there being either too many or possibly too few.

On a recent trip to the supermarket, Stafford reportedly purchased a package of 12 enriched white dinner rolls that was on sale for $1.89, and has since remained torn over whether a second package is necessary.

"They're a little small, and I don't want anyone to go hungry," said Stafford, carefully removing the rolls from the grocery bag to examine them more closely. "Of course, I can always give mine away if there's someone who doesn't get enough."

Added Stafford, "I don't have to have any rolls."

The elderly grandmother of four told reporters that, while she would hate for anything to go to waste, she would be equally upset if one of her guests reached into her wicker basket and found nothing but crumbs.

"Bill usually has two, even though he really shouldn't," said Stafford, referring to her son-in-law, whose above-average appetite she must always take into consideration when planning family meals. "And [daughter] Sheila's on that diet where they don't eat any bread."

Despite her insistence that she really doesn't want to bother anyone about anything, Stafford admitted that in the past week she has contacted several family members on multiple occasions to get an idea of how much company might be coming over.

You can read the whole thing here. Yeah, a bit too close to home.

Quotes of the Day:
"I start with 16 cups of bread for our family plus just a few guests."
--my sis Rebecca

"Milford and I both eat lots of stuffing. Mashed potatoes you can have any time but stuffing you get only at the holidays."
--Aunt Susie

"I'm gonna make one roaster full and that will be that. Besides, there will be tons of side dishes to fill up on."
--me, who then went on to agonize over this decision. For the record, I started with 56 cups of bread cubes and had maybe 3 cups of stuffing left over.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Author and Artist Fair

The annual Author and Artist Fair is this Saturday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the main event center at the Lane County Fairgrounds. Once again, it's a benefit for the Lane County libraries.

On the information page here you can see a list of all the artists and authors. We note the comic sketch at the top of the page featuring Val from Stone Soup, one of the benefits of having Jan Eliot on board. Last year she signed a book for Jenny and sketched a picture of Max waving and saying "hi." Something about watching that was so amazing, and I barely refrained from saying, "Hey, that looks just like Max! How do you do that?"

I plan to be there. I'd love to see you there.

More Authors

I inadvertently skipped Verda Glick on my list, which is a shame, because Verda should someday have on her tombstone, "Mentored the next generation of writers." She's probably best known for her Writers Workshop by Mail idea, in which aspiring writers all over North and Central America joined a "circle letter" sort of critique group. Verda sorted them all out into groups of 6 or so, and she was always a part of each group I believe, and about every six weeks you got this big packet in the mail and got to read and evaluate the others' stories and read their take on yours.

Actually I shouldn't write this all in past tense. I dropped out of my WWM about ten years ago when I got the column in the Register-Guard, but I think there are still a number of groups going strong. I think now they operate via e-mail.

So, from me and probably hundreds of other formerly frightened new writers: THANKS, VERDA!

The only book I could find online of hers is Deliver the Ransom Alone from CLP. Comment if you have links to more. Verda lives in El Salvador so I don't think she mails her books out from there.

* * *
arolyn K. sent me this recommendation:
(She didn't include a source but try the Anabaptist Bookstore.)
"Lily Bear from Elida/Lima, Ohio is a great writer and has authored quite a few books..."The Smuggler's Quest" ...
"Beyond The Trail"..."The Valley Between"..."Shepherd of
the Highlands" well as many more. "
* * *
Jessica Maxwell is not a conservative Mennonite writer, but I mention her here because, along with Verda Glick, she mentored and prodded me and rooted for my success. After years of hard work she has published Roll Around Heaven about her "accidental spiritual journey" that is heading the pack right out of the gate. She and I might not always reach the same spiritual/doctrinal conclusions but we are friends and we agree that God "is, and he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," and he pursues us even when we aren't looking for him. Jessica can tell a story, in person and in print, like no one you've ever heard.

Quote of the Day:
"No Mom! I don't want that in!"
--Jenny, when I wanted to quote something profound she said about being an author. Sorry to deprive you all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Please, Sir, I want some more."

Ok, Oliver Twist was asking for more soup, not more books by Menno/women authors, but that's what YOU wanted, right? so here they are:

In Life is for Living, Not for Waiting Around, Anita Yoder tells and shows singles in particular, and the rest of us, exactly that. Anita is a creative researcher and word-crafter who lives what she writes and writes what she lives.

Two little wrinkles here: her book is out of print at the moment and Anita lives in Ireland. Try these U.S. sources to get the copies that are still available:,, and Green Pastures Press at (717) 436-9115.

Check out Anita's blog here. You'll get a good taste of her writing. She says, "People can watch my blog for when it will announce when/where the books will be available again, which will hopefully be no later than February."

* * *

I read Romaine Stauffer's Circle of Love many years ago, and then one fine day she and her family came to Ontario to visit her brother Merle, and I met her in the hallway of the NYP guesthouse, and she was obviously exhausted from traveling, but I still greeted her with a gushing oh-my-goodness-I-can't-believe-it's-really-Romaine-the-Writer AND a rundown of my own writing dreams. To her eternal credit she does not remember this. Later we met again in a writing workshop in Virginia and had fun getting to know each other--no gushing this time.

Romaine has written a number of books but her latest are the self-published Annie's Day of Light and A Home for Sarah. You can order autographed copies at

* * *
My friend Bethanie writes:
"Ruth Ann Stelfox's book Tears of the Rain tells about her family's experiences working under CAM in Liberia. It is a moving chronicle highlighting the suffering especially of children in war-torn poverty stricken countries. It is available to be bought through Christian Aid Ministries." (330-893-242)

I shed my own tears reading Tears of the Rain because so many things reminded me of our months in Kenya.

* * *

I met Gertrude Slabach in 1998 when her sister Ida Marie arranged for us to meet and we had supper at the Slabachs in their wonderful old house in Virginia. Gert, like me, has six children and writes a family-life column for a local newspaper. She won an Amy Award one year for her story of her mother-in-law's homegoing. The expanded version of this story is her book, Aren't We Having Fun Dying?!

Gert has also written a tribute to her mom called Always Mama's Girl and collected some of her columns into the Southside Glimmers. You can click here for more information on both books. Call her to order books (434-579-4482) or email her at

Gert says:
"There's another book that I helped write and edit, but it's not for public sale at this point [Family Jaunt of Memories]. My family (12 living children of my father & memories of 4 deceased siblings) put our memories into a book with lots of photos and glossary, etc. If anyone is interested in self-publishing a family book, I'd be happy to give (free) advice and share our experiences with Lulu."

* * *
I met the friendly and energetic Catherine Yoder from Indiana a couple of years ago when she stopped in at a book signing of mine in Goshen and gave me a copy of her book about her family's heartbreaking history. She says, "My book, Hold Them Near, is still available. It tells the story of my grandparents and how their faith was tested by the death of eight babies. The price is $6.95 + $2.00 shipping. People can contact me at or write Catherine Yoder 18646 C.R. 46 New Paris, IN 46553. (F.Y.I. Just in the last several years, researchers have identified the gene responsible for the heart defect, so our family has more information for the future.)"

* * *

Donna Kauffman and I have a long history going back to our early days in Canada with Northern Youth Programs. We have very different writing and speaking styles* but when we get together our husbands just sort of sigh and smile because we talk publishing, writing, ministry and such with great intensity for as much time as we have.

*Not sure how to describe our differences except she's a lot deeper and more poetic. Help me out here, Emily, you just heard Donna speak.

Donna has written at least six books, collections of meditations and stories, and I won't list them all here but will direct you to her website where you'll find a book that fits whatever stage of life you're in.

* * *
Dorcas Sharp Hoover's House Calls and Hitching Posts is listed on Amazon under pretty much the same categories as my books and most of the time it outranks mine by a long way. It's a fascinating book and Dorcas deserves its success. Besides our first names, we also share these facts: six children apiece and published by Good Books. The one and only time we met, her husband shook Paul's hand and said, "I'm known as 'Dorcas's husband.'" And Paul said, "So am I." I thought that was sweet.

Dorcas has also written some books that are available through Christian Light Publications.

* * *
Sharon Schnupp Kuepfer and I go back to our Canada days as well, and now her daughter Kayla is Emily's lifesaver at SMBI. Sharon is an amazingly disciplined and efficient person/mom/writer. Her books are available on her website. The first one inspired me to homeschool Emily in the seventh grade when she was having a lot of health issues.

* * *
I haven't read Vera's Journey by Judy Yoder but I'm sure it's fascinating. I first got wind of it when a daughter of Vera's visited in Oregon and told me her mother's story, especially how she lost all of her hearing in one weekend when she was 38 years old. She went on to successfully raise her large family and was capable and independent well into old age. The book was recently released by Vision Publishers. I don't have the author's contact information but if you do, leave a comment.

I guess I've met Judy Yoder too, briefly, at this amazing, gigantic book sale that my sister took me to in a big pole barn in the countryside near Dayton, Virginia.

You can also leave a comment to add more information, suggest authors I've missed, review any of these books, etc.

Quote of the Day:
I believe in the power of story–am overwhelmed with it really, because all my life I will be plumbing its depths–remember how other storytellers have influenced me, and tremble to think I can tell stories that influence others."
--Anita Yoder

Friday, November 27, 2009

Drop me a line

On Tuesday I posted that you can send me recommendations for people that I could give one of my books to. A few suggestions came in and Paul said, "So how are you going to decide which ones qualify?"

I said, "Do you really think there's any chance I can turn any of these down?" because at least one of them had me in tears and the others were close. Those books are all on their way and I still have some designated for giving, so feel free to send more suggestions.

Also, after I posted about Mennonite women authors, I got some interesting feedback on some that I hadn't mentioned. So I'd like to do another post on the subject soon. Feel free to send suggestions. Criteria: woman, conservative Mennonite, author of a book that can be ordered for Christmas.


Quote of the Day:
Me: Take this hamper upstairs and get the empty hangers in your and Ben's closets.
Steven: Hmmm, perfect timing to wear this shirt.
Front of Steven's t-shirt: SLAVERY STILL EXISTS

Thursday, November 26, 2009


The last time I traveled I was stuck in Minneapolis overnight, and I got to know a few of my fellow travelers in that odd way that friendships spring up instantly in such situations, like desert flowers after a rain.

Two such women I'll call Frances and Lynn. Both were from the Colorado Springs area, and they had known each other years ago and met by chance on this multi-delayed flight. In fact, Frances's husband was a dentist, and Lynn had been his hygienist for 13 years. They were fascinated by my Mennonite life and six children.

The conversation turned to grandchildren, so naturally I listened and didn't talk. And gifts for grandchildren. "WHAT do you get for the grandchildren?" one asked. "They already have everything." The other shook her head in agreement and shared disbelief. "Everything those children could want or even think of wanting, they already have." "I finally started just sending a birthday card and a tiny little gift, like a pack of gum, and then I put money in a college fund for them," said Frances.

Lynn told of a recent Christmas with her sister's family. The sister had, in a desperate attempt to finally get something the 8-year-old granddaughter would love and appreciate, bought a large elaborate dollhouse with hand-carved furniture that was the beginning and end of dollhouses.

"It must have cost hundreds!" exclaimed Frances.

Lynn shook her head. "No. Thousands." She went on, "And the granddaughter came downstairs, opened her gifts, looked at the dollhouse, thanked her grandma, and didn't pay any more attention to that dollhouse the rest of the day."

Frances and I were looking at her slack-jawed. Lynn looked at me. "I'll bet your children wouldn't have reacted like that."

I assured her that was true. In fact, I can just see the raptures Amy and Emily would have been in at that age if someone would have given them such an incredible gift--the round shining eyes, the reverent stroking of the wood, the careful inspection, the exclamations, the delight, the gratitude.

So I felt like I had maybe done something right as a mom and there has been redemption for our poor days and constant frugality.

However. It wasn't too long until I realized there's another side to this, and that is that God has given me dollhouses, as it were, of the most astonishing beauty and detail and expense, and I have so often either ignored them or glanced at them briefly, muttered my thanks, and not looked at them the rest of the day.

For instance: water. To think I can go to at least six places in my house and turn a knob and out comes clean, pure water that I can wash my hands in, fill a kettle with, or drink without the slightest filtering or fear. And there's more there than I will ever use. And it's free. And if I turn this other knob, the water comes out hot!

Imagine explaining that to a woman in Darfur. And telling her that most of the time I take this completely for granted. Wow. Not to guilt myself, just to remind myself today to think of all these gifts and to be awed and grateful again.

* * *
Happy birthday to my dad, who is 93 today!! May we all be raising rabbits and cutting wood at his age.

And hugs to those who are missing loved ones today. I'm remembering Lenny my beloved nephew, Neil (who was born while the rest of us were at my first Thanksgiving dinner with the Smuckers, in Orval and Lena's house, and his grandma was all fluttery and his grandpa was way too calm, and cousin Brian thought there should be an apostrophe after Neil's middle name, Darin, to show his future personality I think), Marilyn (my friend and also SIL Laura's mom, who passed away I think the night after Thanksgiving 25 years ago. She was a sweet and amazing woman.) and there are lots more.

Special thanks to you Shoe readers who take the time to read what I write. That is an astonishing gift to me, and I appreciate it deeply.

Quote of the Day:
"I all of the sudden realized how hilarious it is that everyone eats turkey on thanksgiving. It's like a bizarre attempt to set a world record for "most people eating turkey at once."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Bookish Post

The number of conservative Mennonite women authors is increasing, which makes me very happy. I'm going to tell you about a few of them and suggest you buy their books for Christmas presents. I will be blunt: these authors will do much better financially if you buy directly from them rather than from Amazon or bookstores. Nothing against either of those, just against pitiful royalties. Plus you get autographed copies from the author.

First we have Ruth Kuepfer, whom we met in Kenya, where she lived for a number of years. She wrote Deliverance for Duncan, the story of a street boy in Kisumu. Ruth weaves detailed context and culture into her story and if you want a vivid picture of Kenyan daily life or just a good story, get this book.

You can email Ruth for purchasing information at Here's her xanga.

Next up is Michelle Beachy who just wrote two children's books, hardcover, full of amazing photos--We Build a House and My Brother's Keeper. You can contact her at

Michelle also wrote a post on her xanga today that made me laugh out loud and then it made me get teary because I don't deserve such strokes, no I do not, but we don't deserve grace either but when it shows up it is exactly what we need, and this was a touch of grace. Here's her xanga.

My friend and encourager Mary Hake has written hundreds of news articles, stories, devotionals, and such. You can find her contributions in these collections. I especially enjoyed Life Savors. She also wrote a Creation curriculum that looks like fun.

Then of course there's our daughter Emily who wrote about her struggle with illness in her daringly titled book Emily. Copies are available from me at $8 plus $2 postage each. Email me at (Emily's at Bible school so I'm handling her business affairs.)

I need to add that Emily was recently nominated for a CYBIL award, one of 52 in the Nonfiction Middle Grades/Young Adult category. We'll find out after Jan. 1 if she made the short list, and on Feb. 14 if she won.

Last of all we have my three books, Ordinary Days, Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting, and Downstairs the Queen is Knitting. $10 each plus $2 postage. Christmas special: $25 plus postage for a set of the three titles. Again,

One more thing: I like to give away a few of my books now and then. If you know of someone who "needs" one of my books for Christmas, send me an email or Facebook message and nominate them. Include their name, mailing address, and why they should get one. Of course you won't nominate yourself; we already know that. I'll pick the ones I think are most deserving and mail them a book. Special consideration to young harassed moms, financial hardships, and folks with a double measure of heartache.

Quote of the Day:
"I should write stories and sell them. It would be an easy way to make money."
--Paul's sister Rosie, when she was about 15 and I had just sold a few stories to CLP

Sunday, November 22, 2009


This afternoon Amy was upstairs watching The Hiding Place. I brought her some mint tea, since she's still sick, and stayed to watch for a few minutes, but then I had to leave because I couldn't stand it.

I cannot imagine doing what the ten Booms did. Working with the Dutch Underground, taking in Jews, living with raw fear and extreme risk every minute of every day. Today they are honored in many ways. Israel named Corrie "Righteous among the nations," the Queen of the Netherlands knighted her, and there's a museum in the family's honor.

What fascinates me is that if it hadn't been for the Holocaust, probably no one outside their community would ever have heard of them. They were quite ordinary: an old Dutch watchmaker and his two spinster daughters. True, they were well-known locally through their business and also in charity work with the handicapped, children, and the elderly, but nothing that would have warranted their own Wikipedia page.

So, how they lived when life was ordinary prepared them for when life was hideously extraordinary. I don't think I need to say there's a lesson there for us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Excitement, Sickness, and Heroics

We are still battling sickness on all fronts but I am trying to tell myself my life is exciting anyhow. And I have to say it has its moments. . .

Last night around 11pm my cell phone beeped its text-message beep. I was already in bed and almost asleep but of course my eyes flew wide open as I imagined, in a split second, that Emily had taken a turn for pneumonia and Matt was in a bad accident and well, you know how we moms are.

It was a message from Matt: "Is it true that turkeys can drown if they look up while its raining?"

I looked it up on That theory is false. I let him know.

This morning I went around inspecting throats with a flashlight and evaluating the sick folks for the umpteenth time. "Mom missed her calling; she should have been a doctor," said one of the children. Paul felt awful but didn't have a fever. He thought he should go to school. I talked him into also going to the doctor for a strep swab. It was positive. Amy insisted she's well enough to teach school but by the time she came home her fever was up. Unfortunately the clinic was closed by then. Ben slept in a bit this morning but decided he's well enough to venture out.

Steven, who got where he is today only because he has an immune system like a brick wall, is still fine. (I mean, how else would a motherless kid survive bouts of malaria and who knows what else while on the streets?) Yes, actually Steven is very fine. This afternoon I got a few things at the Mennonite store, including a plastic bag of whole wheat flour. Steven was helping me put this stuff away, so naturally he tossed this bag in the air on his way to the cupboard. The timid little twistie came off of course and, Folks, it is unreal how far and wide a few cups of flour can go. All over Steven, my papers, the floor, the phone, the Life game Paul and the kids were playing, and even more. He cleaned for a long time, and thought he was all done, and then a couple of hours later glanced up and realized there was even flour on the clock.

This brings to mind his uncle Philip, who I am told once tossed a jar of applesauce in the air in this very kitchen, and it hit the ceiling and broke. Don't ever tell me adopted kids aren't hand-picked to fit in with their families.

We also had an exciting episode this morning when He Who Has Oft Been Reminded Otherwise was carrying 5 glasses at one time to the dishwasher. He broke two of them in a great clattering disaster that sent a shard of glass clear over to the fridge. One of these years, (please God??) he will get tired of spending his money replacing things he's broken.

Jenny keeps galloping along at full speed.

Meanwhile Emily is slowly recovering. No more fever, but she's very tired. I find it interesting that she and Ben and Paul managed to get strep at pretty much the same time, even though Emz is 3000 miles away. She manages to attend her classes but that's about it.

Part of my exciting life involves dealing with sick people and wishing I could tie them down like Gulliver in Lilliput. There are two kinds of sick people: A) sensible ones like me, who go straight to bed and stay there until they're well, willingly accepting sympathy and pots of tea, and B) those who see illness as a chance to be heroic, brushing off sympathy, insisting they feel better if they're at work, plowing on despite fevers and swollen throats and flushed cheeks as though the enemy will storm the gates if they abandon their posts.

Yes, I am surrounded by the heroic sort. Personally I don't see anything noble in being out and about infecting everyone you see, or anything shameful about staying in bed.

Quote of the Day:
"I'm treating my bad very bookly."
--Steven, reading his literature book

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Tide Turns?

So I posted that my life wasn't very exciting. Things haven't changed a lot in that I am still preoccupied with taking care of the sick ones and trying not to get sick again myself. This narrows one's universe down to a very small radius.

Amy and Ben have both been sick for a few days. Paul has been doing Amy's job at school, but now he's not feeling the best either. Technically none of us is indispensible but Paul and Amy come close.

But, I have this feeling the tide may be turning and my life might be getting a leeeetle more exciting! Consider this:

Today I followed my mom instincts and took Ben to the clinic in Harrisburg and sure enough he has strep throat. Vindication is always nice when you have to dish out $109 whether you're right or wrong.

From there we dropped off newspapers at the Eugene Mission recycle box and went to the post office and mailed some more Reliv to Emily.

I figured Tony at the pharmacy would have Ben's prescription ready by then so I drove over, parked in front, left Ben in the car, and went inside.

When I came out I glanced in the back seat and was surprised that I had left that much junk lying on the seat. Oh well. I opened the door. An old man in the passenger seat looked at me with a very startled expression on his face. I said something very poised and coherent like, "Oh mercy me, I'm sorry!," hastily slammed the door shut, and went to MY car, which was one car to the south.

Poor Ben with his sore throat was rocking back and forth laughing and laughing in a strange strangled croak. He had watched the whole drama unfold and had thought, "No, Mom! No! Not that car!!" But of course I hadn't read his mind.

I plopped down in the car and we both howled. Then I looked out my window and naturally, the other car was still right there beside me, and right there in the nearest window was the old man looking out at me with a very intrigued, amused expression on his face. "Awkward" does not do this situation justice.

I tried to collect my wits enough to start the car and drive home. On the way, Ben reserved the right to tell this story to the rest of the family.

So, yes, I think the tide might be turning and my life might be getting exciting again.

Quote of the Day:
"Did you invite the old man to church? Gods plan, It werent no accident!"
--Simon K., in a Facebook comment, when I posted this episode in a status update. Simon, that'll be the day if I ever have such presence of mind in such a situation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sermons n Such

I get bored easily during sermons/speeches/talks if they don't really engage me. I tend to blame this on the speaker. Yes, I know I ought to listen even if I don't feel like it, and honestly I try, but doesn't the speaker have some responsibility to quit using so many words, and to make it a little more practical with a few real-life experiences thrown in and to vary his tone of voice?

But. Recently Paul was preaching and a few rows in front of me were two brothers who were very involved with the family's newest little granddaughter and as a result didn't listen to the sermon at all. Now I like a guy gushing over a baby, that's wonderful And I will grant the baby was a cutie and I wouldn't have minded holding her myself. But it made me flame up inside to have my husband up there preaching an interesting sermon that he worked hard at, and these folks not listening.

So. Was it Paul's job to be more interesting than the distractions? Or were these guys' hearts in the wrong place? And where does that put me? Surely there's some kind of middle ground of shared responsibility, and I'm wondering where others define it, for themselves and others.

Quote of the Day:
"They don't talk like normal people talk. They talk like Smuckers talk in an argument."
--Emily, on how actors project their voices

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Today's Column... yet more rehashing of our bout with H1N1, which is as creative as you get when you have to write something before you're quite recovered.

Here it is.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sick at SMBI

This morning at 4:42 I got a text from Emily asking me to pray for her because she's really sick. I should be used to having her away from home and sick, but it never gets easy.

I called her a few times today. She sounded awful. Fever, cough, etc. With that, plus the fact that a whole raft of other students were also sick, I assumed they all had swine flu.

The assistant dean called me, which I appreciate more than I can say, and asked about what to watch for with Emily, with her health issues and all. I said it's basically what you'd watch with anyone--listlessness, blue lips, difficulty breathing, and so on, with just a degree of extra vigilance.

Remembering my too-recent tangle with swine flu, I told Emily that basically there's nothing to do but tough it out and keep drinking fluids, and before morning she'll wish she could die, but I'd appreciate it if she wouldn't.

This evening her fever was high, even on Tylenol, so the deans decided to take her to the emergency room. There she was given a bag of fluids via IV, which means she was dehydrated I suppose, and then she was diagnosed with strep throat and put on an antibiotic.

I can't explain how grateful I am to the kind souls who are taking care of her, and I do not envy them at all, having to make these medical judgment calls with all these young people.

Sometimes I think I could almost qualify as a nurse or at least an assistant, with all my medical experience with raising six children. But there is one major difference between me and a real medical person: I get a diagnosis stuck in my head (swine flu, in this case) and it never crosses my mind that we could be looking at something else entirely (like strep.) I've done that so often it's scary.

Quote of the Day:
"strep not swine"
--text from Emily

P.S. Turns out she has both strep and swine, so I wasn't so terribly far off.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everyone Else's Exciting Life

I am in a phase where my life isn't very exciting. A dangerous thing to say, I know, but there you are. I have been taking it seems like forever to get over the swine flu so I've been home a lot, coughing and doing laundry and picking up the house. But everyone else's life is exciting and so I am enjoying theirs vicariously, with just a bit of envy.

I talked to my sis Rebecca this morning. They just took a trip to my other sister Margaret's in Pennsylvania where my niece Annette and her husband joined them and they had an early Thanksgiving together and I am happy for them but would have loved to be there too. Meanwhile Rebecca is up to her ears in ministry, since she can speak Arabic, and there are lots of Arab immigrants in the area and all kinds of astonishing doors are opening up to reach out to them. Rebecca's life is always exciting, and she has always seemed way more holy and disciplined than I am, and she is always out there doing amazing things for God, and I have been jealous of this about her since she was about 7 years old and got saved at revival meetings (evangelist: Willy Wagler) and immediately set out to share the gospel with the world, starting with her heathen little sister who didn't appreciate it, and she hasn't stopped yet. However, today Rebecca's amazing ministry included taking a lady to the doctor even though she was sick herself--not so jealous about that I guess.

Then Emily is off at SMBI and in the very little communication we have she is all happy-happy-hyper-hyper-fun-fun. "Uh, Mom, is this important??" she asks distractedly as shrieks of laughter drift in from the background. Today she finally got out to an internet connection and posted a hyper post about her life, only it's kind of like those teaser ads from Prevention magazine that go on and on without telling you anything--"Keep reading, we have the most amazing WEIGHT LOSS FORMULA from 3 basic ingredients sitting in your kitchen cupboard RIGHT NOW, yes we do, just keep reading, I'm serious, THREE BASIC INGREDIENTS that you stock up on every week." You can read Emily's version of this here.

This evening we went to Nolan and Edna's reception. I love weddings and newlyweds and all the girls in their pretty dresses and watching people and wondering which couples in the room are actually happy together and which little kids belong to which parents. There's a part of me that always envies newlyweds, fresh beginnings and all that. Funny moment: Paul talking business with Daniel Schrock from Smith Seed. Both guys are deaf in one ear, so they both had to crook their heads at odd angles to hear each other.

Oregon people: did you ever notice how much Cindy Smith looks like Sarah Palin? (So does my sis Rebecca, as a matter of fact.)

Ok, who else has an exciting life? Bonnie the SIL just went to see her grandson for about a week. Well, I'm sure she went to see his parents too, but that baby exerts a powerful magnetic force. Bonnie has numerous times called me with Official News--Randy is dating!! Byran is engaged! Jessi is pregnant!! And I have never been able to call her with such news, not once. Not that I am trying to rush my children or tell them not to wait on God's time, (really, you guys) but sometimes I would love to call all the relatives and friends with NEWS.

Meanwhile Matt has been living dangerously. He decided it's time to shake things up a bit with his college-student diet, so he hasn't made ramen noodles since school started. He's made fish (setting the oven on fire the first time), pork chops, and such. And then he went to WinCo and bought one of each fruit he didn't recognize. Mango, kiwi, papaya, and so on. He found out he absolutely loves starfruit.

Now that's some excitement I could actually try myself, I guess.

Quote of the Day:
"Matt should get a job where he just explains things. He's just so good at explaining how things work."
--Jenny. I totally agree.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Late Happy Birthday

A late happy birthday to Steven, who is now 15! Sunday night he went gallivanting off to a church-youth party, so we're entering a new era, with only one child at home on youth nights.

It's hard for me to think of Steven's birthday as his birthday, since I have no particular memory associated with it. To me, Christmas Eve is his birthday, the day he truly joined our family.

Nevertheless, there it is: 15 years old, the official date to take the drivers-permit test, the time to join the youth group, yet another transition from kid to adult.

Steven: you're an amazing, strong young man, growing in grace and character, standing for what's right. We love you.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Return to Life's Little Dramas

This crazy swine flu had me dragging around here all week like a teenager who stayed up too late and had to get up too early and had a bad attitude besides. Long after the fever was gone I just felt so unspeakably TIRED. Still do, in fact. I felt queasy too, so it was almost enough to make me nostalgic for pregnancy.

But I am slowly getting back in the swing of things and the best part of that is just the various little dramas of life that you miss out on when you're flat in bed not caring if you live or die.

Such as:
Emily finished her first week at SMBI and with the 3-hour time difference and her busy schedule and the terrible Verizon reception there, I have hardly talked to her. This tends to tie me up in knots because this last year I talked to her on the phone a LOT, in fact some days I was trying to keep her alive over the phone, so to suddenly have that umbilical cord cut is traumatic but wonderful, if you get what I mean.

I figure if she were sick in bed she'd call all the time, so since she doesn't, all is well.

So since I don't talk to her much, and she doesn't have any siblings there to report on her, I keep checking Facebook to see if anyone has tagged her in a picture, trying to not see this as a barometer of success and friendship and adjusting and fitting in, and also trying not to despair of all the implications since it hasn't happened yet, not once. Aagghh.

Then on the local scene I gave a talk to a church women's group today and they were very gracious about my not coming for the lunch but just showing up for the talk and dessert. Questions: "How did you get started writing?" "What is the difference between the Amish and the Mennonites?" I'm serious, someone asks those two every single time.

But that's ok.

Then I went to WinCo in the cold pouring rain and bought groceries and of course they had their turkey special since it's November, and of course I picked out the biggest one I could find, hoping to get a bit of mileage out of it like I try every year. And here I was still so weak and wobbly that I almost couldn't lift the dumb thing into the cart. I who pride myself on slinging milk jugs and flour sacks around like a good farm girl.

Then I picked the shortest line. Why do I never learn? Whatever line I'm in has the check that doesn't clear the machine, the debit card that doesn't take, the cashier that leaves on break, every person that has any possible way of slowing things down.

This time the guy ahead of me was a homeless man with a little red wagon with all his pop cans in a bag. Long after the whole counter was empty he stood right in my way so I couldn't unload my groceries and carefully counted out coins, dropped two pennies, picked them up, counted some more, and finally finally moved to the cashier to pay for his pop, which it turned out had actually been paid for by the generous woman ahead of him in line.

So could he zip on through with a big thank you? No, he could not. From somewhere he conjured a bottle of strawberry milk, two Crystal Light canisters, and about 4 more drinks. He counted and counted his money, dropped a penny, scrambled after it, counted some more, dropped a quarter, scrambled after it, etc etc. Meanwhile his wagon was blocking my path so I couldn't bring my cart around to start bagging my stuff. (WinCo has two chutes per checkout and basically they check out two people at once.)

"Ahem," I said delicately, in my nicest treat-you-with-kindness-like-a-normal-person-even-though-you're-horribly-irritating voice, "Could I move your wagon over just a bit so I can get my cart through?" There was a growl from behind the beard. "YOU. DON'T. TOUCH. THAT." Ok. Yessir. Got it.

I have issues with homeless people. The old judgment vs. mercy dilemma. Obviously this guy was mentally ill but you know, even mentally ill people can be grateful and decent I would think. And then when I was thinking rapidly boiling thoughts about this guy, I happened to notice his hands, which were all freckled. Like Paul's. Which gave me a terrible turn, I mean, what if my husband was out on a cold rainy day with only half his mind and a little red wagon full of pop cans. But even then he would move so people could get through, I know he would.

See, I can wring a lot of drama out of a homeless guy in the grocery checkout line.

Somewhere in there the lady behind me and I started talking, since we had plenty of time to do so, and she had also survived swine flu but is fully recovered and said the only thing she's ever had that compares was pneumonia. And then she lifted the turkey out of the cart and back in for me, plus my milk and other heavy stuff, which was deeply appreciated.

Ben's fever is gone too but he's dragging around here like I am even though he's young and strong, which helps me feel vindicated somehow. This evening he said,

Quote of the Day:
"This makes me feel a lot more sorry for Emily."

Friday, November 06, 2009

Books to Canada

A while back someone emailed and asked how much it would cost to send 6 of my books to Canada. I lost the email, so I'll post the answer here:
First class: $14.81 (U.S. dollars)
Priority (insured) $24.25

Hope this finds you!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Best Medicine

So my research on home remedy ingredients led me to a website on Tylenol, one use of which is maybe killing all those awful snakes on Guam, and that link led on to a paragraph on what to do if you actually live in the South Pacific and encounter a Brown Tree Snake. I found it terribly funny in a sick sort of way but unfortunately, only those few lucky readers who have actually seen my mom dispatch a garter snake with a hoe can truly understand why. The rest of you can try to imagine:

If a snake is encountered, it can probably be easily dispatched with a blunt object such as a broom handle or a heavy object. . . Even when mortally wounded, a snake may continue to wriggle and writhe for some time. As long at it is incapable of coordinated locomotor movements, it need not be further bashed, hacked, or mutilated in response to random and ineffective reflex movements. Remember, you may want someone to positively identify the snake, and the difficulty in making an identification may be increased if you pound it to an unrecognizable pulp or a multitude of pieces.

The Moms' Hearts

Some of you have been asking how my mom is since she spent the night in the hospital with what seemed to be a heart attack.

She's actually been doing really well, and the fact is we are all mystified as to what is actually going on here.

Probably 20 years ago her old long-since-retired "Dr. Guy" diagnosed her chest pains as angina and prescribed nitro pills. And it just became part of who Mom is--the little bottle tucked into its little case, always with her, just in case. The occasional news that she had another "spell" and pulled through again. And of course, the sense that her days may be numbered and she could go at any time with a serious heart attack.

So she had this "spell" the other week that made her black out. And she ended up in the hospital. Where they did lots of tests. And several days later called in a cardiologist and did a stress test.

And of all the bizarre things, the tests are coming back that she has an excellent heart. Arteries are open, blood is flowing, electrical impulses are impulsing, muscles are pumping. "Like an 18-year-old," said the doctor.

My nurse sister Rebecca has been trying to reach the doctor to have a personal chat but hasn't been able to, but she did get the nurse to read the chart to her, at the end of which she noted that when Mom left, she was again prescribed nitro for angina.

My sister will have some specific words to say to the doctor, such as, what if it's actually been acid reflux all these years, and have you actually explored these other possibilities, and if it's something else why are you still talking angina and nitro??

Sooooo happy to have a medical person in the family, I must say.

So yeah, still waiting for answers.

If Mom continues to do well, I plan to fly to Minnesota in early December and take her to Minneapolis for glaucoma surgery.

Meanwhile, Paul's mom has been having trouble with atrial fibrillation, which makes her heart race like crazy and is very unnerving. So she's trying out different medications, and the cure is almost worse than the disease. She been a very healthy, active person and it's been hard to have her life curtailed by this. Again, we're thankful for the family go-to medical person, Barb the doctor.

It is a bit strange for both Paul and I to have all this action going on at the same time with our moms' hearts. Meanwhile it is very nice to know that in a larger sense their hearts are in good shape and in good hands.

Oink Oink

I was talking to my sister-in-law Lois this morning. She and her daughter Lisa just survived the same flu I'm getting over, which I apparently caught from Lisa last Tuesday when she was here helping me with some cleaning and felt like she might be getting a cold.

Ben is home with the same flu today.

Lois told me that she was talking with the nurse practitioner at the Harrisburg Clinic and described the symptoms and was told that this is yes, definitely H1N1. Fever, cough, very contagious, very nasty, etc etc. And apparently it's too early for any other kind of flu.

I had been a bit worried about getting swine flu because it's supposed to be worse for people with asthma. But so far I can still breathe ok.

Somehow this makes me feel better to know that I'm actually a Swine Flu Survivor!! They ought to give you a little badge or something.

Quote of the Day:
"It 's a good thing Emily didn't come home right now after all."

Monday, November 02, 2009

Fun Times With the Flu

I'm well into Day 5 of a vicious flu. It started with a dry cough on Thursday and by that evening I wanted to sleep all the time, and by Friday I was in that vast miserable zone where you no longer care about anything--how the house looks, are the children eating any real food, or, in my case, genuine proof of genuine illness, that article deadline that was eating me alive faded off into unimportance. And then for a day and a half I had my monthly monster migraine on top of everything else, which seems like an appropriate punishment for, say, bin Laden if they ever catch him.

So what can you do for entertainment when your eyeballs feel like hot marbles and you can hardly lift your arms off the bed?

1. Dream wild thrashing exhausting dreams in which you are forced to read pages and pages of blurry handwritten script, and strange ideas take on color and shape, and you go visit Emily at SMBI and take the wrong turn out of her dorm room in your nightgown and well, never mind.

2. Keep a laptop on the bed and learn to feel around with one finger and get on Facebook. Learn who just baked cinnamon rolls and who dressed up like what for Halloween and who was happy about the Ducks' win over USC. (Even in my state I managed some enthusiasm for that one.) Get off FB when the fireworks in your head are more than you can handle.

3. Work up the courage to reach out of bed, pour some Sprite in the little glass, and drink it. Yes, be strong. You can do this.

4. Answer phone calls from the husband, who is off in Colorado. You cough on your end and he talks on his, and the decisions get made.

5. Think up wonderful put-them-in-their-place speeches for all the times when you couldn't think of the right thing to say at the moment.

6. Go to to take the self-test for swine flu. Fever, misery, cough, dizzy and disoriented when standing. Yes. Sore throat. No. Vomiting. Some but not enough to qualify.

7. Try to pray for your children. Lack the concentration to make it through all six.

8. Praise God over and over again that you don't have babies any more and you can just stay in bed.

9. Look up flu remedies on the internet. Most involve a combination of fresh lemon juice and various other ingredients--honey, ginger, cayenne pepper, paracetamol. What is paracetamol? Look it up on wikipedia. It's actually Tylenol. And one of its uses is--of all things--killing brown tree snakes on Guam, since cats and snakes can't handle even minute doses. Click on the link. Learn that brown tree snakes are an invasive species on Guam and they grow up to 3 meters long and there are as many as 13,000 of them per square mile on that poor island. "Snakes caused the extirpation of most of the native forest vertebrate species; thousands of power outages affecting private, commercial, and military activities; widespread loss of domestic birds and pets; and considerable emotional trauma to residents and visitors alike when snakes invaded human habitats with the potential for envenomation of small children." Uh, yeah, I would think, "considerable emotional trauma." With this info on the brain you can fall asleep and have yet more wild dreams in which Randy's sweet wife Shelley is holding a snake over your head and threatening to drop it and you can't yell of course because it's a dream.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Plan C Shows Up

While I was with Emily in Colorado two weeks ago we were trying to make some decisions about her future. It seemed like there were only two options:
A. Find a job and stay in Colorado (her preference)
B. Come back to Oregon (my deep-down wish)

Even while we beat the bushes looking for work for her and she tried to resign herself to coming back here, I kept telling her that I feel like God has a Plan C somewhere that we could all be happy with but I have no clue what it is.

I came back to Oregon and we made plans for Emily to come home. I had told Emily that 90% of finding a job is connections, which we have way more of here than in Colorado. In a vivid confirmation of this, the day after I came home I impulsively sent a facebook message to Tina H. who with her husband owns a bent-n-dent store in Lebanon and they're opening a new one in Albany before too long. I told her Emily would be in the area and looking for work. Fifteen minutes later she wrote back, "I called my husband and he said to tell you she's hired." That job should start in a month and a half, which incidentally works well with Plan C, but I didn't know that at the time.

Yesterday Paul flew to Colorado and today he and Emily are packing up her things and putting them in storage.

They had planned to fly back here on Monday.

Meanwhile, on Friday Emily read on Facebook that one of her friends was headed for SMBI (a Mennonite Bible school in Pennsylvania) for the second term. She wistfully told Paul that that was the term she was going to apply for, some months ago, but then she was too sick.

Here's how she describes the conversation:

Me: Man, you know how I was gonna apply to go to SMBI second term and then didn’t after all, cause I was so sick? I wish now I would have. It would have worked so perfectly. I’m done with my schoolwork and Annie and don’t have anything to do.

Dad: Well why don’t we call them in the morning and ask if they have any openings?

Me: Seriously?!!?

Dad: When does it start?

Me: Like, three days.

Dad: Oh. Well, I’ll call and see.

Next Morning

Dad: Do you have any openings?

Headmaster: actually, yes, we have one woman’s opening. Fax in your application.


I had to laugh when I heard this because I could just imagine the gleam in Paul's eye. Very few things make him as happy as organizing and planning, and to do it at the last minute to make an impossible dream come true, well that is just the cherry on top of a lot of whipped cream.

So he talked to Clifford Schrock the principal, who thought he knew Paul even though Paul doesn't think he knows him, but it's all good, and the principal's wife reads my stuff, so that's even better. Emz had all the forms on hand, so they filled out her part and faxed it in, and faxed the pastor's portion to Arlen K. Paul called his sister Barb and yes, she could pick Emily up at the airport and take her to SMBI. He had a free Southwest ticket stashed away so he found a flight for Emily from Denver to Pittsburgh on Sunday. And then he was able to change his own ticket to leave ten minutes after Emily because there was no reason for him to hang around Colorado by himself.

So this, I take it, was God's Plan C all along.

For a year and a half, up until just a few weeks ago, the bridges on 99E between Halsey and Harrisburg were all getting replaced, so at each one there was a motion-activated stoplight and only one lane of traffic. At night you would be driving along, with no other traffic in either direction, and way up ahead you could see the next red light. And you'd think, come on, just turn green and let me fly through. But no. It stayed red and stayed red, and then you'd slow down and slow down, and at the veeerrrryyyy last second, right when you were almost to a complete stop, the light would turn green.

Those lights always made me think of God. I have no idea why he likes to make us wait until the very very last second, but I guess the important thing is that the light does turn green.

In practical terms, the hardest thing about Emily going to Bible school right now is that they have to wear dresses and she always wears skirts and tops. So she'll probably be wearing some very formal dresses she's worn to weddings until I can whip out a few, unless there's someone out there that 's about 5-feet-6 and impossibly skinny that can loan her some.

And don't you agree with me that Emily has a very nice dad?

Quote of the Day:
"So I guess you were right, Mom. There really was an Option C."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Feminine Logic

A crane fly (huge oversized mosquito creature) is flying around the kitchen.

Jenny is carrying a stack of plastic cups. She points the stack at the crane fly and makes machine-gun noises. "BBDDDDDDDDDDD!!"

Ben reaches out and grabs the crane fly and kills it.

Jenny shrieks, "Don't kill it!!"


One day they break your skillet, the next they melt your heart.

Steven wrote this for his writing class today:

Every ten year old should have a mother . A mother makes sure she/he is kept safe and warm. She provides education, and she’s always there when they are sick, sad or if they have questions about life. Also a mother can have a great influence on a ten year old’s life. At ten years of age a child might not even know the meaning of love. Love can play a big role in a child’s life. If a child grew up not being loved then that child is not gonna be very loving. He’s, gonna be a nasty person to be around. Maybe the reason I’m saying this is because when I was about 6-9 I didn’t have a mother. I can tell the difference between having a mother and not having a mother. In my point of view, what I have experienced I think every ten year old should have a mother.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Whiny Post

I know the drill already, ok? So you don't need to tell me. "They're just boys." "It's only things. Be glad it's not their necks." "Oh, well, this too shall pass" (my MIL) "Oh Mom." (Amy) "Someday you'll miss this stage." "It sounds like they need to learn responsibility and self-discipline. [pointed look.]

But I will say it anyway: I am tired of things breaking.

The problem is that my boys have the size and strength of grown men with the exuberance of little boys.

So just in the last week--let's see--one of them was mopping with my nice Mary Moppins mop and somehow--do we want to know how? No.--bent the handle in half and of course ruined it.

Then another guy knocked the kitchen phone off the counter and now, no matter which phone you plug into the outlet or if you put that DSL filter in or out--and believe me I spent 20 minutes fiddling with this--there's a shrieky little beep every 3 seconds when you're trying to talk.

Then last night I was at the sink washing the grapes from my neighbor lady (thank you, Anita) with my back to the rest of the kitchen while the boys were supposed to be clearing the table and loading the dishwasher. There was an obscene crash and my nice big garage-sale-bargain Le Creuset skillet that I was so proud of was on the floor with the handle broken off.

The story was a bit sketchy but apparently Boy A, over by the table, was tossing dishes to Boy B, over by the dishwasher, and a one-base overthrow made Boy B lunge sideways and knock the skillet off the counter. Or something.

I was very unhappy.

Boy B saved his hide by saying the right thing--"I'm sorry, Mom. I'll get you a new one." Not realizing, I'm sure, how much new ones cost.

Boy A said the very very wrong thing. See QOTD below.

After I calmed down I told them that they both mean more to me than many skillets. However. Some things are precious to me because they represent time and work and money, plus I like them and use them, and it is a real bother to forever be fixing or replacing this stuff. Or something like that. I'm more coherent now than I was then.

And yes, I know very well that if one of them broke his neck I'd give all I had to have them toss dishes across the kitchen one more time. I know that. But right now, I'm in the mood for sympathy, not solutions.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, I really think you're overreacting a little."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Matt's Latest Adventure

I'm sure you've all heard me go off on my boys and how they put their lives in danger.

Yesterday after Sunday dinner Matt said, oh so casually, "Oh, Mom, I don't think I told you my latest adventure."

No, you didn't.

Matt is back in school but is still working two days a week at a small hydroelectric plant high in the Cascades. To get to the top of the channel or whatever it's called, where the water is diverted off the McKenzie River (or is it the Santiam?) he drives off the main road and up several miles of twisty logging roads.

Recently he finished his job up there and was driving down these narrow, twisty, steep, gravel roads, going about 35 mph. Suddenly he realized he had been riding his brakes without thinking about it. Up ahead was a sharp curve to the right. He stepped on his brakes and nothing happened. He knew he couldn't make that curve.

At this point he explained that the road had been cut out of a mountainside, so the "cut" was like a wall on his right. On the left side was a tree-covered embankment going down.

He briefly considered using the emergency brake to slow down, but he knew from previous experience, when he had done this on purpose, that it would make him spin out.

So he decided to sideswipe the bank on his right, hoping this would slow him to a safe speed.

He deliberately headed to the right and was very surprised when the side of the car didn't scrape, and instead, the right wheels went right up on the bank. For a brief moment, the car was somehow driving along on its side, and then a few angels gently set it back on the road on all four wheels.

He was able to stop the car. The only real damage was a flat tire. Oh, and there's dirt and gravel in the driver's-side hubcaps to prove his story.

This was one of those times when I listened and my mouth opened but not many coherent words came out.

Quote of the Day:
"The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them."
--the Bible

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For One Brief Shining Moment

The happy statistics for Downstairs on Amazon: Sales Rank: #41,773 in Books
Popular in these categories:

#1 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > Mennonite
#6 in Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Regional U.S. > West
#7 in Books > Entertainment > Humor > Rural Life

(These are updated hourly, so it may be back to 600,000 by suppertime.)


Mom spent the night in the hospital after her "bad heart spell" yesterday. The doctor is puzzled because the tests indicated, he says, that she didn't actually have a heart attack and in fact her heart looks like an 18-year-old's. So what in the world gave her such chest pain that she blacked out? Tomorrow she sees a cardiologist for a stress test.

Mom refused a wheelchair this morning and walked to the car on her own steam. Let's all be like her when we're 89.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Springs to Salt Lake

A number of things happened on this leg of the journey that have never happened to me before.

1. As I was piling my things in the gray bin at security in Colorado Springs, a tall blond TSA man across the counter leaned over to me and said, without preliminary, "First Corinthians eleven, right?"

2. I sat beside a young woman who, at first glance, struck me as someone who runs marathons. It turned out that she's actually a smoke jumper, headed for headquarters in Missoula, Montana, and works all over the West. She's one of 30 women in a group of 400 firefighters. They jump in to the hot areas with food, equipment, water, etc. The first thing they do is make sure everyone is ok. They don't appreciate Oregon's tall trees because sometimes they land very high up in one and have to rappel down. Her scariest moment was when she parachuted into two snags that had fallen into each other. She hung there in her parachute about 50 feet off the ground while the snags "gave" about a foot and then stopped moving, to her great relief. After the crew is rendered ok they evaluate the fire and either try to control it or put it out. This involves digging, sawing, spraying, whatever. On a hard 16-hour day she burns through 6000 calories. When they leave, they pack everything out to the nearest road, sometimes as much as 16 miles with a 150-pound pack on each back. And yes, when she's not working she runs half-marathons to stay in shape.

3. The second I turned on my phone after we landed, it rang. It was Matt wondering if you can freeze milk, since it was on sale at Grocery Outlet and he wanted to buy in quantity.

4. I bought supper and turned on my computer and there was a Facebook message from my niece saying my mom was in the hospital with a "bad heart spell." So I was in a frantic interchange with family members, simultaneously on FB and texts and phone calls. Right now she's stabilized, thank God. Waiting for more word.

Quote of the Day:
"Boarding first class for Portland."
--the announcer. Not that I'm first class, but I'd better go.

Monday, October 19, 2009

October Column

This month's column is about my decision not to have a garden this summer, and a few things I learned.

Good Times With Emily

I'm still in Canon City with Emz.

She finished her high school work last week!!!!!

We found that if you walk along her fence to the right spot, you can pick up the wireless signal from Burger King. Which is why I'm sitting out here in a coat on an old kitchen chair behind her garage.

Colorado has a beauty and an ugliness all its own. The sun comes up in glowing megawatts every morning, piercing the prisms in the bedroom window and sending rainbows all over the room, a wonderful thing to wake up to. Also, the fall leaves on the ground crackle and crunch like leaves in books. This is very cool.

However. Everything that isn't irrigated is dry and rocky. Like this vacant area behind the garage. Sandy soil with scribbly little brown attempts at vegetation.

So tomorrow I get to go back to Oregon, where the falling leaves are all wet and soggy, but where there are grasses and bushes and vines and trees everywhere.

Emily has been helping backstage with the Fremont Civic Theater's production of Annie, a dream come true for her--to be involved in a real drama--and for me--to see her well enough to commit to being there for practices and also to actually keep her commitments. Yesterday she and I went to see the performance (she had trained someone else to do her backstage duties of changing Grace's clothes in record time and taking the garbage can on and off the "apron"). The play was very well done and a wonderfully satisfying story. Annie herself was a tiny little thing in sausage curls who was unbelievably good at the role.

Afterwards, numerous people thanked Emily for all her hard work, which was probably more gratifying for me than her, and the director said she has Emily on her list for the Christmas performance.

Then, on another front, a second drama opportunity opened up yesterday when the directors for the church youth group's Christmas play told her they really need her expertise.

Which is all wonderful, except that it's not. Now that she is actually WELL (applause, hallelujahs, cannon blasts) and done with her schoolwork, she really needs to find a job if she wants to stay here in Canon City. Which she does, now that she has all these amazing opportunities and is feeling more connected with the church and community.

But unfortunately the job market is terrible. If anyone is hiring at all, they want someone over 21/with some college/who can lift 50 lbs/with lots of experience. She would qualify for a desk job or tutoring or writing, but we haven't found a thing in any of those fields.

So she feels like she's camped by the Red Sea, a place that feels very familiar to some of us.

Paul and I feel she needs to go back to Oregon for a month or so this winter to see if she could actually survive there now. And if she could, we'd love to have her at home again, and the opportunities for work and selling books and so on would be a lot greater because of all our connections. Of course, if she could be healthy in Oregon it would mean she could live pretty much anywhere. But she hates the thought of leaving Colorado when things are finally going so well.

So, yeah, yet another in a long line of lessons in faith and trust.

Oh--there was that one job offer I clicked on because they wanted actors and hey! you only had to be 16. I found this:

Quote of the Day:
"Actors wanted for "Town of Horrors" Halloween display. Must be willing to be loud and get in people's faces and scare them."