Friday, December 25, 2009

Gotcha Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kids at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Foodie Gifts

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cookie Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Principal's Wife

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

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

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

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

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

Next year I'll calculate for 200.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Blessed to Give

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kitchen Kalculations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Em's Online Chat/Interview

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Motherly Wisdom

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

Oooooooh, Kyle and Josh! [Dramatic sigh]

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

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

But of course, none of this helps much.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December column

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

My Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c and c of course)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Life Turns Wild Once Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Onion and I

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

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

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

A few quotes from the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Author and Artist Fair

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

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

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

More Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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