Thursday, December 30, 2010

Travel Plans

A few months ago we decided The Time Has Come to take Steven back to visit his birth country of Kenya, and to take the rest of the family back for a visit.

As you probably know, our family spent 3 1/2 months in Kenya in 2003-04 helping at a home for street kids. Paul helped get the school going, and we all got involved as we were able. Then we all fell in love with the youngest boy, Steven. Well, we fell in love with all of them in their own way, but Steven was special, and when it turned out that he was the only one of the 25 for whom no family could be located, at all, it seemed like a sign.

So we came back to the U.S. and between a social worker and lawyer over there and lots of paperwork here, we did an independent adoption. Paul was ready to go and get him and an hour before he was to leave, his dad died. Two weeks later he left, and jumped through all the hoops in three weeks without bribing anyone, which, we have been told, simply does not happen, [others have spent many months and dollars] and he and Steven came home on Christmas Eve.

Three years ago we were all set to go to Kenya for a visit, our family plus two high school seniors, and an hour before we were to leave, election-related violence broke out in Kisumu and we had to cancel our trip.

So with a track record like that we realize that "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."

But yes, we plan to leave in mid-January--all of us except Matt who is just weeks away from graduating--and spend a week in Kenya and then go to Poland and have a few days with Paul's brother John and his family.

We hope to look up Steven's old friends and teachers, visit the Mennonite missionaries, spend the night in a game reserve with rhinos sniffing around our cabin, and find places from Steven's past, as far back as we can track them.

Your prayers would be appreciated--for safety, and good health, and family unity, and especially for Steven, as he revisits what could be some very painful memories.

I realize it's a bit risky to announce our travel plans to the world, so let me just say that we hope to have someone stay here while we're gone, and if you decide to break in anyway, you won't find much of value, this being a Mennonite house and all, so no jewelry or drugs, maybe a few dimes down the couch cushions, and if you want to steal the computer I should tell you ahead of time that it's old and the sound doesn't work and even with headphones you can't understand anything on YouTube.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coming Home

Amy was at SMBI for twelve weeks, and then she came home, and I feel sorry for her. She hasn't complained a bit, I hasten to say, but I still feel sorry for her.

If you've ever experienced a Mennonite short-term Bible school, you know how it is. Intense, first and foremost, in friendships, classes, crushes, theology, discussions, just the whole spiritual atmosphere. Lots of people around, lots of personal reflection on who you are and who you're going to be, lots of growth.

And there's a consistent routine and cooks who make meals on schedule and deans who keep everything running smoothly and maintenance men who fix things. And people drop everything to pray with you and listen and have intense conversations. And give you backrubs.

And you spend 3/6/12 weeks getting to know a lot of totally new people as well as possible, which always makes you feel like you're on the edge of an amazing discovery. WHAT?? A Lancaster-PA guy who builds gazebos for a living can quote Winnie-the-Pooh as well as I can?? Awesome.

Or that's what it was like when I went to Bible school, and I gather the essentials haven't changed that much.

And then if you're like my gifted daughter, you spend a week on choir tour before you come home, and that ramps up the intensity even more, if that can be imagined.

And then you come home.

Home. Where all the guys are either brothers or dads instead of potential crush material, and they scatter the newspaper all over the living room, and hog the shower, and while your dad might enjoy an intense spiritual discussion if he hadn't been hauling cracked corn all afternoon and didn't have a sermon to study for, your brothers would rather talk about Get Fuzzy comics and the Ducks' spread offense. And your dad still hasn't fixed the porch swing that was broken when you left, and your brothers' bedroom is still just as messy.

Home. Where your mom is all frazzled because she seriously overcommitted herself all through the month of December, and when you get up late the next morning all happy with the rain on the roof and in the mood for a cup of coffee and a long spiritual discussion, your mom has already left for play practice at school and the dishes aren't done, and you know she's hoping you'll do them, and the kitchen is dark and has an odd smell, and you wish you could be in the kitchen at Bible school, where the lights are always on, and the cooks are always cheerful and glad to see you, and the coffee is always hot.

Home. Where sisters are young and annoying, and you have to live with them, like, forever, unlike the (few) people at Bible school who were also annoying. And they talk your ear off in the evenings about things like which insects are harmful and which are not, and about what they dreamed last night, and the night before, and they listen to your Bible school stories to a certain point, but they really don't Get It, because everything you say reminds them of more bugs or dreams or something equally mundane.

And it doesn't occur to anyone to offer you a backrub.

Home. Where both your parents mean well, and it's not that they're not saved or anything like that, but really have they had any spiritual growth in the last year? Have they read anything that stretched their minds? Have they really thought about what they're doing, and why, and about their impact on the world? And you know if you would broach the subject they would sigh and try to come up with answers to humor you, and then in the middle of the conversation your dad's phone would ring again and he would talk in his loud voice about Uncle James's ryegrass purities, and your mom would holler at your brothers to gather the upstairs laundry, and then she would shriek because she forgot to get the chicken out of the freezer for supper, and you would wonder why you even bother.

So that is why I feel sorry for Amy coming home from Bible school. She has been sweetness itself, let me hasten to say, and hasn't complained a bit about the level of chaos and clutter that greeted her, but I listen to her Bible school stories and look at her pictures on Facebook and see her smiling at texts from her friends in the East, and remember what it was like for me many years ago, and so I feel sorry for her and anyone else who has to finish at Bible school and then come home.

Quote of the Day:
"But it's no fun if everybody just agrees!"
--Stephie Smucker, at the Wilton Smucker clan dinner today, when we were talking about how the Smuckers love to argue for the sake of arguing

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Invitation, A Meeting, and A Clever Idea

So I wrote all that stuff about our Christmas play and didn't think to invite you. Yes, you're all welcome to come. Wednesday the 22nd. 7pm. Brownsville Mennonite. Take exit 216 off of I-5 and go east about 3 or 4 miles, and we're on the left right before you get into town.

And you know going into it that this is a kids' production with a frazzled director, so arrive with plenty of grace in your pocket. I should add that Arlen K. is taking care of the singing part for the older kids, and Stephie S. for the younger, and the music will be lovely.

And I should add that yesterday I was home all day except for going to a Christmas pageant in the evening, Fairview Mennonite's famous You Are There, and there is something healing about being home all day and getting the bed made and the laundry caught up and the vacuuming done and then going away with your husband in the evening.

Something cool happened at the pageant. I saw a young man walk in and something about the way he walked looked terribly familiar. He looked just like...yes! Marty from our wild Greyhound trip last summer!

If you've traveled much you know how it is when you're stranded overnight in Minneapolis or Spokane or wherever--you form these instant friendships with fellow travelers and talk for hours on end and feel like you've survived something together. And then you exchange email addresses when you finally go your separate ways, but you never see them or hear from them again.

That's how it was with the infamous "Carol" and a couple of older women we met, and with Marty. He was a clean and Christ-like young man about Matt's age who was a rock of safety and sanity to Jenny and me in some very unnerving circumstances. I hadn't expected to ever see him again, but there he was at the Fairview Christmas pageant, of all places. So that was a very unexpected blessing, and it turns out he knows my young friend Heidi Miller and her family, I'm guessing through cattle-dealing connections.

You'd think the Smuckers are competing to be the most clever, and I'll let you decide who won. I have this bad habit of buying and wrapping Christmas presents early and then forgetting what's inside. So this year I wrapped some and wrote the receiver and the contents on a sticky note in German or Pa. Dutch in the most obscure way possible. For example, something I got for Paul says, "Ebbis fa da Mann sei Schrift" and if you don't know Dutch, sorry, I'm not going to translate because he reads this.

I also have gifts for the youngest three that all say, "Schneider." There's a more common word I could have used but they're too familiar with it.

Well, they got their heads together and came up with what they thought was a very clever idea, and secretly got on Google Translator. But their big plans came to naught because apparently Google Translator doesn't work with Pennsylvania Dutch.

We will all just keep quiet about the fact that "Schneider" is way more High German than Pa. Dutch.

Quote of the Day:

"Amish nonfiction novels."
--a Google search that brought someone to my blog

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Edited Blog Post

A few days ago I sat down and wrote a blog post (finally!) that started like this:

I feel like I should write a nice cheerful blog post but I am not very
cheerful. Sorry. Lots of things are wrong in my life and somehow they
all coalesce in my mind into One Huge Major Thing and that is The
Christmas Play at school. I signed up for this at my husband's request
and he was so smooth and convincing and made it sound so eminently
workable but right afterwards everything else started disintegrating,
like the tree, and the dog, and then Emily who was in Virginia going to
college and struggling with depression had a scary breakdown and limped
through finals and flew home, and some other stuff as well like the ants
being so bad in our kitchen you'd think we lived in Kenya again and they
can survive 45 seconds in the microwave, I am serious, and I assure you
it was an accident but the timer dinged and I opened the door and there
they were, scampering around, and there is something about that that
makes you feel powerless.

So as you can see it started out on a pathetic note and went downhill from there, and Paul thought it was a blatant beg for sympathy, but still it maybe helps to explain why I've been a bit absent lately in all areas of life, and I'm not as averse to begging for sympathy as Paul is. I'll paste in a few more explanatory paragraphs that of course were exaggerated in the heat of the moment:

So I had to do stuff like drive the dying dog to the vet and hold him
while he was put down and an hour later show up at school with a smile
on my face and direct a bunch of boys who were never
intended by God to be in a drama of any sort, ever, world without end,
amen, and I went completely against God's will for their lives and stuck
them in difficult dramatic roles involving walking out of that door and
into this one without talking, stuff like that, and have been paying
dearly for my audacity ever since.

And I had to, a few times, sit in the car talking to Emily in Virginia,
my stomach an icy acidic pit, and try to convince both of us that she
was going to be ok, while calculating in my head how soon and quickly I
could fly to Virginia to be with her, and then collect my wits and go
inside with a smile and direct boys again, and help a bunch of
chattering girls figure out who should wear which shawl and carry which
basket, and act like it all mattered, and this wasn't so easy either.

Then there was the paragraph about trying to make my husband feel guilty for talking me into it, but we'll skip that.

And then the overly dramatic paragraph about the program next year:

But I am thinking desperate things like, If I even mention directing the
play next year, take me out and shoot me, but that is too violent, after
all, so you have my permission to dump ice water over my head instead,
or better yet take me out for coffee and plead earnestly with me while
the white-coated men slip in from behind and take me off to someplace quiet.

And some more depressing details:

The play, by the way, is Why the Chimes Rang, which I used to think was
a charming story but now I think it has too much dialogue
and everyone will wonder what the point is, plus the grandmas won't be
able to hear, and I am going to have to prompt TR the night of, I just
know it, and the choir mikes won't help with the sound, I just know that

And more pathetic stuff about how this affects my life. I was really on a roll:

Meanwhile I have been leaving the bed unmade and the basket of laundry
sitting there for four days because I have been sewing a red cape for
the king and a hat for the baker. And making phone calls to track down
a crown, and hauling furniture to church for props. And working way too
hard to find benches for the church scene and finally settling on, for
one, the old coffee table that was stored in the shed and that dropped a
chicken feather on the new church-platform carpet.

And I will skip the paragraph about parents who had [justifiable] opinions about the play except to say:

I am thinking they should all
sign up to direct the play next year, that is surely God's will for
them, and His will for me is to stay home and wear a big apron and bake
Christmas cookies.

And things concluded on a higher note, including the QOTD:

So that is why I'm not very cheerful but the play is a week from tonight
and after that I will be in a much more cheerful frame of mind, I
promise, because no matter how badly it goes, it will be over.

Quote of the Day:
Me: How shall I celebrate when this (adjective) play is over? Maybe
I'll sit down and watch a movie. The whole way through. I haven't done
that in ages.
Emily: I know a good movie you could watch. It's a Christmas movie.
Me: Not The Christmas Shoes I hope. I don't need to be bawling my eyes
out again.
Emily: [wicked grin] No, it's called Why the Chimes Rang.

Dear me. See what I mean. You don't need to feel obligated to feel sorry for me, really. I signed up for this job, after all, and for this life, but I admit I didn't read the manual too thoroughly beforehand, especially that part about all the unexpected things that would slam me in the face. Ya, vell. Yesterday I called one of the moms involved to clear up a misunderstanding about the play and ended up talking for an hour about other things, such as her life, which is even more complicated than mine at the moment, and I found that extending sympathy did wonders for my own frame of mind. Plus some fine church people gave us some cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, and two jars of granola. That helped a lot too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Come to the Concerts!

Jenny and Ben are singing with the Joyful Noise choir this fall and will be giving a Christmas concert on Friday, December 10th. If you're in the area, feel free to come. No charge.
Calvin Presbyterian Church
1736 NW Dixon
Corvallis, Oregon
7:30 pm. Prelude music at 7:15.

Directions: Take Hwy 34 over the bridge into Corvallis. Turn right on 9th St. Turn left on Garfield. Turn right on NW Dixon. The church is on the left just past the elementary school.

Then, far far away, Amy will be on a concert tour with the SMBI choir and visiting all kinds of places in the Midwest teeming with my relatives and friends and acquaintances. Here's her schedule:

Riverview Mennonite Church, White Pigeon, Michigan
Friday, Dec. 10, 7:00 pm

Sunnyside Conservative Mennonite Church, Kalona Iowa
Sunday, Dec. 12, 9:30 a.m.

Salem Mennonite Church, Leon, Iowa
Dec. 12, 7:00 pm

Cedar Crest Amish Mennonite Church, Hutchinson, Kansas
Monday, Dec. 13, 7:30 pm

Spring Hill Mennonite Church, Latham, Missouri
Tuesday, Dec. 14, 7:30 pm

Hillside Mennonite Church, Shoals, Indiana
Weds. Dec. 15, 7:00 pm

United Bethel Mennonite Church, Plain City, Ohio
Thursday, Dec. 16, 7:30 pm

Everyone is welcome at any of these. Make sure you introduce yourself to that short alto with freckles and tell her how you're related to me.

Monday, November 29, 2010


We had to put Hansie to sleep today. He'll be buried tonight in the corner of the field behind the house. A sad day for all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Thanksgiving Day

Today was a good Thanksgiving.

Since my daughters weren't home, I decided to invite a bunch of people who don't have family in the area or any place to go. Well. This is a Mennonite pocket in the Willamette Valley and everyone has more connections than they know what to do with.

Meanwhile my sis in Yemen had so many unconnected expatriate waifs and strays in her life that she finally had to stop inviting and hope some other kind soul invited the others.

One family I invited had outdoor projects to work on, one family simply declined, one girl ended up at OHSU with a horrible bone infection after surgery.

But, happily, a few people could come--James whose wife is in the Mennonite home, Paul's mom, the Alexander family whose girls are friends with Jenny and gave her the cat, and Wesley who lives by himself.

And then yesterday Paul's mom hinted that Uncle James and Aunt Orpha wanted a houseful as well but came up with only one person. So I invited them to all come over here, and they did, and Orpha brought her wonderful spicy Puerto Rican turkey. Their guest was Stanley, who also lives alone, and who eats turkey and mashed potatoes in a manner that makes a cook happy.

Thanks to the children's help and lots of organizing and about 8 leaves in the table, we ended up with a Norman Rockwellish scene of lots of people around a long table with heaping bowls of traditional food.

The new cranberry salad recipe was delicious, and no one seemed to notice that I had, in a senior moment last evening, doubled the sugar in the crescent roll dough.

Then we cleaned up and sat around and talked and played games. Wesley told about the big snow of '69, Bob and Fifi talked about the cruise his dad treated them to last week, Enoch and Ben and Steven played Jenga and tried to keep the tower of blocks from falling, the girls played with the cat and dressed up in capes and carried swords and walked down to the warehouse, Stanley shared his extensive knowledge of Virginia geography, Uncle James and Paul talked about selling fescue a few days before the price went up, Matt talked about his senior project, Orpha and I discovered we had been at Calvary Bible School the same year but six weeks apart, and James H. talked about his wife's medical issues.

Then we nibbled on party mix and gradually people went home. I filled plates of leftovers for the single men who acted gratifyingly grateful.

The best Thanksgivings are when all my chicks are home in the nest, but maybe I need them to leave now and then so I fill my nest with other birds who need a place to go.
After: Steven relaxes with the cat.

Quote of the Day:
Ben: If I got a ten I would start gleefully jumping up and down like a little kid.
Steven: You wouldn't.
Ben: Actually I wouldn't. But I would consider it.
--during Settlers of Catan

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Freeing the Van

Here's a video of Paul and Duane Kropf taking the biggest limb off the van.
Please ignore the triple "Are you ok?"

Monday, November 22, 2010

More Oak Notes

So why did it fall?

Good question.

It wasn't hit by a truck--I looked for tracks. It wasn't cut with a chain saw. It wasn't due to being hollow--we had someone check it out about a year ago and he thought it was still quite healthy. It wasn't blown down in a storm; it was kind of breezy that day but not really windy.

If you look at the shot of the comparatively-small root ball, you can see that not many roots were pulled up, and there aren't that many white areas where the roots were torn away. So we concluded that the roots had been gradually rotting away.

The tree was heavily weighted toward the south, and most of the wind we have here (not that much) is from the south. We're wondering if the mild north wind that day, plus a rotting root system, finally toppled it.

I'm getting anxious to get it cut up and moved out, but Paul knows it won't go anywhere anytime soon, and it can wait until his Thanksgiving break.

Quote of the Day:
"How are the mighty fallen."
--JK, who stopped in while I was out taking pictures.
"Where the tree falleth, there shall it lie."
--me, to JK

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ode to an Oak

The oak tree had been there as long as anyone could remember, standing out in the front yard at the corner of Substation and Powerline Roads. Coming south on Powerline around the S-curves you first saw the gnarly branches of the oak reaching every which way, then the lights of the house filtered through the branches, and then you parked the van underneath, and then you were home.

The tree was my favorite because it had character born of old age and long faithfulness and no longer caring if anyone thought it was pretty. The branches were unbalanced heavily toward the south, and an occasional limb crashed in a storm. But even through the wild storm of 2002, when the power was out and I watched, certain that its end was near, the tree stayed strong and solid.

In summer, the oak tree was full and green, and every year the first signal that fall was near was when we backed the van out and suddenly heard the rattle of acorns rolling along the roof of the van.This weekend we're having our annual "special meetings" at church. I stayed home last night while the others went to the dinner at church, then I finished some work here in preparation for overnight guests, dashed out the back door, and zipped off to church thinking everything was as it ought to be.
Jenny and I headed home right after the service, around 8:00. Coming south on Powerline, I rounded the curves and, as always, unconsciously looked for the lights of home scattered through the crooked branches of the oak tree. And suddenly I sensed that something was very wrong.

I turned in the driveway and gasped. The tree was down, lying there like someone had come along and given it a gentle shove and laid it over.

The top branches reached halfway up the sidewalk, and huge limbs surrounded the van, which looked surprisingly undamaged.

It all had that awful, disorienting look of big strong things lying helpless and broken, and of an empty space in the air that should have been filled with tree, and of branches sticking where no branches belonged.
And it is all very sad. I heard someone in the house [a teenage male] fussing today that Some People are just so Sad about that tree and we'll have to have a ceremony and bury it or something.

Well. I'm going to be as sad as I want. It meant a lot to me, and it's gone, and there's a big empty space where it ought to be.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My New Annual Tradition

Last Christmas I had so much fun with this, I'm going to do it again. But early, so I can use Media Mail rates, which are cheaper but take up to two weeks to get there.

I'd like to give away some of my books to deserving souls and I need your help. You send me an email or Facebook message and tell me who should get a book, why they deserve one, and, if you like, which book they should get. And give me their mailing address.

If I agree, I send them a book.

Special consideration goes to anyone facing the holidays with extra heavy burdens--job loss, grief, illness, any struggles that make you pray, "Ok, God, really, hasn't she gone through enough now?"

And of course I have a special mushy spot in my heart for young moms in these situations.

You will all have the sense not to nominate yourself I'm sure.

You can send me an email at or send a message if you're my Facebook friend.

Thanks in advance for helping with this. It'll be fun, I know it already.

Quote of the Day:
"If you still have books you would like to give away, I know that my mom would enjoy one. She. . . has multiple sclerosis. It’s been close to a year now that she can no longer walk. She rests around the house most of the time and I think your stories would definitely add some enjoyment to her day."
--one of last year's nominations

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Glimpse of My Future

Today I got a glimpse of my future unless, like Scrooge, I say, "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me."

Aunt Susie and I are in charge of the church sewing circle this year, definitely a first for me but I'm discovering that the job uses a number of skills I'm actually good at, such as figuring out how many quilt blocks we need for a comforter or examining a tote bag and figuring out how to make 8 more just like it.

We are trying to finish up a bunch of "comforter kits." These consist of enough squares to make a full size patchwork comforter, thread to sew it, a big piece of fabric to put on the back, and yarn and needles to tie it.

These get sent to sewing centers in eastern Europe, where local poor women can learn to sew and make warm blankets for their families.

We were scraping the barrel for backing fabric, so when Carrie G. said she knows someone who's taking care of her mother's estate, including lots of fabric, and lets people come see it by appointment, we jumped at the opportunity, and today Carrie, Susie, and I sallied forth to shop.

But first we note that when my children heard about this they said, "Mom, you canNOT buy any fabric for yourself! Only for sewing circle!" Because they know what my sewing room is like. And the attic.

Because, see, I have a lot of fabric. More in the direction of my mom, who has a good roomful or two, than my Aunt Bertha, who once told Mom, "I have a lot of fabric collected too. Just look here, I have this whole drawer full!"

So we went to Springfield and into this normal ranch-style house. And stood there and gaped. Tables of fabric, boxes of it, shelves of it, piles of it, rooms of it. Big pieces, little pieces, hundreds of fat quarters. Flannel, denim, quilt fabrics, dress fabrics, Christmas fabrics, fleece, t-shirt knits, and more, all neatly folded and tucked in rows. $2 a yard for the big pieces, $1 for the small.

It was overwhelming. How could we ever make decisions with so many choices?

"My mom bought fabric everywhere she went," said the daughter. "I have a brother in Alaska. She'd go visit him and buy fabric. Idaho, Washington, California. Portland, everywhere she went she was always buying fabric. And she sewed a lot too, but she just never got it all used up."

I noticed a plastic organizer with a rainbow of lovely Gutermann thread. "Before anyone came I counted, and Mom had 750 spools of thread," the daughter told me.

And this was the thing--in a fabric store, I actually like maybe 25% of the fabrics, the rest aren't my taste at all. This lady must have had my exact tastes, because I thought at least 75% of the fabric was gorgeous.

As I said, overwhelming. But heavenly. Hundreds of smooth cottons and warm flannels under my fingers, colors to take your breath away, innumerable yards of rich, beckoning FABRIC.

We finally decided to get a lot and share the bounty with the young moms in church who want to sew but don't have time to go shopping. Or can't afford fabric. So we picked out two bags and two boxes full. We'll let the ladies at sewing go shopping and use the rest for comforters.

"I've probably sold 500 yards already, before you came," said the woman in charge.

And then, yes, I just had to pick out a few pieces for myself, like a few cute fabrics with bugs for Jenny who loves bugs.

And then we filled Carrie's trunk with our loot and left, and I thought about my daughters going through my stash some future fall and putting it out for sale.

Horrifying. But on the other hand, just think, some future sewing circle ladies could come dig through it and have as much fun as we did today. Really, would that be so bad?

Quote of the Day:
"I think me and Cleo's attitudes match. We both want to be the center of attention."
--Jenny. Cleo is her cat.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bits of Life

Last night was the first rehearsal for the church Christmas chorus. Paul and I strong-armed Steven, he of the amazing talent, near-perfect pitch, and zero interest, into joining. Along with Ben, who just does these things without creating ripples.

They came home. Yeah, it went fine, said Steven, but why don't Paul and I sing too? Huh?

Well, because we can't sing.

Oh come on. You could if you tried.

I thought, how do you explain to somebody who can sing what this is like? I said, "It's like this. I can hear the music, and I can know in my head how something ought to sound, but then I open my mouth and the sound that comes out is waaaaaay different from what I was hearing in my head."

Paul thought that said it pretty well.

Steven couldn't comprehend this. He still thought we were just being cowardly.

"I'll make a deal," I said. "I'll sing in the chorus if you write my next column for me."

Paul jumped on the wagon too. "And I'll join if you preach my next sermon."

Steven let it go at that.

* * * *

Emily called me Saturday and said she had received an email from The Writer magazine saying they mentioned her in an article in the December issue and were sending her a copy. My daughter! quoted in a writing magazine?! Like a cartoon character I levitated, whirled my legs in the air, and was off to the computer with puffs of smoke behind me. I soon found the website but sadly the articles aren't online. So today I stopped at the Albany Library, found the magazine, found the article, copied it, and came very close to grabbing perfect strangers to tell them about it.

It was an article about writers who are either older or younger than the average, such as one woman who wrote a book after she was over 100. And like Emily Smucker, who wrote for the Louder Than Words series at age 18. And later it quoted Emily's advice to aspiring authors.

* * *

I haven't traveled for two months, and half of my children are out of the house. Funny how other responsibilities rush in to fill any gaps in my time. I'm teaching Sunday school, VP of sewing circle, and directing the school Christmas play.

Someone should write a play for school kids sometime with about 25 equal speaking/acting parts. Sigh. I guess I really should be glad they're all eager to be involved. And we all know how effective those cheerful Oh-but-even-the-guy-who-wanders-in-and-back-out-without-saying-anything-is-just-as-important-as-the-main-character speeches are. Blessings on the two kids today who said, "It's ok if I get the part and really it's ok if I don't."

The play we're doing is Why The Chimes Rang. Paul's sister Rosie got copies of it back when she was teaching music and we decided it's been long enough that we can recycle it. But I felt like it was mostly narration and very little acting. So I went online and after too much digging found an old play from 1915 based on the Chimes story. So I revised it and we hope this all works.

* * *
Speaking of digging too much online: for some reason I recently recalled an old song Mom used to sing. As I recalled, it went like this: In Ladabach hav' ich mein strump fuhloahda, un ohny strump gehn ich nicht heim, so gehn ich viddah tsdik, nach Ladabach zu, un koff mich un strump fah das bein"

Translation: In Ladabach I lost my sock, and without my sock I can't go home. So I'm going back to Ladabach to buy a sock for my leg.

Was this an actual German folk song, or just something her family knew? Did she learn it in school, or what?

I went online. And eventually, there it was, only Ladabach was Lauterbach. And on YouTube there was an old recording of Vicky the Viennese yodeler, with her rough country voice, warbling "In LaaauuuuterbaCCHHH hab' ich mein Struuumpf verloren!"

Now I need to ask Mom where the song came from in her life.

Quote of the Day:
"You know, young man, every day you wake up with a pulse is a good day!"
--a white-haired woman at Kmart, completely out of the blue, to a young man stocking the shelves. Bless his heart, he said, "Yes, you are absolutely right. Thank you for pointing that out to me."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A New Thought

For some reason I am always surprised when one person I know knows another person or place I know.

Thanks to my sister and daughter I have been in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a few times, which is a well-known Mennonite community but seems like it's on the other side of the world from Oregon and who from here ever goes there? While in Virginia I have shopped at Patchwork Plus, in the little town of Dayton, where they ought to have a stack of soup bowls by the front door so you can take one and drool into it while you shop. One time I was there and got to know Barbara Cline who runs the place, and she told me about her new book, and gave me a business card. And then some time later I hosted one stop on her blog tour.

Aunt Susie and I are in charge of sewing circle this year, and last week we were working on getting comforter kits ready to send overseas with Christian Aid Ministries. Part of the kit is these square blocks that the ladies in Romania or Ukraine will sew together, and another element is a big piece of fabric for the backing.

To facilitate this I had brought along the business card from Patchwork Plus because on the back it had this nifty little diagram for figuring yardage for quilt backings.

So Susie and I were consulting this little card and also asking Pauline for advice. Pauline is a short, chirpy, expert quilter who loves to work hard and shows up first and leaves last.

I had a thought. Pauline has a daughter in Virginia and isn't she close to Harrisonburg? And Pauline was just there for a visit not long ago. I showed her the front of the card. "Are you familiar with this place?" I asked her.

She squinted. "Patchwork Plus? Where Barbara Cline is? Oh, I go there all the time when I'm in Virginia. I was just there the other week. That's where I get my quilting needles--they have extra big eyes."


It's an odd feeling when something you thought was all yours, so to speak, is someone else's too.

Quote of the Day:
"I meet people and they're like, 'I read your mom's blog!' and I'm like 'uh, [whisper] I don't!"

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Letter from Harrisburg

Today's column is about the day Paul and I went to a Beavers football game. Who knew a Beaver game and an Amish church service had anything in common?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Happy Birthday, Steven!

Steven is 16 today.

While cooking his birthday supper (his choice of menu: ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, baked beans, crescent rolls, fudgy ice cream dessert) I suddenly remembered. "Oh! I forgot to post about you today!"
Steven: Post about me?
Me: Yes. I always post about my kids on their birthdays.
Steven: You mean, write about them??
Me: Yes.
Steven: Why?
Me: Because my kids are wonderful and I love them.
Steven: But why post on their birthdays?
Me: To show I love them, I guess. I just like to.
Steven: So all the moms out there that don't post about their kids on their birthdays, they don't love them?
Me: ERGH. Steven, I plan to post about you whether you like it or not, because I love you and it's your birthday and that's that.

Last week we went shopping for jeans for Steven and afterwards I wrote up the whole ordeal to post here, but then realized that would be unwise, so I'm saving it so I can read it at his graduation or wedding or something ten years from now. But I'll share this much:

Setting: fitting room at the back of Sears.
Me: Ok, try these on one by one and show them to me.
Steven: Oh great.
Me: Go on.
Alarm: DWEE dee.
Steven: GAAAAAH! What did I do??
Me:Don't worry about it.
Door closes.
Alarm: DWEE dee.
Door opens.
Steven: Are you sure this is ok?
Me: Yes.
Door closes.
Alarm: DWEE dee.
Door opens.
Steven: Am I gonna get in trouble?
Me: No! If anyone comes, I'll explain.
Door closes. One minute passes.
Alarm: DWEE dee.
Door opens.
Steven [panicked]: IS THERE A CAMERA IN HERE??!!

He and I went grocery shopping this morning. He went along for three reasons--a) to get in some driving time, b) to heft the 50-pound sacks at Cash-n-Carry for me and c) because he had some work time to get in today since he didn't do his morning chores a few times this week, and I thought helping me in town would be much more efficient than sacking seed at the warehouse.

Steven's blessing to our family is that he keeps things interesting. We backed out the driveway slowly, and suddenly the car revved up and flew backwards in a quarter-circle, onto the road, and thankfully no one was coming and we didn't go in the ditch. I yelped, and Steven looked at me with big eyes. "I hit the accelerator instead of the brake."

"Breathe, Mrs. Smucker, in, out."

Then at Grocery Outlet I sent him out to the car with the first load of groceries while I finished paying and entered the drawing, and when I came outside there was Steven talking with a woman who turned out to also be a Luo from Kenya. We had a fun conversation and I told her we would love to come to the barbecue they host every year for the Kenyan students at the U of O.

Our friend Vincent told us once that Kenyans can take one look at each other and know which tribe they're from. They must also evidently have the skill to recognize a fellow Kenyan across a parking lot in Oregon, which is rather amazing. For all that lady knew, Steven could have been from Ghana or South Africa or some other place a few thousand miles from Luo land.

This sort of thing doesn't happen when I shop with the other kids, so like I said, Steven keeps life interesting.

And he is tall and handsome and funny and kind, and we love him and are proud of him. And he came in from the car carrying a 50-lb. sack of sugar on his shoulder and a 50-lb. sack of potatoes
in his hand without puffing or straining at all.

Here's Steven on his 12th birthday.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Looking Stuff Up

Ben told me the other day that he could survive without the internet but what he would find really hard to give up would be just instantly looking up information.

I agree.

Recipes, for instance. So I'm hungry for the bread pudding they used to serve at the restaurant I waitressed at. I know they used old cinnamon rolls and doctored it up. So I can wade through all my cookbooks and call a friend or two who might know. Or I can Google "recipe bread pudding cinnamon roll" and find something similar in seconds.

Last night I was going to make my old standby--tuna cheeseball and crackers--for a social event but discovered I was almost out of crackers. But I had tortilla chips. Off to Google I went and in 3 minutes had jotted down a recipe for that layered beany sour creamy dip that you put in a glass pie pan. It all got eaten up so I felt successful.

Today I was finishing an article and since I have a horror of using the same words too often on one page I clicked over to at least three times and there were lists of equivalents for "contented," "knowledgeable," and "orange*," all of which, believe it or not had to do with watching a Beaver football game.

*"apricot, bittersweet, cantaloupe, carrot, coral, peach, red-yellow, salmon, tangerine, titian"

Jenny loves to hear stories from my childhood and a while back I was telling her how we would play with handkerchiefs in church, turning them into twin babies in a cradle, mice, and other amazing things.

I still remembered how to do the babies, but for the life of me I couldn't remember how to do a mouse. First you fold it into a triangle, then....roll in the two ends? No, that was the babies. I knew you had to somehow roll it onto itself, but how? and then gently pull out the tail, but where?

Yesterday Jenny's friend Kaelin was over and happened to have a handkerchief in her purse. It turned out to be an heirloom from her grandma, possibly one that her mom and aunt played with in church. So I learned two things--some modern little girls actually carry handkerchiefs, and Amish girls weren't the only ones who played with them in church.

Kaelin knew how to do the twin babies, but she had no idea about the mouse. And I had a sudden inspiration--I could Google it! So today I did, not expecting much, and there it was, step by step, just exactly like we used to do it on our aproned laps in the Amish "gma," sitting beside Mom, and on the other side, if we were really lucky, our friend Priscilla.

So I'm with Ben on this--I really like to be able to instantly look stuff up.

Quote of the Day:
Kids, fighting loudly over Cleo: Hey, she's my kitty! No, she's mine! No, mine! Let me have her! Ooooh kitty kitty come to me!
Me, muttering in background: Did I sign up for this? I don't think so. This is not what I ordered at all.
Ben: What? I was a mail-order baby?
Jenny: And I was a female-order baby?!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Life Connections

Some time ago I had a guest here, and to my regret I can't remember who it was, [tell me if it was you] and she was intrigued with all the small decisions behind the scenes that bring people to where they are today. "How did you and Paul meet?" she asked me, so I explained how I lived in Minnesota and decided to go to Calvary Bible School in Arkansas where I met two guys from Oregon who weren't Beachy Amish but for some reason went to CBS that year, and one of them recommended me to teach at the Mennonite school in Oregon, and so I did, and I taught little Rosie Smucker, who had this cool older brother teaching down at Winston, and I got to know the family and then I got to know Paul.

"So," said my guest, "you have this life today, with Paul and your family and this house and your ministry at Brownsville and everything, because for some reason those two Mennonite guys decided to try out a Beachy Bible school that year."

Intriguing thought, I must say.

I got an email from a woman in the East the other day. She wrote, "I picked up your first book about two months ago in a quilt shop in upstate New York. I loved it so much I ordered the next two. . . I am so nourished by your writings. I . . .felt right at home with your stories."

A day or two later I was "friended" on Facebook by a guy named Grant Podelco. I was happy to hear from him, as he had been the features editor at the Register-Guard who first hired me on to write a column, but then before long he went to Czechoslovakia to work with Radio Free Europe, and I hadn't heard from him for probably eight years.

I clicked on the link for his blog and then to a New York Times article about his wedding, where I read this: ". . .they met in Prague in the summer of 2001, when Mr. Podelco, who had left Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in 1999 to work at a newspaper in Oregon, returned to his old newsroom."

So, Mr. Podelco had been in Prague, of all places, and came to Oregon, of all places, and worked at the RG for only two years, if that, and then returned to Prague. And during that little window of time I wrote an impulsive piece for the anybody-can-try Write On feature, and it was printed, and I sent a copy to my friend Ilva, and she wrote to the paper and said they should feature this author more often, and Mr. P., who was looking for some new material, was intrigued with the idea and called me up and asked if I'd write a "Letter from Harrisburg" column once a month.

And in ten years that has led to three books and various speaking opportunities and a woman in upstate New York finding my book at a quilt shop.

It's no wonder my young guest was fascinated with the small decisions of random people that lead us to where we are today.

Quote of the Day:
"It's hard to talk Dutch with a British accent."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday School

I teach the junior Sunday school class at church, and I don't know what was in the drinking water 9 to 11 years ago, but it is a huge class, with 17 kids enrolled, and an unusual number of them are very talkative and bouncy.

(Yes, Mennonite kids can be rambunctious.)

So, some Sundays it's like keeping a bunch of ping-pong balls underwater at once, but I'm slowly learning what it takes to keep their attention.

Last Sunday the lesson was about Isaac and his mean neighbors, the Philistines, who kept taking over his wells and using them for themselves or filling them with dirt. One boy said he would have pitched a grenade at them, but someone else made the insightful comment that it would have been less work for Isaac to fight off the Philistines than to keep moving off and digging another well.

But of course, that's what Isaac kept doing, and eventually the Philistine leader came to him with his hat in his hand to make peace, and don't we all wish our enemies would do this.

I sensed that this bunch needed more instruction on not being Philistines to each other than on being peacemakers like Isaac, so we talked about both, and also about that when you're a kid and someone is being mean to you, you can and should ask an adult for help.

I was confident they had all learned the basics of the lesson.

Just before the final bell rang I asked if any of them had stories to tell of when they were mean to someone and they made peace, or vice versa.

"Sam" raised his hand. "I can tell you about a time I got revenge," he said with a delighted grin. "My brother shot me right here with a bb gun. So later when he was walking by I took a bb gun and went KAPOW! and hit him right there!

I opened my mouth and waited for some words to come out. "Sooo, did you do the right thing?"

He grinned. "Yeah!"

I shrieked, "Didn't you learn anything today??!!"


The second bell buzzed and they all scattered.

I am not too distraught, because I have had pastors tell me that at their ordination, their old Sunday school teachers came up to them and said, "I never would have seen this coming. Never."

Quote of the Day:
"Sometimes I'm an optimist and sometimes I'm a pessimist so I'm a poptimist."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday Night Highlights

October as you may know is Pastors Appreciation Month. The amazing youth group at Brownsville Mennonite decided to host a dinner to honor their pastors.

Ben told me beforehand they need old and new family pictures, so I gave him our latest family picture, shot out by the grapevines, and that old picture of Paul and me that was taken shortly after we were married*.
*full story here

When we drove up to church, the fellowship hall was dark except for little lights twinkling in the windows. when we opened the door, a path of candles in burlap-wrapped jars led us to a gazebo decorated with the most amazing fall decor--pumpkins, bouquets of mums, cornstalks, candles, and a lot more.

Our pictures graced the windowsills and I was happy to see that the others' wedding-era pictures weren't any more impressive than ours, and Arlen had sideburns like corn shovels.

Soon three young waiters in sharp-looking uniforms [repurposed from the ACE convention choir] swept in with water for us, then bottles of sparkling cider, and plates of dainty appetizers, and salads, and the most delicious chicken bruschetta and potatoes, and later coffee and a brownie sundae with a cherry on top.

We felt very honored.

The lights went on and it was time for activities. One was a sword drill, which for unchurched people is a contest in which the leader says a Bible reference like "Micah 6:8" and the first person to find it in his Bible and read it gets a point.

We had three teams--ministers, wives, and youth--and we could get an extra point if we quoted the verse instead of looking it up. The youth won, thanks to Ben's vast Bible knowledge, the wives were next thanks to one of the verses being one I will never forget, my theme verse for at least one pregnancy: Romans 8:18 "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us," and the ministers, oddly enough, were last.

Then Dan Krabill started fiddling with a video screen and a few gizmos over on the serving counter by the kitchen. "This is a Wii," explained Justin D., "and we are going to have a tennis tournament."

Dan and Justin showed us how the little white sticks in their hands coordinated with the little tennis players on the screen. When you swung the stick, the little guy onscreen swung his racquet. And now, happy happy news, we could all try it.

Oh. Great.

Much has been written about how terrible I am with anything electronic and how completely dreadful I am at anything athletic. From high school P.E*. to youth volleyball games to floor hockey games that I got roped into in Canada to church softball games, I have a long history of swinging a hand or tool at a moving object, and missing. I know it all so well. The desperation, the determination, the wild flail, the swish of the object flying by, the chagrin and humiliation, the amusement or pity or irritation on the faces around me.
*gory details here

And this was tennis. When we were dating, Paul thought he would do something creative and teach me how to play tennis. We did this only once. He believed me after that.

So first, a practice round. Me and Rita I think. Might as well get it over with. The ball went up and I swung. And there was a nice little thunk as the ball went over the net. I was astonished.

Back and forth we went, and again the racquet made contact, and suddenly I was very into this
game, so much so that I was swinging all over the place trying to hit wild balls, and I'm afraid I came close to hitting Brandon Beach in the teeth, and later I found out Felicia was videotaping it all, which I am not going to think about, and I won the round.

Why, that was actually kind of fun.

Then the tournament began. Me against Paul. Well, judging by that ill-fated afternoon of our dating days, there was no chance for me, but I'd get it over with.

Back and forth, whack and smack, and I won.


I played Amos Kropf next and decided to just relax even though playing against guys intimidates me. I kept swinging, and my racquet somehow coordinated with my eyes and did what I wanted it to.

I won again. Was I dreaming?

The last game, and I was up against Brent the youth sponsor who had that competitive look in his eyes that guys get when they're determined to win if it kills them. Oh well, it wasn't life or death to me, that was for sure. I served and Brent figured out a way to whack the balls back like missiles, but I learned to pause before I swung and a lot of the balls went outside the lines.

Brent and I were tied with two rounds to go. I kept breathing, serving, swinging.

I won the tournament.

I thought, wait, no, this didn't really happen, because things like that don't happen to me. But the youth were applauding and Jenny high-fived me and with glowing eyes squealed that she was SO PROUD OF ME. She just COULD NOT BELIEVE that I won.

That was a high-water moment in my life.

Who knows what will happen next. I'll sit in church and suddenly be able to sing like a good Mennonite? I'll hear my family's plans for the week and remember it all without writing it down? I'll think of a snappy comeback when someone is rude to me?

Life is full of possibilities.

Quote of the Day:
Ben: I wonder why people decided to have numbers in powers of TEN.
Me: Maybe because they had ten fingers?
Ben: (laughing) Oh duh. Sometimes I think and ponder so deeply about things that I miss the obvious.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

See what I mean?

So I posted the other day that I am a person who Does Not Know Stuff. And Paul's mom, Anne, is a Person Who Knows.

Well today was a gorgeous day so I biked to her house to deliver some strawberry starts and then we talked for a little while.

Suddenly I thought of it! Yes! I had some Information that surely she wouldn't know. Since she isn't on Facebook, after all. "Oh!" I said, happily, "I almost forgot to tell you. You know what Facebook is, right? Well, I've been seeing some hints on Facebook that 'Hilda Hostetler' is dating!"

Such a thrill, to impart knowledge.

And she said, "Oh, didn't I tell you? Bonnie told me that two weeks ago when we went up to Sheridan together!"

See what I mean?

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Today I went to the Harrisburg Library tea at the Riverbend Resort where I talked with Amy Somebody who used to work at Farmer's Helper and brought my meat to the car when we butchered a cow, and with Lillian on the other side, who used to work with Jane Kirkpatrick on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

The cool thing about a library tea is that you can easily make conversation about bookish things. I found out that Amy on my left was functionally illiterate for years due to severe ADD but decided to overcome when her son was old enough to read, and she did, by sheer determination. And got her GED. And now she reads voraciously and absorbs all the information she was so hungry for all those years.

Lillian on my right flipped through the tea bags in the little basket and made a comment about the bag of African Bush Tea and we looked at each other and instantly connected on the subject of Alexander McCall Smith's books, and how we love them, and how Precious Ramotswe always drinks her bush tea.

And I got to hear Bob Welch speak, for the first time. I've talked with him plenty of times but never heard him give a speech, and he is as good as they say he is.

Just when I was leaving I heard a deep young voice say, "Hello, Mrs. Smucker," and there was Jamie Bos.

Jamie is an old friend of Matt's who used to live in our neck of the woods on Priceboro Drive. Matt and Jamie had numerous adventures including doing unspeakable things to their friends working in local warehouses on hot summer nights. Jamie spent several years in college in Texas so of course we didn't see much of him then, and I had lost track of him.

But now he's out of college and trying to decide if he wants to get into communications or the ministry, and meanwhile he's working at Riverbend.

It is very good to see an old friend of my children, all grown up and doing well.

Here we are. I was trying to shoot us with my new phone and it wasn't going well so I asked Jamie to do it for me.
This evening we took Paul's mom to church and afterwards she came in for apple pie and popcorn. There are two kinds of people, I decided. People who Know Things and People Who Don't Know Things. I am of the latter category, and I can't tell you how many times I have said "HUH?" when people around me were talking about who is dating or which high school junior is pregnant, and how many times people responded, "You didn't KNOW that??? Dorcas, how could you NOT know that??"

Well, sorry, I am very good at not knowing stuff.

But an evening with Paul's mom fixes that, for a few weeks at least. She is someone who Knows, and she fills us in, and it is very satisfying.

Quote of the Day:
[brotherly love continues at the Smuckers]
Jenny: I'm gonna get a PhD in entomology!
Steven the scoffing big brother: How can you get a PhD in entomology if you're scared of ants??
Jenny the feisty little sister: I'm not scared of ants! I just don't like their smell!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bits of My Exciting Life

Paul pointed out to me the other day that I am the only one in the family that's not in school. So I have a sudden urge to go to OSU and finish my degree.

But not right now, I am not that crazy. And btw, I would have two years left.
I had a bag on the back of my desk in which I accumulated things that died and needed special batteries. Like a timer and camera and two watches. I could have taken them to Fred Meyer and the funny little guy with greasy black hair in his little booth in the jewelry section, but he charges $5 plus the cost of the battery. So I stuck the bag in the car now and then when I went to town and figured one of these times I'll go down Coburg Road to Batteries Plus and get them all fixed at once.

But I never got it done, mostly because I almost never go down Coburg Road any more, and I'm always out of time long before my list of errands is done.

Two days ago I came home from town with a zillion bags of groceries and my bag of dead things and suddenly I realized I am tired of putting this off and--DUH--I could do it all online, in the comfort of my office chair. So the next morning I carefully pried stuff apart and found the batteries and read the microscopic letters with a magnifier and found all the batteries online and ordered them--all in less time than it would have taken me to drive to Batteries Plus. And the shipping was free.

Maybe I've finally joined the 21st century.
**Brag alert** Emily called me and said she did really well on this one paper, a reflective essay that she hadn't worked that hard on but it was read to the class as a model of reflective-essay writing. She said, "Mom, it really isn't fair that I got your genes." Was that sweet or what?
I really like having fresh apples off our own trees. I made three Dutch apple pies this evening and they probably cost me, I don't know, a dollar or two total, so I feel like a good wife.
AK from next door told me the clothesline column made her feel guilty for not hanging her wash out. That was not the intent, I hope you all know that.
Last night was Shelley Smucker's baby shower. Shelley is married to Randy who is Paul's brother Steve's son. They are wonderful people who will be wonderful parents I'm sure.

Judging from dozens of little outfits that emerged from gift bags, brown is "in" right now. Brown and pink, brown and aqua, brown and pale green.

I am old enough to remember brown being in long ago, and then it was very out for a long time, and now it is once again very in. And I can imagine Shelley's daughter looking at her photo albums in ten years and saying, "BROWN?? On a baby??? Mom, how could you??"
There were lots of babies at the shower, and when we went home Jenny was feeling all sad because her friends Janane and Shanea have this adorable little niece and Jenny doesn't have any niece or any prospects of one.

I was feeling kind of the same way about my friends and grandbabies.

So today Cleo the cat got lots of affection, and when Jenny wrapped her up in her[Jenny's] old raggedy blanket and plopped her on my lap, it was a nice substitute, for now.

Last night on the way home we had this conversation:

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: We really need to get Matt and Amy and Emily married.
Me: So who's on your list for Amy?
Jenny: Wellllll, Amy's just so EXQUISITE that I really haven't thought of anyone that's good enough for her!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Today's Letter from Harrisburg is about the "new" "green" practice of hanging laundry outside to dry.

You can read it here.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Farewell and Hello

A year or two ago I had a scare, that thankfully turned out to be a false alarm, when I thought my cell phone was dying and I'd have to get another one.

This phone used to be Paul's and he's on probably his third one since then. I'm guessing it's between six and eight years old, judging by my memory of sitting outside in the dark at the ladies' retreat in Georgia in 2003, trying to call home.

It is a compact little gray phone that has served me faithfully despite being chewed by Hansie and humiliated by all the fancy iphones and BlackBerries that got turned on all around it every time the plane landed and I called home.

I learned to text on it, a major accomplishment in my life that used to send my daughters into gales of laughter on the other end, since it took me a long time to figure out the CLR button, so I would type away and insert an "oops" after a mistake that was too obtuse to decipher.

But lately the bitter truth has been dawning. The 4 works about half the time. I can't receive the pictures my kids send me. And the whole thing is falling apart at the seams and one of these times I won't be able to hold it together any more.

Meanwhile Emily's phone, which is also on our family plan and only two years old, kept losing its charge after two calls.

We were in line for two free phones, so Paul ordered them, an event Emily recorded here.

My phone came two days ago. Paul charged it up. I have been learning to use it, pressing buttons and scrolling around in a way that would make my children proud.

Paul tried to jump through the hoops to transfer all my numbers from the old phone to the new, but my phone was so old the program didn't work.

This converted me to my new phone, once and for all. I took a picture and emailed it to myself, and now I share it with you.Maybe I should explain. After supper today I told the kids I'd work on dishes while they all write a handwritten letter to Amy at Bible school. However, Cleo the kitty was bothering Ben. So he solved the problem in a way Jenny didn't approve of.

Quote of the Day:
"Me: No, not the little pellets, I haul whats called cattle cubes.
Charles: Beef bouillon?"
--my brother Fred, in a text I saved on my old phone

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review of Two "Amish" Novels

If you've been around for a while you've heard me fuss about all the Amish novels out there, those paperback books with dreamy Amish girls on the covers, with a buggy and a handsome man in the background, put out by Christian publishers.

Without going into the literary quality (or lack of) of any of these books, the #1 thing that makes me cringe when I read them is the authenticity factor. I read them and think, "An Amish person would never say that," or do that, or think that, or choose that.

Authors, along with most of the population, seldom get that the Amish have a completely different world view from the rest of America. Individuality vs. community, right and wrong, condemnation and redemption, public vs. private, work and leisure, talk and silence, and much more. They're not average Americans who happen to wear funny clothes.

It's typically cavalier American to think you can do some reading and visit a few Amish families and write an authentic novel. An Amishman would never be that audacious about a different culture, assuming that you could read about the Masai, for example, and visit for a week and then write a story about them.

I could ignore the whole Amish-novel fad if it wouldn't be for all the people I meet who gush that they now know all about my Amish past and my Mennonite present because they've read all these stories. And I should get in on the gravy train myself.

But now I'll quit fussing and review two books about the Amish that pleasantly surprised me.

My friend Mary Hake has been after me to read Hillary Manton Lodge's Plain Jayne. And my sis Rebecca has for years been telling me I need to read Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth. Oddly enough, I happened to read both in the last couple of weeks. Mary had loaned me Plain Jayne and I finally got around to reading it, and in the middle of that I stumbled across Plain Truth at a garage sale.

So, to compare and contrast. Both are stories of outsiders coming into the Amish community. Both involve a son who left the Amish and a dad who completely cut him off. And, blessedly, you can read both and have the story itself--characters, suspense, development, romance, whatever--front and center on the stage, rather than the Amishness.

Of the two books, Plain Jayne is much more light and fluffy but still a worthwhile read. It's set in Oregon, with a disclaimer at the front of the book that this is a work of fiction and there are actually no Amish communities in Oregon. Also, a Mennonite columnist is mentioned now and then, and Paul is just sure that was based on me, which is kind of cute. The best part of the book was the author's sense of humor. She sticks in all these snarky little asides that always caught me by surprise and made me snicker. Applause to the author's obvious skill and careful craftsmanship.

And of course it's fun to read a book about places you know--Lincoln City, Powell's Books in Portland, Interstate 5.

I felt like HM Lodge had the good sense to know what she didn't know about the Amish, and didn't let her imagination go too far. She didn't get everything right, but it didn't make me cringe too much because the story's focus was on the main character, who isn't Amish, and is simply looking on while trying to resolve all the issues in her own life.

Plain Truth is in a whole different category, and much more literary and complicated and "heavy," so it probably isn't quite fair to compare the two books. In short, a dead newborn baby is found in an Amish farmer's barn. All kinds of mysteries develop--who had the baby, how did he die, was he murdered, and by whom? The high-powered city lawyer comes into the story, of course, but her journey/choices turn out to closely parallel the Amish young people's stories, showing their similarities despite all their differences.

The most astonishing thing about the book is how well she "got" the Amish world view. For example, most authors jump on the "bann" and present it in one harsh perspective, but Picoult somehow got the nuances of how it all fits into the community and forgiveness and redemption.

Also, what the Amish said and what they decided to not say rang true, which is one of the toughest things for non-Amish authors to get right. Picoult spent less time with the Amish than many authors, but somehow she understood them the best.

So, both books get my approval. Plain Truth is a secular novel, written for adults, so preview it before you recommend it to your offspring.

And one more thing--do you see any similarities in these two covers?

Same artist!

Quote of the Day:
"Forget that story!"
--second grader Bryant H., the day I helped in Miss Megan's classroom, after plowing through a page in his Pace.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Recently I found a nice stainless steel grape juice steamer at Goodwill. I decided to buy it and pass my old aluminum one on to someone else.

And Jenny outgrew her rollerblades, which are still in really nice shape.

I believe in passing things like this along to someone who can use them. I often donate to thrift stores, especially if I like their purpose, like Sharing Hands or St. Vinnie's. I have a few issues with Goodwill and their 6-figure-salary CEO.

But stuff like a grape juice steamer I like to pass on to friends and neighbors, particularly church people. So I called Regina from down the road and talked to Verna from up the road. Neither needed a steamer, but they'll let me know if they know of someone who does. I also talked to Debbie about the rollerblades for her daughter, but she declined them, and then at the Gospel Echoes banquet I talked to Ruth, and she said she'd see if Mackenzie can wear them.

There has to be a more efficient way to do this.

I know some churches have a "Free Table" in some corner where anyone can freely donate or receive. However, we're a bit pressed for space and I'm afraid with all the young kids buzzing all over after church any Free Table stuff would be scattered from Dan to Beersheba.

Something online seems like a logical way to go, since all the younger people are computer literate. Something where you would post stuff you have to give away, and someone could contact you if they need it.

Just wondering--have any other churches tried anything like this? How did you set it up? What worked? What didn't? How did you publicize it? How did you get people to participate? Is there an efficient way to do it on Facebook?

I'm almost sure there's a young mom in church that could use my offerings, but I don't have time to make 25 phone calls to find out.

So I welcome your suggestions.

Quote of the Day:
"What's this unearthly sound?"
--Steven, who does not appreciate culture or classical music by Rossini

Friday, October 01, 2010

Our Coming Adventure

We live about halfway between Corvallis, home of Oregon State University and the Beavers, and Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, and their Ducks.

Bitter rivalry has existed between the two teams for over a hundred years.

Paul has always been a Beaver fan. A quiet one, though. He doesn't talk much about the team and he wouldn't wear an orange and black shirt if you gave it to him for Christmas.

Our children have always been Duck fans, Amy and Ben the most devoted. Ben can reel off dates and statistics like an Athletic Department computer, and Amy hinted that if I want to do something nice for her, I can mail her the Register-Guard sports sections the day after the games while she's at Bible school. Matt and Steven and Jenny like all things Duck as well, just not quite as passionately, but they are all happy to wear green and yellow.

Emily and I are oblivious, although for my family's sake I have learned the basics of the game and can tell you a rough definition of such terms as "touchdown," "interception," and "LeGarrett Blount at Boise State."

Once a year, Paul takes any interested children to a Duck football game.

He has never been to a Beaver game in his life.

I think Paul knows how easily he could become an obnoxiously rabid fan to the point of neglecting more important things, so he has set strict limits on himself. But I have always thought it was kind of sweet and sad that he took his kids to one game a year--always a Duck game--because he loved them so much but had never seen the Beavers play.

Well. This story falls under "what goes around comes around." Last Thanksgiving we helped with a large dinner at church for everyone who wished to show up, and Paul ended up sitting beside Cameron who is the son-in-law of Paul's fellow minister, Arlen. And Paul and Cameron talked about sports.

A few days ago Cameron called Paul and said that his dad has season tickets to the Beaver games but can't go this Saturday so there are two tickets available. Cameron remembered that at the Thanksgiving dinner Paul had said he'd never been to a Beaver game, so he can have the tickets if he wants them!

Paul asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes, thinking, "Column for November."

Need we say that I have never been to a football game in my life?

So that's what we plan to do tomorrow. I asked my kids for advice on how to conduct myself. Amy emailed, "Don't be afraid to scream and cheer along with everyone else even though Dad will sit there like a bump on a log. :) It's part of the experience. :)"

And today when I stopped at Detering Orchards I overheard a mysterious conversation that seems like it ought to be relevant to our adventure but I'm not sure how:

Quote of the Day:
Lady 1: It takes a true Christian conservative to be a Duck.
Lady 2: Yeah. Anybody can be a Beaver.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hot Flash Ramblings

Early-Monday ramblings...

Our weekend company just left and I am wishing again that I didn't have that curse...well, awful tendency...from my mother to stress out about getting company. We used to joke about Mom and her "gonzy loat psooch" dreams. "And I was trying to clean the kitchen and here a van drove in and it was a gonzy loat psooch and I didn't have anything to feed them and I didn't have anything planned for supper and you children wouldn't cooperate and ..."

I guess it stems, with good reason, from a custom of some Amish to pile in a van and take a trip to visit various relatives and not let them know you're coming, since neither of you has a phone, you know.

So "gonzy loat psooch" is technically a "whole load of guests" which doesn't translate the panicky nuances of dark-dressed-and-suited cousins from the East getting out of a van and you know the house is a mess and you were going to have just corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes for supper and these are "feiny leit" [fine folks] from some place like Ohio or God forbid, Pennsylvania, who have every blade of grass trimmed properly even on the far side of the barn.

So yes, Mom found company stressful, even having guests for Sunday dinner. And I do too, and then I always enjoy it and think I ought to do this more. Like our guests this weekend were people a stage older than us who totally get the pressures of the life we live and all the roles Paul tries to juggle. And I wouldn't have had to stress about getting ready.

+ + +
I have been thinking a lot about regrets. Especially situations where you did the best you could with what you had at the time, and later realize another course of action was actually right there in front of you and you should have taken it and didn't. Hard stuff.

+ + +
Yesterday we had special meetings at church and ate supper there, and during the course thereof "Junior Baker" whose real name is Earl I think, came over and was talking to Paul. Junior is an older fellow who grew up as Mennonite as the rest of us but he feels deeply and sheds tears freely if he wants to and raises his hands and shouts Hallelujah when a quartet sings about Heaven, so to put it mildly he is not like most Mennonite men and we all love him to pieces.

So yeah, he was talking to Paul and I wasn't paying much attention until he said something about "that woman's writings" and I looked up wondering what woman's writings he reads and here he was talking about me and complimenting me in a rather oblique way, but then he shook his finger at me and got emotional and said, "And I hope you give God the glory for your talent!"

Well, when Junior says that it's not really appropriate to clutch your hair with both hands and shriek, "GAAAAHHHH, I don't HAVE any talent and I don't know WHY I even bother writing and the less I think about all this the happier I am!" So I said something more Mennonite like, "Well, I don't feel I have that much but what I do have, yes, I give God the glory for."

The thing with Junior is, he thinks Paul and I are wonderful. Paul's preaching, oh my, Junior will pat my shoulder and get tears in his eyes and not be able to find the words to express the wonderfulness of that sermon and Paul himself. I love it. And I always agree with him.

But I am far less comfortable with him raving about my writing, which is probably very Mennonite of me.

Quote of the Day:
"You're kidding, right?"
--Steven, when I told him to borrow a pair of black jeans for school from his dad. Yes, I was, but it won't be long til he can.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I love free, nutritious food, such as Aunt Orpha's last green beans and the apples off our trees. And I really like having rows of home-canned food in plump quart jars on the pantry shelves.

But in between, when I'm trying to keep reluctant teenagers motivated and every pan and bowl and half the porch are sticky with applesauce and the bees are buzzing all over and Hansie shows up on the scene with his hairy tail wagging and I'm flying back and forth between the pressure canner of beans on the kitchen stove and the two big kettles of apples about to scorch on the propane cooker outside and Jenny plays with her cat instead of dumping the apple scraps to the chickens. . . that's when I wonder if it's worth it.

But then, there are conversations among the children that descend into the memorable silliness that happens only after endless hours of cutting apples together around the picnic table, and maybe that, more than the jars of food this January, makes it all worthwhile:

Quote of the Day:
[Steven, in his best Quiet Shaming Voice, spends five minutes chewing Ben out for killing that bee yesterday.]
Ben: You sound like you're from PETA.
Steven: Actually, you didn't kill it, you MARTYRED it.
Ben: Steven, martyred is when you die for your religious beliefs.
Steven: I know. The bee HAD a religious belief.
All of us: HUH?
Steven: the Bee-attitudes.

In Memory

Since I lost my nephew, the subject of depression and suicide is close to my heart, so I found this article about Kenny McKinley's death very interesting. Especially this, about another athlete--

He finally massed the courage to confront the Saints' hidebound coach, Jim Haslett. He explained that he was seeking treatment for a psychological issue. According to Williams, Haslett used profanity to tell him, in so many words, "to stop being a baby and just play football." . . .

Around the same time, Williams broke his ankle. The team treated his recovery as a matter of vital importance. Trainers and rehab specialists oversaw his every move and asked for near-daily updates on his condition. Teammates texted him daily. Williams was struck by the contrast. "There's a physical prejudice in sports," he says. "When it's a broken bone, the teams will do everything in their power to make sure it's OK. When it's a broken soul, it's like a weakness."

That prejudice isn't just in sports, it's everywhere, certainly among rural communities where guys are supposed to be tough and hardworking and able to handle anything.

Actually, it's just dangerous all around to be a young man. Two days ago in the village of Weagamow in Northwestern Ontario they buried Keegan Williams, just older than our son Matt, who used to come to our house and play when we lived there. He was murdered in Thunder Bay.

To all the young men in my life: It's ok to ask for help. I'm here if you want to talk.

Quote of the Day:
"Does it have to be legible?"
--Ben, when I made him and Steven and Jenny sit down and write hand-written notes to their sisters in the East