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."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Getting to Emily's

So it seemed like a good idea to go visit Emily. And to try going to Colorado Springs so I wouldn’t have that long drive from and back to Denver.

I found a nice cheap ticket. It had a strange route, Portland-Minneapolis-Denver, which is kind of like going to Missouri by way of New York, but oh well.

Paul took me to the airport, a rare treat, because usually I drive myself up and park in the long-term lot.

I flew to Minneapolis, which is only two hours from my parents’ place. I texted my brother Marcus to tell him I was kind of in the area. “So close, yet so far away,” he sent back.

Our flight to Colorado Springs was delayed 45 minutes. Then we got on the plane and were soon told there wasn’t enough visibility in the Springs so our flight was rescheduled for the next morning. But, we were assured, we could breeze through security the next morning with our original boarding passes. No need to go back to the Delta counter.

I caught a shuttle to a hotel. It was very nice but I didn’t get much sleep.

The next morning half a dozen of us, all in the same situation, were together in the security line when the stern security guy said no, we absolutely cannot get through on last night’s boarding passes. We all trooped back to Delta. Some bad words were heard. The new boarding passes were procured.

Through security, down to the gate, and yes! The flight would be on time. We got on and settled in.

Oops. Visibility was down to a quarter mile in Colorado Springs. We all had to get off the plane again.

45 minutes later we got back on, as things were clearing in Colorado Springs.

An announcement--"I wish I were making this up, but our computers indicate mechanical problems. We'll need to wait for a technician."

I slept for an hour.

Finally we took off.

The guy next to me talked the entire flight. I did the nice womanly thing of nodding and smiling. I didn't try to talk because he was hard of hearing and people can never hear me on planes anyway.

I got to Colorado and picked up the car that had been left for me, the one with the big blue ribbon on the antenna.

Finally I got to Canon City. Emily said,

Quote of the Day:
"It would have been quicker to drive."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Whitewashing the Fence

I feel like Tom Sawyer.

Remember the episode of whitewashing the fence? It was a hard, tedious job, but Tom made it look like so much fun that his friends were paying him for the privilege of doing it themselves.

So I had this wallpaper border around the top of the kitchen walls that needed to come down. Lisa the niece worked on it last week. She peeled off the vinyl outer layer all around, they she'd spray with water to soak the rest and then scrape it off with a paint scraper.

I started working on the rest a couple of nights ago. Up the stepladder, spray spray spray, down the ladder, wait wait, up the ladder, scrape scrape scrape. Suddenly Jenny showed up. "Oh Mom, can I try that, pleeease? I'll be really careful, I promise. Pleeeease??"

"Welll...[stifle a chuckle]...if you're really really careful..."

Jenny removed about 5 feet of wallpaper. During this time, Steven was at the kitchen table trying to do homework and fussing at her. "Jenny, you're being noisy." "Jenny, that's really distracting."

Last night after supper and dishes I was off doing something else for a while and when I came back to the kitchen, what should my wondering eyes behold but Steven up on the ladder, happily scraping, with bits of paper falling around him like clumps of snow. He is cheerfully finishing the job today as I sit here in comfort and type.

No wonder Tom Sawyer felt so smug.

Quote of the Day:
Me: What do you want for supper?
Ben: Something good that does not have green beans, mushrooms, or tomatoes in it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Update: The New Kitchen

I wrote some time ago about the marriage-challenging ordeal of going to Jerry's [a huge local home-improvement center] to plan our new kitchen. In a recent comment, someone asked how this project is going.

Answer: moving right along.

We agonized and fiddled and juggled the plans from Jerry's and finally decided they just wouldn't work. If you order cabinets from them, everything comes in standard boxy increments--2-inches this way, 3 inches in height. Or whatever.

Well. We have a kitchen that is almost a hundred years old and pretty small and with no place to expand. And it was, I am convinced, designed by dear great-grandpa Daniel in about 5 minutes' time, without consulting dear Great-grandma Anna. I think Daniel was a practical farmer who wasn't into esthetics or detail. We note the chimney's path from the kitchen on up until it finally emerged from the roof a good number of inches to the south.

Yes, well, the kitchen.

So if you have a kitchen like this it's an exercise in frustration to try to work with standard-size cabinets. Instead, we called on Kevin Baker who is a rising star in the local cabinetry/carpentry field, and he was happy to work with us and all our odd measurements and making sure the one cabinet was deep enough to cover the chimney hole.

Kevin is very detailed and thorough and has come back several times to verify small decisions like the size of the flour/sugar drawers.

I think he's working on building the cabinets as we speak.

Paul and the boys finished tearing out the chimney last Friday, from the attic, down through the boys' room, and down into the kitchen where I suppose the wood cookstove was vented into it for many years.

Taking down an old chimney is an experience all its own. I covered up everything I could with old sheets and closed every door I could, but it was still a big mess of old mortar and fine soot. And worse things like dead birds [which I didn't have to clean up, thankfully] and innumerable mouse and bat droppings that still drop down from the hole like a fine rain when the boys pound around upstairs.

In fact, seeing all these dreadful ancient artifacts made me think that it's no wonder I have asthma and Emily felt so sick in this house. In fact, the wonder is that we aren't all sick.

I suggested we move Emily home, if she can stand the climate again, and have a dawdy haus [Amish grandpa house] out back for her, but Paul said the zoning laws won't let us. Sigh.

So yeah, the kitchen.

The "look" I wanted was like an old but nice farmhouse kitchen, so no stainless steel or granite. We're getting maple cabinets in a simple design, a tiled backsplash, and white appliances. And "pewter" countertops from Lanmark, which is fancier than Formica and half the price of Corian. I had my designing friend Sharon over to help me out, since I knew the "look" and colors I liked but had no idea how to actually implement them. She said the look I want is cottagey-French country---"Provence" to be exact, and she even knows how to pronounce it. A blue/white/yellow look with touches of red. Or, as Sharon says, splashes of red.

We picked out the sink, faucets, fridge, and dishwasher on Monday evening.

Now I need to finish taking the old wallpaper borders down, take the old nails out of the walls, wash the grease off the ceiling, buy the paint, and decide about a regular vs. ceramic-top stove.

Our marriage is surviving. I think I am learning to talk, and Paul is learning to not talk.

Quote of the Day:
Me: (on the phone) I'm in bed with a hideous migraine today.
Emily: I wonder if you have food allergies. Maybe you should get tested too.
Me: Well, it's all hormonal. Twice a month.
Emily: Maybe you should take soy.
Me: My goodness, you're becoming quite the medical expert.
Emily: (chuckle)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bread on the Waters

19 years ago we moved our little family to Weagamow Lake, a reservation out in the bush of Northwestern Ontario. Paul taught at the Christian school and I tried to survive with 3 little children in a 20x24-foot cabin with no running water.

The next year we moved to a house on the other side of the village. This amazing dwelling had two bedrooms, a beautiful sandy beach out the back door, and RUNNING WATER. Luxury.

Something that came with the house was neighbor children. They just showed up, day after day, and played with our children and ate cookies and taught my kids bad words and acted out all the disturbing stuff they witnessed at home and asked questions and taught me Oji-Cree words and listened to Bible story tapes.

One of these was Bambam, about whom I've written before. Bambam had an older brother named James who also came over an awful lot and, despite some unfortunate episodes, was easier to get along with than his little brother.

Our years in Weagamow taught us, among many other things, that it's really about faithfulness rather than results. Paul, especially, poured his heart and soul into his students and when we met a bunch of them four years after we left, going to high school in the city, found them a sullen and cynical group, seemingly bent on wasting their amazing potential.

We never kept in touch with the younger children who would come over to play, but I had no reason to believe their lives turned out any different.

Then, to my complete surprise, a handful of former students "friended" me on Facebook. And how refreshing to find that they have grown up into nice, responsible people.

Most surprising of all was a request from James, who remembered playing with Matt at our house.

Of course I became his friend, and then I discovered that he was an enthusiastic follower of Jesus and involved in some sort of evangelistic ministry. He posts updates like this: The heart of a wise man fears The Lord and keeps His word in his heart. Lord, that is my desire, my will, my passion. Make me for you
Or this:

I am realistic enough to know this has been God's work and not mine. Yet no cup of water--or oatmeal cookie--given in Jesus' name is wasted.

Yesterday James's update made me laugh, and it made me nostalgic for Weagamow:


Quote of the Day:
"We're the Mennonites! You know who the Mennonites are? They're the cooks!"
--James, playing with Matt on the top bunk, back in 1992 or so

Friday, October 02, 2009

Schnupps in World

There's an interesting article on World magazine's website about the candidates for the Hope
Award for Effective Compassion. One of these is Northern Youth Programs and their founders, Clair and Clara Schnupp. We worked with NYP from 1986 to 1994 so this touched close to home.
Here's the link.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Giftings and Church

It is unfortunate but true that there aren't many slots in the church that fit someone with my giftings. So it is very rewarding when I can do something I'm actually good at.

So we have sewing circle once a month. I'm good at sewing, but we don't sew much at sewing circle. We knot comforters, which I don't mind except I'm not very efficient. And we have a meal together and also provide food for the school kids, which involves fixing food and bringing it from home, which always takes me three times as long as I think it should and involves deciding what to make, which gives me gray hairs.

But overall it's a good experience, really.

Today there were several boxes on the table with stacks of random squares of fabric intended for comforter kits to send overseas. Unfortunately no one quite knew how many of each size it would take to make each kit. So Zelma asked me if I could do some figuring. I sat down and crunched numbers for about half an hour, figuring out, for example, how many 4.5-inch squares it would take, across and down, to make a 28x40 toddler bed quilt. I did this for 3 different sizes of blankets using about ten sizes of blocks, and brought the finished chart home to type up properly.

It was very cool to feel like I was actually doing something I was good at, at sewing circle.

Then there's the prayer chain. For years we had a system like the old "telephone" game, where I called Anne and she called Zelma and she called Jean, etc. etc. Then Paul worked up this system where we call one number, record the message, and it gets sent to every number in church.

It's a wonderful system except for the fact that I end up making a lot of the recorded calls and I was feeling like surely everybody else must be getting as tired of the sound of my voice as I was.

Then Anita pulled me aside one evening and said she just wants me to know that she loves the new prayer chain system and wants to compliment me on how I'm doing, that I'm good at taking what people say and putting it in concise form for everyone else. Now that was encouraging and affirming--that my passion for saying things right and in the fewest words possible actually had a practical use in the church.

I think we should all look for ways that others' gifts can be used in the church, and compliment them when they do.

Quote of the Day:
"Am I the only one that does things like this?"
--Emily, when she sneezed and her chin hit her knee and started bleeding again where she gashed it last week when she fell out of the top bunk at a friend's house when the alarm rang and she thought she was in her bed at home. She also broke a tooth in that fall.