Sunday, May 31, 2009

Way too much honesty, again

I discovered something when we went to Kenya five years ago, and that is that your marriage can be all fine and dandy but then you go into a new situation and whoa! you find out all kinds of things about your relationship that you would just as soon not have known, and that you have to painstakingly sort through and salvage.

So the other night we went on a new venture--planning our new kitchen at Jerry's Home Improvement Center.

The lady helping us was nice. Paul was doing his best to be nice.

But I was almost in tears.

This is the deal--too many choices are paralyzing. I need time to think. And by thinking, I mean, looking things over without talking, kneading them in my mind, in silence. You know, THINKING.

To Paul, thinking means talking.

And the harder the decision, the more you talk.

And the harder time your wife has making up her mind, the more, louder, and faster you talk, to help her, you know.

And when she says, "Ummm," which is her way of saying, "I need to think in silence," you don't hear her because you're deaf in one ear.

And when you are sitting in front of the nice helpful lady, a wife cannot turn and say in a loud voice, WOULD YOU PLEASE! STOP TALKING???" because she was raised Amish and doesn't know how to just Say Things Out Loud. Especially in front of a helpful lady who is looking like she feels sorry for you, the husband, for having such a wife.

Yes, well.

Of course I tried to hint and LOOK at him pointedly, which is about as far as you go with an Amish upbringing, and it does not work with a Smucker, for sure and certain, which I should know by now.


Finally the ordeal was over.

Paul marched out to the car, smiling and happy with all we had accomplished, and hadn't it gone well?

We got in the car and I cut loose, letting him know in vivid detail what was ACTUALLY going on and would he MIND and ooooooh, it was HORRIBLE.

Would you believe he still took me out to Olive Garden after that?

Toward the end of the 4-cheese ravioli I squeaked a meek apology for chewing him out.

He smiled and said he hadn't felt chewed out.

I think he actually thought my rant was just finally learning how to think out loud like he does.

Now, the big question, if the planning was this hard, will our marriage survive the actual renovation???

You can vote on this if you like. Yay, nay, or only with weekly counselling.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

WNF Facts vs. Truth

Emily is trying to finish up her schoolwork, including a research paper for her health class. She decided to write one on West Nile Fever, but she is discovering the same thing I found while researching WNF when she was first diagnosed: The medical literature is very different from people's experiences.

There's not much out there about WNF, but what's there will say, essentially, "WNF is primarily a mild illness and most people recover in a few weeks with no long-term effects."

Then there are people's stories.

Brenda M. from Arkansas told me her mom was sick for about a year and still has occasional "spells" of illness and weakness.

Yesterday Mrs. Fischer, who teaches the 3rd graders I spoke to, told me her uncle in South Dakota was sick in bed for a year with WNF and has been several years slowly recovering and is now ok, sort of.

"Jay" emailed us about his experiences. He has continued to have devastating daily side effects for years, (8, as I recall)--headaches and "crackling" in his neck and other symptoms.

So what's with that few weeks and a mild illness??

Quote of the Day:
"May your seed be as the sand of the sea."
--Bible verse Jenny chose to put on a bookmark for a woman in church, complementing a lovely beach scene illustration. The woman said, laughing,
"I'm 50 years old; it's a bit late."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Safe, Generic News

Looks like it'll be another nice day.

The geraniums are growing nicely.

Amy baked some cinnamon rolls and they are delicious.

Quote of the Day:
"I'm headed to the warehouse."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Today I attended a lovely salad luncheon with about 20 homeschool moms from the Harrisburg/Junction City/Monroe area, including several e-friends such as Kathy and KaraBeagle. The whole group was just plain fun--very welcoming and funny and interesting and affirming. Part of the levity may have been due to the fact that they aren't used to getting together without their 50-some children.

These ladies also prayed for me, my writing, and my family. What a boost.

And once again I was reminded that there are people out there who actually read everything I write, and remember all the details. Once again this has completely freaked me out. Please don't tell me how stupid this is--somehow I get the idea that, yeah, I write but nobody really reads it, or maybe a few people like my in-laws and such. Oh so wrong. Gaaaah! So for the next day or so I will stick to generic information about my life such as, "We had a nice day today and my geraniums are growing nicely."

And then when I am lulled back into thinking Oh well, people probably don't really read this stuff, then I'll describe what it was like to go to the home improvement store last evening, me and Paul, and spend 3 hours planning our new kitchen. Or maybe not.

Different subject: Why was the non-Martha-Stewart Mrs. Smucker vigorously dusting the tops of her green bean and applesauce jars with a feather duster this evening?

Answer: because someone from the Register-Guard is coming out tomorrow to take pictures of them. Not of me. Of my canning jars. For a story on canning and freezing.

You know how media people have their standard people they go to for information? Like Don Kraybill (Graybill?) who is the expert on all things Amish? Well, somehow I have fallen into this strange role with the RG where I am the Expert on all things homey and old-fashioned. Yes, family members, you're allowed to snort in disbelief here.

I thought about sending the photographer to Bonnie's house but Amy said she doesn't can that much any more and freezes most of her stuff.

Quote of the Day:
"At least your life ain't boring."
--Steven, when the home phone and my cell phone kept ringing, one taking off as soon as I hung up the other

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


You know, the Bible says, "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat."

I am trying to teach my two teenage boys this amazing concept, that there is a connection between working and eating.

Especially the Carnivore, he who will, given the chance, eat meat--just meat--by itself, with no fillers like bread or rice--great slabs and piles of it, bacon and Little Smokies tossed into a frying pan, plain bunless hamburgers at a picnic, and so on. Of course, on some occasions he eats piles of tortillas and bread and such as well, but whenever he can get by with it he fills up on just meat.

Which is an expensive source of calories.

He will also eat half a dozen eggs a day.

And then he also mopes around at 9:30 a.m. muttering dark things under his breath, such as "Why do we have to get up so early?" and "How come we have to work so hard when it's vacation?" "Work so hard," we should clarify, is stuff like putting 25 dishes away and feeding the dog and gathering laundry, not exactly slaving in the salt mines.

So one of my many challenges this summer will be to get my boys to see a connection between that slab of ham on their plate and weeding the hedge.

Another challenge today is locating the source of that horrible smell in the vacuum cleaner. I am 95% convinced there's a dead mouse down in the bowels of the motor.

Quote of the Day:
Matt (setting down the boxes of food and stuff he's carrying for me): Wait, there's a really strong moment here I need to correct.
Me: Huh?
Matt: A moment is force times distance. It causes a rotation. It's like torque, basically.
Me: Ah.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

That Nice Lady

Remember when I posted last month about the charming lady in the Chicago-Midway airport who was reading one of my books? Here she is.

I had taken the picture with Paul's phone, but then neither he nor I knew how to get it from there to here. So Paul sent the picture to Matt, who sent it to my gmail address, and in a great triumph of age over confusing technology, I put it here.

Quote of the Day:
"I wish I had a horse to ride, not just a lamb."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Our family Juno account swallowed all of our addresses, so I am trying to salvage them so I can send out my May column to everyone on my list. If you normally receive the Letter from Harrisburg via email, and haven't received it yet, please let me know in a comment or at

Also, if you have family/friends who normally get it but got missed, or if you aren't on the list and would like to be, you can email me about that also.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Laura's Post

My SIL Laura from Poland wasn't able to make it to Neil's funeral last month but she wrote an interesting post about it from her and John's perspectives. It's here at BubblingTeapot.

Monday, May 18, 2009

P.S. : G.S.

I forgot to tell you about the Route 50 garage sales. Well, for me it turned out to be "all signs and no garage sale" (a new metaphor I thought up) mostly because I simply didn't have time. On Friday I could only find two sales and didn't see/buy much except for a pair of men's size 13 black Crocs [real ones, hardly worn, with velcro on the strap, worth $50 or so new] for one of the boys. And then I saw, of all things, green Oregon t-shirts at the same sale. Of course I asked Mrs. Garage Sale what the story was with that. Her niece had attended the U of O and one year they all got Oregon t-shirts for Christmas. I got two, for Ben and Steven.

The next day I had only half an hour at most to spare, so I headed out mostly to look for a microwave for Em's "new" house. I went to a park that was full of tantalizing sales, and at the second booth I saw before me a new, in the box, never opened microwave. How much? $30. I rummaged in my purse and came up with $25 plus change. $25 will do, said the nice lady, and I put it in the car and went back to Em's to pack some more, since there was no point in shopping any more since my money was gone.

I heard other people got truckfuls of bargains. I am happy for them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Colorado Connections

Well, I found another house for Emily in Colorado, close to my cousin Kay, and cleaned all of her old house and some of her new one, and moved her out of one and into the other, all in one of the more physically/emotionally exhausting weeks of my life. And now we'll give Emily a month to improve and if she doesn't I don't know what she'll do but I'll have a nervous breakdown. Or something.

Special applause and thanks to the young Knepp/Witmer guys who hauled the load of big stuff, Jessica who helped with the last carload, and Travis who took care of that unspeakable mouse under the sink.

So now I'll talk about something that always makes me happy: connections.

Em's landlord is a 70-something rancher type with dusty jeans and a few messed-up fingers on his right hand like he caught them in a baler chain or something a long time ago. He grew up in Hydro, Oklahoma, he said. I said, Oh! that's the area where my dad grew up! He said, "Was he a Yoder?' I thought, "How in the world does he know that?" Well, he had known some of the Amish/Mennonites in the area--Yoders, Stutzmans, etc.


Yesterday I was at my gate in the Denver airport and decided I had time to get a quick cup of coffee before I boarded, since I was a B as per Southwest boarding protocol, and the A's were just getting lined up. But then suddenly a woman stepped out of line, touched my arm, and said, "Are you . . . Dorcas??"

Well, believe me, that was the first time in my life I truly felt famous. It isn't so unusual for this to happen in Eugene, but in Denver??

She turned out to be a blog reader from Indiana named Mary who was headed to Portland to see her son and his wife and new baby. And she had Beachy-Amish roots. "Ich halt un sitz fa dich," she said as her line was boarding ("I'll keep a seat for you") and on the plane we discovered lots more connections. Mary's sister's daughter recently married my e-friend Mrs. I's son. Over the wedding weekend Mary's family had stayed with the Hershbergers, parents of Regina D. from this area. Mary worked for some time with my cousin Harvey at one of Indiana's many RV factories. And so on. What a treat.

Quote of the Day:
"Hi. How are you?"
"Sick. How are you?"
--IM conversation beginners between Emily and her cousin Jason. She says it's so nice to chat with him because he just "gets" it. After they establish that they're both sick they go immediately on to other subjects with no time wasted on sympathy, questions, suggestions, etc.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I'm in Colorado with Emily this week. She hasn't been doing well and we're trying to decide if Colorado is really the place for her.

Meanwhile, I'm deciding that Colorado is the place for me. I cut my Advair intake in half and still have only about 20% of the coughing I have back in Oregon. It is so nice to just breathe. And the sunshine. Oh my, the SUNSHINE. How can anyone not be healthy here??

And would you believe that I will be in Colorado at the very time an amazing event is taking place--the Highway 50 Coast to Coast Yard Sale. Yes, coast to coast. You can read more here. And it goes right through this town. We're heading out in the morning, and who knows where you'll find us by Sunday--Indiana, maybe, or California if we follow our noses west.

Quote of the Day:
Me: Arrggh, I just make such an idiot out of myself all the time.
Emily: But you're a lovable idiot.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Robin's Garden in People Magazine

My writer-friend Robin is a woman who does a lot of the things I do, such as hanging laundry on a clothesline, but not because of tradition or old-fashionedness or ignorance of other options, but because she actually thinks about these things and chooses them because they make the most sense with her values and goals.

Recently Robin's family's urban garden was featured in People magazine and then on a local TV station.

Read/watch more here.

Quote of the Day:
"I thought, 'Here I am sacrificing for Jesus.'"
--my sis Rebecca, while having a great time taking a sweet little Iraqi refugee lady garage saling [they live in Virginia] and realizing that this would be a great way to help the floods of refugees in the area

Monday, May 11, 2009

Paul's party

My husband does not appreciate silliness. Well, some of it in his daughters he tolerates indulgently, but not much beyond that. I found this out early in our marriage when we followed our noses to a FREE!! Portrait Session!! at a motel in Woodburn a few blocks from where we lived and a tall bulging woman named Lou [yes, the details are all burned into my memory] posed us and insisted that we say things like "Hi Turkey Lips!" or "We never fight!" so we would smile nice, and my dignified husband was NOT going to say any such things, and he sat there and refused to say anything, and Lou acted like she had never encountered such a stubborn person before, and I thought, Who is this person I married who doesn't do what people tell him to do?

Then when it was time to pick up our FREE!! 8x10 I went by myself back to this same motel and the sales guy spent a good half hour trying to talk me into buying the whole package, which was only $150, which came down to $125, and $100, and finally in a hushed voice he said he can lower it one more time, but don't tell anyone, and on a piece of paper, as though we were Soviet spies, he wrote $60 and showed it to me like I dare not refuse. I, who can never refuse people, actually refused, because I knew very well how my husband would react if I spent a tenth of his monthly salary on a photo package, and I went proudly home with my 8x10, which was on display Sunday night at Paul's party, and it made people gasp and say, "Oh my goodness you were so young!"

Rita Baker did the decorating for the party, combining a few of these old pictures with home-grown bouquets and Paulish things like school Paces, sermon books, and grass seed in glass containers. It was pretty without being overdone, as I had promised him.

So, back to silliness. I had also promised Paul we would not have any silliness at his party. The party itself was not optional--as much as he pours his life into people at church, school, and elsewhere, it was only right to have a party and have it at the church fellowship hall. But I promised that there would be no excess of hoopla and for sure no games where the men sit behind a sheet with one bare foot apiece sticking out, and the wives try to pick the right husband's foot. {I have seen this game go very very wrong so it was no great sacrifice to promise him this.}

So Arlen, the other pastor, introduced things and different people spoke about their viewpoint of Paul: his mother, his daughter (Jenny), his son (Matt), a former employee (TJ Bear), and a student (Spencer K.). Then Arlen asked if anyone else had anything to say, and a few people did, then I presented Paul with his gift, which was a notebook with 50 tributes to him for having a positive impact on people's lives. And then we sang happy birthday and ate.

I had planned the food around what Paul likes and what his mom would serve on a Sunday evening. So his mom made a gazillion buns and Bonnie arranged lettuce, tomato slices, cheese, and various meat slices on huge trays. Then we had a jello salad, seasoned pretzels, cupcakes made by Amy, and ice cream.

Jeannette K. and cousin Trish worked in the kitchen and organized the serving, and afterwards these two plus Bonnie, Anne (Paul's mom), and a few others went way beyond the call of duty in helping with cleanup. Last of all Paul and I vacuumed the fellowship hall, which strangely enough seemed like an appropriate end to a party, that it would end with the people it began with, and we were out of there by 10 pm.

Thanks to everyone reading this who participated in some form or other: from giving birth to him 50 years ago to sending in tributes for the notebook to washing dishes.

Paul actually wiped his eyes at one point in the program. It obviously wasn't from laughing, since it wasn't that sort of evening, so it must have been from other, deeper emotions, and I consider the evening a success.

Quote of the Day:
"If you've had Paul in Christian Ethics class, or any other class for that matter, the one thing you'll remember him saying is, What I think they're actually trying to say is. . ."
--Phebe the phormer student who soon caught on to the fact that one of Paul's callings in life is to explain everyone to everyone else, but I don't think he ever tried to explain what Lou actually meant to say when she tried to get us to say, "Hi Turkey Lips!"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers Day Column

It's about seeing our moms as real people. Click here.

Then you should also check out the story about the Tea Parlour in Junction City, one of my favorite places. The story mentions some Mennonite customers, the Zehr ladies*, but I'm not sure you can see the pictures on the online version like you can the print version.

*My girls think I need to work their story into that nebulous novel someday. . . see, there's this large Derstine family, and this large Zehr family, and the children keep marrying each other. I'm pretty sure the count is higher than the 3 mentioned in the article but I can't remember is it half a dozen by now or what. Anyway, the future plot twist comes in when everyone is matching up couple #7, Bill Derstine and Sally Zehr, and Bill and Sally are determined not to follow everyone's plans for them. . . .

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Mighty Mom!!

Mothers' Day tomorrow, and I already got two gifts: a cute bookmark from Jenny to keep my place when I read on the plane on Monday, and a book from Amy. Not just any book, but a book of Peanuts cartoons, in German! Love it.

I have never had much confidence as a mom but today I realized I have actually learned a few skills these last 23 years. Nay rather, I have actually acquired a few Magic Mom Powers.

1. I can turn just about anything from the fridge into something people will eat. This evening I mixed leftover pinto beans, some cooked chicken, grated cheese, leftover rice, dibs and dabs of old sour cream and salsa, and even a splash of chicken gravy in a bowl. I slapped the mix onto tortillas, rolled them up, and fried them in oil, which turned them into crispy, delicious burritos that the boys ate four or five of.

2. I can look at a girl's picture and tell what she's like--personality, character, quirks. I first discovered this when Matt came home from Bible school and I was looking at his pictures. "Is this girl really dreamy and into poetry?" Or "she seems like she's kind of full of herself," and Matt was astonished. I described every single one to a T, Matt claimed. He was so impressed that recently he emailed me a picture of a girl and asked me to discern her personality and character. I was delighted to. She was a conscientious sweetie who had no idea of the power of her own charms, I said.

3. Everyone wants me when they're sick. What's with this? I can't fix anything; I don't do that much, really. I can fade into the furniture at other times, but when they're sick, I turn into some sort of magic fairy that they desperately summon.

4. I can find almost anything. Including that thermometer that disappeared today. There it was, on the windowsill. [Yes, Jenny's sick and I'm afraid it's strep like Ben had.]

5. I can quote a Scripture for every occasion, or so the children say. My repertoire isn't nearly as large as I wish it were, but I can pull out "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast" when someone forgets to feed the chickens, or "the people that sat in darkness have seen a great light" when someone's reading in semi-darkness and I turn on the light. "I want to be like you and know all these verses," Jenny said today. Ahhh, success.

6. I am the one people call when things go wrong, and they cling to a primal belief that I can make it all better. Missed flights, failed tests, hurt feelings, sore throats--it's my phone that rings.

In honor of Mothers Day I'll forget all the parts of parenting that have me completely stumped, frustrated, and on my knees begging for wisdom. Just for a day or two I'll strap on my Mighty Magic Mom wings and fly.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Nothing to Post About

I am feeling guilty for not posting more but also feel like a dry well right now.

Here are some potential post topics:

Steven's homework. WHY can't that child get his work done in school?

And how do you reward him when he doesn't have so much homework without shorting the two who almost never bring work home? (Take them all 3 out to Dairy Queen when he meets a certain goal, says the wise daughter from Colorado.)

My column for May. I actually got it done. And wrote about a Mother's-Day-ish theme, one of those situation when you can't write about the hugest thing on your mind (Neil's death) because the time and situation isn't right, so you choose something else and pretend you actually gave it some thought and it matters.

Amy. She and I have been like ships passing in the night. We overlapped for 5 hours (2 a.m. to 7 a.m.) when she came home from Virginia and I left for Montana. Then she left for Amy Loewen's wedding in Alberta about 10 hours before we came home from MT. Tonight at the supper table I realized she had never heard the details of Neil's death, our trip, etc.

Paul's birthday. He's turning 50, and I told him we are having a party, so get used to it, or something like that, [in the fellowship hall after church Sunday evening] but I promised not to embarrass him with a big fuss, but now I have this fear that the MC I appointed might take the liberty to expand things beyond where Paul will like it, or the appointed decorator will decorate intemperately, not that I have control issues or anything. And I am having issues about the food, since I so do love to plan for feeding a crowd and cooking huge quantities, we all know that.

Next week I go see Emily, who has been sick way too much. We desperately need wisdom here, still, again. WHY is she so sick so much in that perfect climate????

My windows are dirty.

And I want to visit my daughter, but I also have this longing to stay home, and it is hard to reconcile all this. And I don't want the daughter to feel bad because I do want to visit her, specifically, I just want to stay home, generally.

Hansie is getting old and stiff.

And that evil white hen keeps eating eggs. At least I suspect it's her, just by the look in her eyes.

And Jenny is afraid to go to Bible Memory Camp this year because "Brian" will be there and he teases her all the time in school and she is so tired of it and when she makes a mistake he laughs at her, him and "Johnny." Oooooohhhhh. It is awful. I can't figure out what's with this. Jenny is Queen of the Snappy Comeback. Where does all her snap and fire go when these boys tease her?

And personally I think they have a crush on her. Or something. Besides, they're just boys.

It keeps raining. I think it will be nice while I'm in Colorado, so I can't work in my flower beds.

And I should be studying for my two talks tomorrow at the BMF Ladies' Meeting at church.


Quote of the Day:
"What do you do all day? Just sit there and think?"
--Paul's mom, to her grandson Byran, whose Ph.D.-in-statistics work she cannot comprehend. Neither can I, to be honest.

Monday, May 04, 2009


Quote of the Day:
"It was once said that a black man would be president 'when pigs fly.' 100 days into Obama's presidency. . . . . swine flu."
--text message from my brother Fred

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Emily's Book

Emily's book, entitled "Emily," can be pre-ordered from either me or her. Cost is $10 including postage. Email me at for details. Or read her Xanga post on the subject.


Ever since I got sick with that bronchitis or whatever it was I had in Iowa, my asthma has been awful. Well, my asthma is bad at the best of times, but it has been worse than bad. Which means I break into strangled coughing fits at the worst of times.

I have a feeling when future generations watch the old videos of big family events, such as weddings and funerals, I will be known as That Strange Aunt That Zips Out In The Middle Of The Service With a Red Face And Her Hand To Her Mouth.

I should probably up all my doses and inhalers and all, but I really hate to pump all those meds into my body. Or I should move to Wyoming; that would help a lot.

But yesterday I thought of another solution. I figured out that my major asthma trigger is breathing. So if I quit breathing, I think my asthma would be fine.

Quote of the Day:
[Or: the joys of having an unusual name]
"We are trying to locate Durcus Smoker who writes for the Register Guard. We would like to invite her to our group's meeting June 25th to speak."
--from an email sent to my RG editor

Friday, May 01, 2009


We are home again after one of the most bizarre trips of my life. Imagine 600-800 Mennonites trying to descend on a small Montana town while the worst blizzard in many years descends with them. Here's a news story. And here.

The funeral was postponed several times, then held, finally, on Thursday afternoon. Neil was always uncomfortable with a lot of attention and it almost felt like he had made sure that we were all seriously distracted from focusing on his passing.

It was a beautiful and soothing service.

We finally made it home again. We remember the young widow and all the ones close to Neil who have a long long journey still ahead.

Thank you so much for all your prayers.