Saturday, June 27, 2009

Catching up

I have been resting my hands, which drives me crazy, but it helps speed the healing process of whatever I have. Carpal tunnel syndrome, says my nurse friend Sharon, but it also acted like Ellen's former malady--de Quarvain's tendoscleroprontogingivitis (or something).

I still can't open jars but I can put on socks.

Today, on the advice of Jed E., I went to town and spent a bunch of shekels on a new keyboard that dips and waves and curves in all directions. It's supposed to help.

Ok, on being In or Out as a writer:

Rhonda wondered if I have suggestions for getting on the Inside. Unfortunately, not many. What has always worked for me is to walk through whatever door shows up in front of me. I realize others are led to be more aggressive than that.

Local author Linda Clare posted this advice on Facebook:

I'll be presenting a talk on "Writing to the Rule of Three" at the Portland chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers on Monday, June 29th. While my hometown of Eugene, OR doesn't yet have a chapter, there are certainly enough Christian writers in our area. At any rate, I'm excited to be talking to fiction writers in the Portland area. Why would I drive I-5 for two hours, hope I find the meeting, speak for an hour and drive home? The answer is simple: networking.
A student asked me a similar question recently. He was invited to hobnob with a bunch of editors in his genre and his wife wasn't sure the trip to Michigan was worth it just to rub elbows with strangers. Money wasn't an object.
My belief is that you should never turn down the chance to network, even if there is no immediate benefit. One never knows when a meeting with someone you want to sell your stuff to or learn from will pay off. I'd hate to be the one not remembered from a meeting because I wondered if it was worth my time to network.
Writing Tip for Today: Networking comes easaier for some writers than for others. If you are the shy writer, you may have to work on your ability to "work a room," get noticed or even have the nerve to speak to an editor or other writer. Try these three tips.
  • Be interested in learning about other writers. Ask them questions, not to tout your accomplishments, but as a fellow sojourner on this writing journey.Be genuinely interested in the person you are talking with. You aren't networking only to sell your books. You're staying tuned in to what is happening all around you. No one likes a blow-hard, but ask anyone a genuine question about their lives, and chances are, they'll open up and ask about your writing.
  • Try mentioning to everyone you meet (even the grocery clerk) that you're a writer. Get comfortable with saying, "I am a writer." It's not boastful, it's the truth.
  • Practice this and perhaps when you have the chance to speak to or rub elbows with that editor/agent/author you'll be able to network more naturally.
[I certainly don't mention to the clerk at WinCo that I'm a writer, but I think Ms. Clare is right that connections are key to writing/publishing opportunities.)

Mark and Romaine seemed to indicate that they are still on the Outside. I would like to charitably disagree (as a guy in my home church used to say but we aren't convinced he was actually that charitable) (but I am). Neither might be In with the local Barnes and Noble, but if either of them had an idea for a new book they would have an editor they could call who would take them seriously, a publisher who would most likely take on the project, stores and catalogs and websites that would carry the book, and an audience that would recognize their name(s) and buy it.

So I vote that they're more In than they realize.

Quote of the Day:
(from Romaine's comment and believe me it is true)
"I get to feeling writers are on the same level as cows, expected to produce annually to justify their existance."
she also said:
"Maybe I'm weird, but I do not enjoy being recognized and asked about my writing everywhere I go---even in the jungle of Belize where I thought I could get away from it."
Here's where I apologize, Romaine, because I'll bet you thought you could go to Northwestern Ontario among lakes and mosquitoes back in like 1988, and you were all exhausted from your trip and this pesky Smucker lady met up with you in the NYP guest house hallway and was all gaga over meeting a real author.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


This is jenny posting for mom because she has carpal tunnel syndrome.So she can't post again or answer your questions untill she gets better.Poor mom.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Which Side Are You?

One door and only one
and yet its sides are two.
I'm on the inside
On which side are you?

This is an old Sunday school song whose theology is pretty vague for 8-year-olds, but I bring it up because I am realizing (again) how much of writing and publishing has to do with getting inside the magic door.

On the Outside, you're a Struggling Author with a growing collection of rejection slips. You attend writers' conferences with a hungry look on your face and take lots of notes. You make sure you chat with Real Authors at the book tables. They are polite but they don't Notice you. The same with the Editors and Agents and Publisher People, who are on a first-name basis with the lucky people who are In--"Oh, Fran, make sure you send me the first chapter of The Hidden Heart; I think I might have a place for it."

And then, without quite knowing how, you're Inside, where a vast spiderweb of connections links you to editors, publishers, other authors, newspaper people, radio hosts, and on and on. Someone recommends you to someone else, a door opens, which leads to another and yet another. You have a new idea, and you know who to call to make it happen. Someone else has an idea and calls you with a new opportunity.

So the other day I got the bright idea that it would be really fun to do a mother-daughter book event with Emily when she's home in August. I called the local Barnes and Noble and asked for Andrew, the amazing coordinator who arranged my three B&N appearances. I was referred to Andrea, the new coordinator, who was delighted with my idea. "Oh! More than a signing--we'll have you both talk!" I mentioned a possibility for media exposure. "Wonderful!"

That was when it struck me that I was finally In.

Ten years ago, struggling to break into any market beyond CLP's Companions, I could never have called up a Barnes and Noble person and been taken seriously. Never. Or known local newspaper or radio people to recommend.

It's nice to be Inside; it's frustrating to be Outside. I hope I can open the magic door for lots of other writers who need to be discovered.

Quote of the Day:
Emily: But what am I supposed to talk about??!! I never talk in front of people or go to your talks or anything!!
Me: Emily, just get up and talk.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

When Church is Hard

Here's something that most people don't realize: when you have a chronic illness, going to church is a big ordeal.

I was reminded of this last night when I talked with "Linda" whose knee surgery went awry recently and kept her out of the loop for about two months.

"Church," she said, "is hard."

Emily experienced the same thing, and so did I, with my pregnancies.

Healthy people find this hard to understand, especially healthy Mennonite people, for whom church is not only a worship experience but a social event and a time to both serve others and be recharged.

"Just come and sit in the back," they say. "Don't you want to see your friends? All you have to do is sit there; what's so hard about that?"

I am trying to think what, exactly, is "so hard about that."

Here are a few ways going to church is harder for a sick person than going for a drive to the park or a trip to the grocery store with your husband--

--you have to actually clean up and make yourself presentable and brush your teeth and comb your hair, all before 9:30

--and wear nice clothes, including pantyhose in some settings.

--you can't just sit in the car; you have to go inside

--and you can't lean your head back on a church pew.

--if you leave before the service is over, you feel conspicuous.

--sitting still makes all your symptoms--pain, nausea, weakness--manifest themselves at high volume.

--afterwards, everyone wants to talk to you, which is nice in its way, but overwhelming.

--especially if they ask a lot of questions.

--you feel like everyone else has a full, exciting life, and all these full, exciting lives are swirling past you, and you've been stuck in a stagnant little eddy for months.

--and when everyone talks about things you haven't been included in, like going out to eat last Friday, and Bible Club the week before, and a softball game, and somebody's wedding, you feel horrible and sad and alone.

--sitting in the park watching trees somehow ministers to your spirit a lot more than a sermon or Sunday school lesson that doesn't touch the profound questions you're wrestling with or the anguish of feeling like God forgot you.

No doubt there are other reasons I haven't thought of.

What can we/I do to make church a healing place for the chronically ill?

Quote of the Day:
"You contributed to the delinquency of adults."
--Konrad, when he and Shannon stayed up late reading blog posts

Friday, June 19, 2009

June Column

June's LFH is sort of about Paul turning 50.

Quote of the Day:
"I forgot about centrifugal force! Sorry! Oh wait! Not centrifugal force! Newton's Law! I forgot about Newton's Law, sorry."
--Ben, after an ice cream scoop went flying across the kitchen

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Raising Boys, Part 2

A while back I clipped a Garfield cartoon and put it in Matt's box of mail on my desk. The dialogue goes like this:

Liz: Jon, when was the last time you cleaned your oven?
Jon: I didn't.
Liz: EVER?!
Jon: The manual said it was self-cleaning.
Garfield [smugly]: We're bachelors, baby.

So last night we had this conversation:
Matt: [picks up cartoon]
Me: Did you see that?
Matt: yeah.
Me: Hahahaha, wasn't it great?
Matt: Uh. . . what exactly does it mean if an oven is self-cleaning?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On Raising Boys

Breathe, Mrs. Smucker.

So I looked out the bedroom window this evening and there was Jenny dancing around the yard talking to herself. Well and good. But then a movement off to the left caught my eye.

There was Steven crawling along a branch of the walnut tree, I'm guessing 15 feet off the ground. He was on the underside of the branch, with his feet and hands over the branch like an orangutan. When he got to the trunk he swung his feet off the branch and over to the trunk where they mercifully latched on and he shimmied up and into the nest of branches right there.

I watched all this happen without trying to make it stop because I knew if I yelled and startled him he was more likely to fall.

I also put together that he had climbed out his bedroom window and onto the carport roof and then monkeyed his way up the branch, and it was not the first time this had happened.

I also knew that if I told him he could no longer do this, he would find something more dangerous to do.

This is what it is like to raise boys.

Quote of the Day:
"'Jordan' wanted to carry something to the van so I gave him a carton of eggs. Then on the way out he wanted to walk along a berm and I was like, ok, that'll be good for his balance, and I didn't think. . . and sure enough he fell, right on top of the eggs. And he was like, 'Mom, this is wet!"
--my brave neighbor lady who took her three young children grocery shopping today and lived to tell and even laugh about it

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Economy and I

For the most part, that vague but enormous entity called The Economy has always passed me by. When I was a child, we were always poor no matter what The Economy was like. When I left home to teach school, I made what seemed like lots of money, but it always kind of disappeared, mostly to my folks, to whom we gave our wages until we were 21 in the Amish tradition, a whole other story.

Now I read that there was a terrible recession on during those first years away from home, but all I know is that I had a full-time job and a place to live and a car to drive, and at 19 I bought my first-ever new coat from a store and felt wealthy, and sometimes I splurged on 2-liter bottles of Diet 7up.

The economic winds have come and gone since then, and most of the time they don't affect me much. I hunt down garage sales in good times and bad. We do without until we can pay cash no matter how many furniture ads scream in our faces that we can buy this now with no payments for six months. We have always had a cushion of family and church in case of disaster.

But there's one way in which we feel the economic winds blowing, and that's with hiring seedsackers. A few years ago, Paul was scratching and scrambling for workers, as green employment pastures were wide open and it didn't take much to persuade a young man not to sack seed. Paul ended up filling one position with a shady character named Jim who was on probation and ended up in jail one weekend when he hung out with a convicted felon. And we think he took Paul's grandpa's old gun with him when he left.

This year was very different. Paul could have filled every position several times over with strong and upstanding young men. We got phone calls asking us to please consider someone; dads and moms asked us if we had work for their sons. We already had our crew: Felipe, who's been with us for over a year; Ben; Steven; my nephew Keith; and Matt driving forklift now and then, but we tried to pass these other names along to other farmers and cleaners who might need to fill one more position.

Then something happened in the last few days that makes me wonder if The Economy pendulum is swinging back: Felipe was offered a better job at Pennington Seed. Fulltime, with much better benefits than we can give him. And he really wanted to switch, immediately.

In a normal year, Paul would panic, as much as Paul would panic of course, at his night guy wanting to leave just a few weeks before harvest. But The Economy still is what it is, and Felipe had a friend waiting in the wings. Humberto showed up early for his interview and was promptly hired and sacked 13 tons of oats in 8 hours, out of sheer gratitude, I am sure, because he is married with a family and has been out of work for several months.

I feel sorry for people who are devastated by The Economy but I'm afraid I can't empathize.

Quote of the Day:
"It looked tired."
Steven, explaining why he brought a bee inside and was gently trying to feed it honey

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Home Via Monarch Pass

Yesterday we left Emily's around noon and stopped at Monarch Pass, the highest pass in the country, or the highest pass with a road, or with a paved road, or something, at 11,215 feet, and there we took a cool ride to the top of the mountain. First Paul and I climbed into an oversized Easter egg and went sweeping up, and then the cable stopped and our children climbed into the next egg, and up we went.

They say you can see 150 miles from the top on a clear day, out to Pikes Peak. It was cloudy, so we probably saw half that far. It was amazing. We were almost 2000 feet higher than the top of Oregon's Mt. Hood.

Here in Oregon, the high peaks are all volcanic and loom up twice as high as the surrounding mountains, which makes them seem very impressive. But the fact is that in that range in Colorado the normal mountains are all really high, and we were surrounded by lots of mountains in the 12-14000 foot range.

Interestingly, Oregon's mountains have a lot more snow, at lower elevations, than these did.

Then we rode the egg back down and the gruff fellow operating the ride said, "So, you're Mennonites? And you're from Organ?"

Yes and yes.

Well, he gets a lot of Amish and Mennonites through there. In fact, his three biggest types of customers* are foreigners, with the strong Euro; motorcyclists; and Amish and Mennonites, from Indiana, a lot of them, and Pennsylvania and Iowa and such.

*I think he meant distinctive types of customers as opposed to normal Americans

Well, I found that interesting, because my mom told me that back in her day, Colorado and especially Colorado Springs, was "the" destination for Amish from Iowa going on vacation, and one time she and Vina took their parents to Colorado Springs on the train, after their brother died, hoping to jolt Grandpa out of his depression, and it worked, kind of, and he was able to function better after that.

"Do you get van and busloads of Amish that stop here?" Paul wondered. And the fellow said,

Quote of the Day:
"Oh yeah. But you know, if they're Amish, they have to get Mennonites or civilians to drive them."

(and then we drove home, straight through, hour after hour, 23 in all I think, through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and then Organ, and came home right before noon today, and it is good to be home. Maybe next time we should get a nice civilian to drive us.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Royal Gorge

Yesterday we were touristy and went to the Royal Gorge which is only a few miles from Emily's. This was one tourist attraction that lived up to the hype. The gorge is a thousand feet deep and the bridge across seems like an impossible feat of engineering. The whole area is full of interesting things to do. You pay a hefty sum to get in and then you can do anything you want. There was a carousel that Jenny rode 16 times; a tram that you could ride across the gorge, suspended on a cable; a ride that went down to the bottom of the gorge at a 45-degree angle; a miniature train that went around a nice safe flat track outside the main gates; a petting zoo and wild-animal enclave; information movies and historical dramas; and then of course the requisite gift and food shops that of course weren't included in the price.

Something that wasn't included in the price was a swing that you get strapped into and then it swoops you way out over the gorge. This fascinated the guys but no one was willing to cough up the money.

Among the fascinating sights were all the Plain people: A large Amish family that included one teenage boy who was obviously theirs but also obviously in his wild years, with a t-shirt and buzz cut; a Holiness family; a BMA-Mennonite family; a Western-fellowship type young couple that Paul was sure were on their honeymoon and it bothered him that they didn't hold hands, which is an unusual thing for Paul to notice; a German Baptist family; a Beachy guy restocking the Choice Books rack; and us.

Quote of the Day:
"Prison ministry is nice as long as they stay in prison."
--a local woman, on the realities of working with people both in and out of prison

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Life Is Just a Jar of Cherries

You might recall me saying how the Register-Guard was doing a story on canning and asked to send a photographer out to "shoot"my jars. Kevin Clark was the guy that showed up, and he took half a dozen jars out on the porch, set them on the rail, and rearranged and shot for an hour. "A couple hundred images," he said. [I noticed he never said "pictures." It was all "photos" and "shots" and "images."] Here's the one that made the paper.

And here's the article it illustrated.

Quote of the Day:
"I could spend a couple of weeks at this."
--Kevin Clark, who found jars of fruit on a porch rail very fascinating

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Colorado Ramblings

As always, our June is full of all the things you can’t do during school and harvest.

Recently we spent two nights at the coast in our pop-up tent trailer. Then two days later, in a 23-hour marathon, the three youngest children and Paul and I drove to Colorado to see Emily.

Some thoughts:

Where but in eastern Oregon would you pass a sign by a farm: “Beetle-Cleaned Skulls"??

Paul once again put a mattress in the back of the van so he and I could take turns sleeping and driving. Smart man. Ben drove for two hours and it was nice for his tally of hours but it wasn’t fun for me, riding shotgun in the dark and the rain. I would rather have been driving myself.

I like Emily’s landlord, he of the seed corn hat and dusty jeans and Oklahoma-country straight shooting. He has made it his project to watch out for Emz and fix stuff that breaks, even if it’s beyond his duties as landlord.

When I came to see Emz in May we made a number of changes in her lifestyle—she moved to a different house and is now practically next door to the Knepps who have made her one of their lovely family, she started a new nutrition-supplement regimen, and she quit working at the thrift store in case all the musty dusty stuff was making her ill.

And she has improved. Don’t ask me which change takes credit for it; I refuse to go there.

I don’t think any of her days have been (my personal ranking here) a 5 (the pink of vibrant health) but some of them have been 4’s (good enough to do schoolwork and housework and maybe go to the post office) and some have been 3’s (headache but “I’d still go to the thrift store if I worked there”) with one or two 2’s (drag around, lie down a lot) but I don’t think she’s had any 1’s (flat-out sick, too weak to get out of bed) which she had for way too much of April and the first weeks of May.

Sometimes I wake up around 3 a.m. and think about how awful it is to have my sick daughter out of my reach. I second-guess every decision we ever made with her illness. I think of everyone who has told me what we should have done with Emily, and I argue with them in my head and try to vindicate myself yet wonder if we should have taken their advice.

Someone told me that the sharpest spiritual battles of this world take place at 3 a.m.

Recently I talked to a woman who has a lot in common with me. We both, in our day, would look at our family around the supper table and have this enormous sense of satisfaction at having them all here, at home, where we could cluck over them and tuck them under our wings. We both have daughters who are out of our reach, and we both cried a bit, discussing this.

However. Her daughter is away for very different reasons than Emily is away, very unfortunate personal/moral choices that break her mother’s heart. I decided, you know, there’s heartache and then there’s heartache, and if it were ours to choose, both of us would a hundred times choose mine over hers.

Emily’s electric-scooter tires both went flat half an hour before we arrived. I thought, ok, what are the chances that they BOTH die at once? Naturally I envisioned what every mom would: an evil young man sneaking in the driveway and stabbing an ice pick in both tires and skulking away with an evil cackling laugh, plotting his next (worse) move.

I went all frantic about locking doors and such. Paul didn’t exactly have an evil cackling laugh about this, but too close to one. Grrr.

How else could two tires go flat at once? Tell me that.

Monday morning I was talking to Amy on the phone. I went wandering around outside, barefooted, looking for better reception while we talked. Down the sidewalk, past the garage, into the vacant area behind. Suddenly it felt like I had stepped on the underside of a bunch of pincushions. Yowch! I cut off the conversation, sat down, and found the bottoms of both feet half covered with odd little vicious thorns, like little cockleburrs with one long shaft.

I pulled the nasty things out, one by one, and tiptoed back to the house.

Some hours later Paul diagnosed the scooter’s problem: a thorn in each tire.

Oh yeah, Emily remembered, last Saturday she got the urge to ride her scooter around in that big open area right behind the garage.

So, praise God, no evil young man with an ice pick, only those nasty hard-to-see thorns.

Emily posted about this too. Here.

Today, on the phone, I told my sister that I have a whole new perspective on all those young people that come to Oregon to work for the summer. Before, I sort of let them go their way and I went mine. Now, I think, I just have to reach out to them, and how many of their mothers are at home praying that somebody, please, please, will at least invite them over for Sunday dinner?

Our experiences in many things in life, as in this case, have been uncannily similar. Rebecca’s son just finished his first year of college, and she said this year she’s had a whole new perspective on the college kids that come to their church. She thinks, how many of them have mothers at home praying that someone, please, someone, will reach out to their child away from home?

Amy flies in today from Indiana where she attended Travis and Alisha Horst's wedding. Yay! Emily and I go to Denver to pick her up, leaving early so we can stop at Denver Fabrics.

Amy reports that her friend DeLora, Alisha's sister, told her that their grandparents drove the car to Indiana that used to belong to her great-grandparents, Loras and Ruth, and now Todd, the girls' dad, is going to drive it around. The girls aren't exactly thrilled about this, since the car is one of those battleships from the early 70's. This coughs up all kinds of sweet memories for me, because back when we lived by the freeway, we would sometimes follow Loras and Ruth home from church, them coming from Fairview and us from Brownsville. Both of them were tiny and old, and Ruth would sit in the middle of the front seat, even though they were old, which was very sweet, and sometimes she would have her head on Loras's shoulder, and there was something about this cavernous car and the two of them snuggled up in about 1/8 of the available space that sticks vividly in my memory. May Todd and Anita enjoy it likewise.

(MennoGame: Todd is Todd Neushwander from Living Water Church. Ruth was a half-sister to Paul's grandpa and a niece to his grandma. This makes Paul and Todd [and Amy and Alisha/DeLora of course] related, but I'll let you figure out how.)

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: You think that I think what you think is not right!
Steven: What makes you think that I think that you think that what I think is not right?
--conversation after about 6 hours of travel

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Summer is Here: My Annual Rant

How to shop for boys:
Go to Sears or Goodwill or wherever you go.
Buy jeans.
Buy button shirts for church.
Buy polos for school.
Buy t-shirts for everything else.
Go home.

How to shop for girls:
Go to Goodwill, Ross, JCPenney, etc. etc.
Hunt through vast dizzying acres of clothing.
Bypass everything that's too flimsy, ugly, skimpy, short, or emblazoned with crazy pictures and logos.
Realize you've just bypassed everything in the store.
Tear out hair.
Go home.

I do this every year. Summer comes and I think, ok, surely surely this time I can just go to a store and buy a few basic t-shirts for Jenny. And maybe even a khaki skirt if the Force is smiling on me.

I realize most of the world doesn't have my requirements regarding skirts, knees covered, etc. But still. I know there are plenty of other conservative dressers out there. Shouldn't it be possible to find ONE plain little solid-color t-shirt with more than itty-bitty cap sleeves and a decent neck besides?? Skinny little 10-year-olds don't need scoop necks that let tall people see clear to their belly buttons. And why does everything have to come with wild billboard-sized pictures front and back?

I just want a proper little pretty modest t-shirt she can wear on slightly dressy occasions with a variety of skirts and maybe a button shirt . Would it be so hard for JCPenney or Ross, with their endless racks of clothes, to have ONE of these?

Apparently so.

I need to make time to sew, soon.

(No doubt many of you can point me to sources online. Wouldn't it be cool though if, since you were in town anyway, there was a place where you could run in, buy, and run out?)

(And we note, again, that boys' clothing tends to be loose and well-sleeved and practical and modest. Yeah, you have to bypass the skulls on t-shirts, but you can still find clothes that are CLOTHES.)

End of rant. Watch for another one next year.

Quote of the Day:
"I'm not short; I'm fun size!"
--a t-shirt Amy likes