Monday, September 28, 2009

The Joke

Recently I was in a group of people--nice, respectable, Mennonite people--having a nice meal together, and the talk turned to politics, since we all know how we non-political Mennonites love to discuss politics.

All this was fine until suddenly an older gentleman started telling a joke, which was ok until he got to the punch line--"And then we put a n****r from Chicago in the White House and now everybody's looking for work."

People laughed, sort of. I did not. This is major for me, since I have deeply ingrained habits of laughing when people tell a joke, respecting my elders, and not being confrontational. But I couldn't laugh at that joke. I didn't say anything to the gentleman because I always freeze in situations like this and don't thaw out until two days later.

Later, several people in the group came back and apologized to me for laughing.

The episode made me realize several things:

1. We have been very very blessed, since we adopted Steven, with kindness and acceptance and careful choices of words. His color has been such a non-issue that I forget that "race" can be a very big deal.

2. In parts of the country the n-word was for many years a generic term for black people, the same as you called white people white and Mexicans Mexicans, and it's only recently that it became something respectable people don't say. So if an older person uses the term in passing, I can give them grace for that. But to use it in a joke about the President--I don't think so.

3. It is very healing when people come back and apologize. The person who told the joke has not apologized. But I wrote him a letter after my brain thawed. Yes I did.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Exciting Life

Someone talked to me recently about longing for excitement and wishing their lives weren’t so humdrum and they could go places and do things.

I can’t remember who this was, because I can’t remember much of anything at my age, but that’s ok, because I have been able to stay home for longer in one stretch than I have for the past year, and this makes me happy.

And even when I stay home, my life is very exciting.

This morning I was yanked from a sound sleep by my cell phone ringing. It was Emily. She was crying. Now when you’re a mom and your daughter calls you, very upset, at 4:30 a.m. you imagine in a split second things not lawful to be uttered.

This is what was actually the matter: most of the Knepps were gone and Emily was spending the night with three of the younger children. She was in Jessica’s bed, the top bunk. At 5:30 this morning Jessica’s alarm clock rang so Emily did what we all do when the alarm goes off—she bailed out of bed to turn it off. Since she wasn’t at home like she thought, she fell to the floor with a great jarring jolt. She woke up then.

Emily figured out she was in pain but still in one piece and was going to go back to bed when she realized her hand was wet. She went to the bathroom and saw that a square of skin was missing from her chin.

That’s when she called me.

I mothered and doctored her over the phone and by mid-morning things were much more cheerful even though her jaw and teeth are so sore she can hardly talk or eat.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t go back to sleep after that phone call so I got up and chopped onions and chicken breasts for today’s hot lunch at school. This is getting to be a major production with the school population growing every year. We now have 42 students, which meant that I was making pizza for 50.

(Another mom was bringing dessert; we were both bringing veggies.)

After I got the children off to school I made 2 ½ batches of pizza dough and put it in a huge bowl. Then I got myself ready and carried the stuff out to the Honda, which is Paul’s little old decrepit but reliable warehouse car that gets unbelievable gas mileage.

Meanwhile the dough was rising. Rapidly.

I set off down the road with the bowl of dough in the passenger seat beside me, and when I wasn’t shifting gears I was stabbing and scooping at this huge white ballooning pile of dough with a big wooden spoon, because it was taking on a mutant life of its own and threatening to engulf everything in the car.

At one of the road construction sites on 99 I sat there stabbing and stirring while I waited for the pilot car. I was afraid the policeman that slowly passed in the opposite lane would make inquiries but he didn’t.

It is very exciting to get emergency calls early in the morning and to drive the Honda to school while trying to keep rising dough contained. Who needs mountain climbing or a trip to Vegas? Not me.

Quote of the Day:
“No more two-story beds for me.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Child Training

This week we have a special speaker at church who is teaching every evening on family life and raising children. In a way it seems pointless to go, with our youngest already 10, but I am drawn back because he is very down to earth and sensible and real and often amusing.

This evening he spoke, among other things, about how it isn't necessary to have huge battles about food. I wished I could have heard that when my older kids were little and for some reason I thought if I didn't win these battles they would end up in Sing Sing.

So yeah, this is the downside of Child Training sermons at this age: regrets.

But, as I was telling Shannon of the four lovely little ones this evening, Paul and I floundered around and never quite knew what we were doing, and our kids have turned out better, so far, knock on wood, than those of some of our peers who knew exactly what they were doing, and why, and made us feel like we ought to get our act together, really now, if we could just figure out how.

Sometimes it seems like there's not much logic to parenting and it's a mix of chance and the grace of God.

We also note that people who raised a few easy children tend to do more parenting seminars than those who raised a lot of difficult ones. Just saying. (The current speaker seems to be an exception, having raised six who weren't angels.)

Families are so different from one another. Like: my friend Jane's parents were visiting over the weekend. Jane has a whole raft of brothers, six or so I think, and I remarked to her that her mom looks awfully calm for having raised all those boys. Jane said, "Well, you know, they were all the type that thought before they acted, and I don't think any of them ever had a broken bone."

I thought that was astonishing.

It reinforced my observation that kids are different, families are different, and ours seems to be very different from most others. Like, for example, in how our children solve problems.

Last Sunday we went up to Sheridan, over an hour away, to hear Dr. Chittick, a professor and Creation expert. Jenny took her embroidery along and worked on it on the way up there.

When we got in the van to come home, Jenny hollered from one of the back seats, "Isn't anyone going to sit in the front seat?" (I was actually in the front seat but she meant the front bench seat.)
No one seemed to want to. We asked her why it mattered. She said,

Quote of the Day:
"Because I lost my needle and I was hoping someone would sit on it so I'd know where it was."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Garden Lessons

You may recall that last April or May I made the big decision not to have a garden this year. "It's ok, your garden needs a sabbatical," someone told me. Sounded good to me.

So I didn't have a garden, and I was very curious how I would feel about this come September.

I planted lettuce in the flower bed as per Merle B's suggestion. That worked out very well.

I missed a few things like fresh carrots.

It has actually worked out quite well.

The main things I have learned are:

1. There's more available locally, for a decent price, than I had realized. Or maybe Horse Creek Farms is offering more than they used to. The fancier produce places along River Road have pretty fancy prices so I never bought much there, but the Horse Creek stand up by Lake Creek Drive and Peoria Road has had a lot of variety for a great price. The other day I bought a big bag of little apples, a little bag of big apples, a sack of corn, some tomatoes, a few plums, a green pepper, and I forget what else, enough to require two trips to the car, for less than $12.

2. At this stage of my life, I have more money than time. Certainly this hasn't always been the case, like all the years when I had neither, but it worked out very well this summer to, for instance, buy our corn for freezing from a local farmer rather than grow it ourselves.

3. The Lord has ways of providing. Aunt Orpha called me the other day and said she has all the green beans she needs, and would I like to pick what's left? Sure, I said, expecting enough for a meal or two. This afternoon I went down there to quickly pick it before it started raining and mei zeit, I soon saw I would be there for hours. So I called home and had the children come join me. I just finished the first cannerful and there's enough for at least two more. And then Lisa the niece was here today and brought me a bucket of plums, and a farmer that brought some seed in this year brought Paul a bag of apples and pears.

4. Oregon has such a plethora of fruit that you can cycle them. In Minnesota, if a fruit existed, you picked every bit of it you could find and canned or froze it and then pulled it out for company dinners. You even imported peaches and such from Michigan. So the first summer after I was married I picked, canned, froze, and stored strawberries, blueberries, pie cherries, black cherries, Royal Anne cherries, raspberries, peaches, pears, applesauce, and probably a few other things. Because they grew here, you know. Since then I've learned to put away what's plentiful that year and let the rest go. One year it might be grape juice and green beans, the next applesauce and cherries. The plentiful years have a way of supplying the lean years, kind of like in Egypt with Joseph in charge.

Will I have a garden next year? I don't know.

Quote of the Day:
(while snapping beans today)
Steven and Jenny:
"I got the last word."
"No I did."
"No, I did."
"No, I did."
"Well I had the last word in the bean patch when we were talking about if mushrooms are amazing or horrible."
"No, I had the last word because then Mom told us to be quiet."
"No I did."
"No I did."
Me: Listen, guys, someday you two will be missionaries thousands of miles apart and you will wish so bad you could be together again, snapping beans, so you could say nice things to each other.
Jenny: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!--Oh, Mom, you dream big!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Teenage Boys

Teenage boys are a species all their own, sort of like those fascinating new animals found in a crater in New Guinea--giant rats, fanged frogs, and the like. This doesn't sound very complimentary to my sons, at first glance, until you understand they would probably be flattered by the comparison, which proves my point.

So a month ago both Ben and Steven were fixing pallets and both boys stepped on nails within half an hour of each other--this takes skill, really it does--and had to be hauled in for tetanus shots. They quickly recovered.

Last night I sent Steven and Jenny out to pick up the pears that have fallen off the tree. Soon Jenny came running in, shrieking about Steven stepping on a nail.

I went out. Apparently a board had come off of the platform of the swing set Paul built a long time ago, and it was down in the sandbox, and Steven managed to step on two nails at once, so thoroughly that the board stuck to his bare foot and stayed there.

Horrified, I went to remove it. Steven had a fit. "Mom!! NO!!! You DO NOT TOUCH!"

Ooooo-kaaay, son, you plan to sit out here in the sandbox all night with a board stuck to your foot?


I went and got Ben. Somehow the foot and board were separated and it was not pretty. I had Steven soak his foot in hot water and peroxide. He is surviving. I am grateful for that tetanus shot last month.

And he discovered the happy fact that if he limps enough, he doesn't have to go feed the chickens plus it's kind of a badge of heroism at school, which makes it almost worthwhile.

Then there's the whole matter of communication with teenage boys, like this evening when I was sitting in the office deleting old emails and Ben burst in:

Quote of the Day:
Ben: [shouting] Shampoo!
Me: Shampoo?
Ben: Yes! You know, shampoo.
Me: Hmmm. You need to shampoo your hair, you just dumped shampoo on the quilt, what??
Ben: [heavy sigh] Mom! Do you, within the bounds of your dresser, have in your possession a small bottle of shampoo that I could take along to youth camp?
Me: Yes, bottom left drawer.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another Shriek

I've been very frustrated in my battle with the mice because I set traps all over and they never snap. I finally figured out that it's because the mice are actually shrews that are too little and light to snap the trap. So I had Amy buy me some sticky traps in town. These are like little black plastic trays with what looks like Karo syrup in them. The mice get stuck and can't get away. So I was told.

Last night Jenny saw a mouse out by the freezers so I had her set a sticky trap there. This morning I went out and there were three shrews and one mouse all stuck there in one tray. I screamed of course and the mouse made a feeble shuddering effort to move. It. was. horrible.

But now they are all dead and another trap is waiting there. No, we didn't try to pull the mice off and reuse the trap.

If you are a horrified PETA person, please don't chew me out until you've lived in this house for ten years.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Cause for a Wild Shriek

You know I have this little dream of seeing someone reading one of my books in an airport? Well, go here and take a look.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Today's Letter from Harrisburg. . .

. . . is about siblings, those who stay and make the airport runs, and those who leave and come flying in for reunions.

You can read it here.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom should make audio books for deaf people!"

Friday, September 04, 2009

Why I haven't updated much

Pierre from France emailed me today and asked if all is well, since I hadn't posted for a while.* Yes, Pierre, thanks for asking, and all is reasonably well. Just a bit insane.

*As Jenny says, "Well, Mom, Emily might be ahead of you on Amazon but she doesn't have a fan from France!"

Insane, as I said, but interesting. Highlights:

Last week 51 Smuckers drove out to the coast and then up to Lincoln City and then inland, along 12 miles of twisty logging roads, to a beautiful retreat deep in the mountains--Drift Creek Camp. It reminded me of our Stirland Lake days, the isolation, the big main building with various smaller cabins, and especially the fact that the power went out at 11pm. [Except they graciously turned it back on for the folks staying up until 2 a.m. discussing the morality of tubal pregnancy surgery and such.]

Everyone in the family was there except Neil's widow and her two little ones. [Starla, if you read this, please know that we thought of you.]

Someone asked me if Paul actually made it for three days without talking on his cell phone. I had to say no--once or twice he drove down the road until he found phone service.

This being a Smucker gathering, competitive sports were important, and well organized. Basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, and horseshoe contests were all played with great spirit and skill and sportsmanship.

Paul's sister Barb organized a kickball game for all the little children (Jenny on down) and "sedentary adults that want to join us." That included Lois, Laura, myself. It was the most fun I've had playing an actual sport in many years, maybe ever. Trevin kept score, but the rest of us just played our hearts out without worrying about who was winning or losing. Best of all, in a complete fluke, I kicked a home run. Yes. For real. I still can't believe it, and neither can Jenny, who kept saying, "Oh Mom, I just can't believe you kicked a home run! That was so good! I don't understand how you could always be picked last in P.E. in high school!"

Oh my, and then a couple hours later to have Paul come up to me with a new appreciation in his eyes and say, "I heard you kicked a home run!" Oh, people, it was so healing.

Yes, well, on to other things. My favorite conversation was when we ladies, all in a cluster in the main room, went around and told our proposal stories. On a sand dune, in a candlelit cabin, on a hike. . . and in a car. Driving along somewhere in Virginia. With a noisy truck going by. So she had to say, "Huh? What did you say?" Laura told this story with such detail and skill that we were laughing until we almost cried, and Emily gave her the ultimate compliment--"Mom, you have to put that into your Mennonite novel!"

Then we came home. The next day I took Emily to the airport and she went back to Colorado. Overall, her month at home went better than we expected. However, she was very busy with lots of projects and activities, and she crashed, health-wise, during her last week. So that took most of the fun out of the reunion. She's feeling better since she's back in Colorado.

The next day Amy had two of her wisdom teeth cut out. I guess I posted about that.

Then I had to get cracking on my column for September, going through the normal contortions of what the kids call Mom-on-day-30 syndrome, and I got that off on Tuesday morning, and then I made tracks to get ready to leave for Bible Memory Camp at 1:00.

This is something the pastors at church do for the kids between 10 and 14--they memorize 50 assigned verses; we take them somewhere for 3 days. This time there were 8 boys and Jenny, who held her own fairly well but missed out on the slumber-party atmosphere at night.

We went to the house on Alsea Bay we've been to twice before. It is a beautiful place where you can basically step off the back deck onto the beach, and since it's by the bay rather than the ocean, it's a lot safer and the kids can go canoeing or kayaking. And we all know the drill of camp by now--morning treasure hunts [in our Bibles], great food sent by the moms, a sand-sculpture contest, fishing, crabbing, late-night fires on the sand, snores and other noises from a roomful of boys at night, cooking up the crabs in a big kettle outside the last night.

There on that balloon of land by Alsea Bay it seemed like every other house was for sale. So we checked out the closest one, a tall peach-colored building overlooking both the bay and ocean, with a separate apartment over the garage, and five bedrooms in all. Perfect for family gatherings and Bible Memory Camp. And it had been worth over $700,000 at the height of the real estate boom but is for sale for "only" $449,000 now. I wondered dreamily if there was any chance my publisher would offer me a half-million-dollar contract for my next book.

Then we met a woman who cleans houses in the area. "You need to come here in the middle of winter before you decide to buy a house here," she said ominously. The sand on the back deck piles up three feet high, she informed us. You have to rent a Bobcat thing and push it off every so often.

Strange, that the real estate lady didn't mention this detail.

We came home from camp yesterday around 4:30 I think. And this morning at 8:30 Paul fetched 9 big sacks of corn from a local farmer, and we all husked and blanched and cooled and cut and bagged corn for hours--77 quarts in all.

Tomorrow I clean; Sunday I'm church hostess and make dinner for any waifs or strays or whoever I decide to invite; Tuesday school starts.

And that, Pierre, is why I haven't had much time to post. Thanks for asking.

Quote of the Day:
Ben: After this one we'll be approximately 77.8 percent done.
Paul: Approximately?
Ben: Well, it's actually 77.7777777777. . . percent.
--while husking corn