Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jenny's New Bag

Jenny sewed a cool new bag this week. (Ok, I did the oval insert at the bottom, but she did the rest.)

It has a cool lining, pink with green frogs.

And if you take it and shake it a certain way. . .
The frogs are on the outside! Hey, it's reversible!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Odd Conversations

I really enjoy quirky conversations, especially when you get a person on the job to show you a different face than their normal customer-service persona.

I stopped in at JoAnn Fabrics the other night, hoping to find some cute chicken panels that I want for my kitchen, but of course they didn't have any, this being JoAnn's. But they did have some clear vinyl that I needed for a tablecloth, so I took it to the cutting counter.

And there was a young man. I am serious. I don't think I've ever before had fabric cut by a young man at a fabric store. He had long ski-slope sideburns such as were in fashion in 1976, a piercing or two, and the nicest eyes and a warm smile. "Did you find everything?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "I'm wondering if you have fabric panels with chickens."

"Hmmm," he said, "I don't think so. In fact, I'm pretty sure that we don't, because if we did, my wife would buy them, because she loves chickens." His eyes looked happy when he said "my wife."

Oh my. A nice young man who is noble enough to marry the lady of his life in this day and age, and he works at JoAnn Fabrics with great cheerfulness and professionalism. Wow.

"Do you raise chickens?" I asked.

"Yes, three of them. That's all you can have in the city limits, I'm told. We have a Buff Orpington, and something with red..."

"Rhode Island Red?" I offered.

"Yes! And something black. I can't remember the name." Neither could I.

These chickens, he said, lay an egg every day, actually every 27 hours, just like the experts say they should. What about mine?

Well, they lay pretty well, but they're getting old and slacking off.

His eyes lit up again. Oh, did I know that someone in England let chickens watch TV and it extended their laying life? In fact, what they really liked to watch was screen savers, and the most effective one was the flying toasters.

Amazing. Thankfully it was late and there was no one waiting in line so we could talk freely. But finally we exhausted the subject and I left, oddly encouraged about life.

Then yesterday I took Jenny to the dentist and she wanted me back in the room with her so I could hold her foot when she gets shots. She needed three, with about 5 minutes of waiting for each, so we had lots of time to talk with the dentist.

How did you decide on this field, I asked him.

Well, he was in college, taking general courses and trying to decide what to do. He was somewhat artistic, so he wanted to do something with his hands. But he was also working in the produce department at Albertsons and knew he wanted something with more of a future than that. And he wanted to make a decent living.

Meanwhile there was this girl who was a really good friend, and the two of them went to the beach one day, and were talking about what he should do. She thought about all these criteria for his future and came up with the idea of being a dentist.

He said,

Quote of the Day:
"There was just something about that day and what she suggested and the brown swimsuit she was wearing, and it all came together for me, and that's what I did."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Random News and Quotes

Jenny has her friend Janane over today. I just overheard part of a conversation in which they figured out when they're inspired by nature. "When I see sheep in a green field against the sunset." Oooooo, yes!

While the girls were outside getting inspired by nature, they found a bug of a "clear different species" than they had seen before. They wanted it for Jenny's collection, so they put it into a quart jar and then the freezer.
Steven thought this was terrible, and pontificated, as only he can orate while doing dishes, about the morality of killing bugs.
Me: It's a humane way to kill them, Steven. When you freeze to death you just fall asleep.
Steven: But first they get all cold. Then they turn blue...
Ben: Steven, they don't have a central nervous system!
Steven: They can't feel?
Ben: They can't think, they can't PROCESS.
Me: Sigh. [Some of us think and process way too much.]

Yesterday Jenny was all excited about Janane coming today. “TOMORROW!!!!!” she squealed while I was doing her hair. So I started singing, “Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow. . ."
And Jenny said, “Mom, it’s so funny when you try to copy someone that can sing really good.”
Sigh. Yeah, I know.

Today by a strange set of circumstances I met the Holiness Beachy Boy himself. By an even stranger set of circumstances, he and Paul are [we think] the only two Mennonites in history to graduate from AWC, the little Holiness Bible college in Salem, Ohio, 29 years apart.

HBB is very nice and interesting to talk with, as is the charming person he was with, who happens to be the reason he came to Oregon.

I also had fun today helping Suzanne the neighbor girl with her algebra. She's homeschooling and sometimes gets into waters deeper than her folks can figure out, and comes to me, which is good for my self-esteem. Today she was factoring and it all came back to me with a whoosh, the thrill of turning x2 + 4x -5 into (x+5) (x-1). Amy saw my page of scribbled equations afterwards and guessed that Suzanne had been over, and enthused about the fun of factoring. Love it, love it when I can enjoy something with a daughter--tea, old British books, old purses, factoring, whatever.

I have this bad habit of fiddling with stuff. I go into one of the girls’ rooms to tell them something but first I pick up a pen and lay it down, run my hand down a scarf, feel the cool little figurine, and so on. It drives Emily, especially, absolutely nuts. “Mom, just SAY it!”

So I was intrigued with this passage from North and South: [But first, why didn’t I ever hear of Elizabeth Gaskell back in the days when I was all into Charles Dickens and the Brontes and other old-timey English authors? Weird. But yeah, back to this passage…]

“. . .her father wished to speak to her. He made her take a chair by him; he stirred the fire, snuffed the candles, and sighed once or twice before he could make up his mind to say--and it came out with a jerk after all--’Margaret! I am going to leave Helstone.’
‘Leave Helstone, papa! But why?'
Mr. Hale did not answer for a minute or two. He played with some papers on the table in a nervous and confused manner, opening his lips to speak several times, but closing them again without having the courage to utter a word. Margaret could not bear the sight of the suspense. . .”

That sort of rang familiar.

And then there was the dinner party, which rang familiar in a different way--

“It was rather dull for Margaret after dinner. She was glad when the gentlemen came, not merely because she caught her father’s eye. . . But because she could listen to something larger and grander than the petty interests which the ladies had been talking about.”

I confess there have been many occasions when the men’s conversation was way more interesting to me than the ladies’. Like: Matt was home for supper and expounded on health care and the Compromise of 1850 and filibusters and corn subsidies. Good stuff.

But this is very much ladies’ conversation material:

I am doing really really badly at matchmaking. Sorry I can’t give details, only that my fine ideas and efforts keep coming to naught, and people keep going off and dating someone other than the one I matched them up with in my head, or they start dating and then after a while don't like each other after all.

Ok, maybe this can be men’s conversation as well, if we put it in the right terms:

Quote of the Day:
"So, Mom, you’re about 0 for 8?”

Sunday, January 17, 2010


"NOBODY else in the universe has to deal with such a bizarre situation." Or so I have told myself numerous times in the last year as I dealt with all the implications of having a daughter who can't come home to stay because being home makes her sick. I mean, that is just unheard of. I have never talked to anyone in a similar situation.

Most of the time you hear the opposite, which I have to admit would be even more heartbreaking: a daughter leaves home and doesn't want to come back.

In fact, a day or so before Emily left for Virginia I heard a sad song on the radio about a dad whose daughter is gone and he has this message on his answering machine--"I don't care where you've been, I don't care what you've done, I just want you to come home." Something like that. And he leaves the message on for years, hoping, and one day the daughter calls and hears it and comes back home.

Well, that would make me cry at the best of times but hearing it when Emily felt forced to leave and didn't want to, well, I really should buy stock in Kleenex.

However! It turns out that Emily isn't the first person in the universe to have to wander the earth, unable to come home. There's Cain, who ended up being a restless wanderer in the earth, but who deserved such a fate a lot more than she does, in my opinion. He had a mark on his forehead to keep people from killing him, and she thinks she has a mark that--what is it, Emz?--keeps people from offering her a job or something.

Then I borrowed Amy's copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, and behold, we find Frederick. Here, Margaret (Frederick's sister) and her mother are talking--

"'And Frederick was in South America for several years, was he not?'
'Yes. And now he is in Spain. At Cadiz, or somewhere near it. If he comes to England he will be hung. I shall never see his face again, for if he comes to England he will be hung.'
There was no comfort to be given. Mrs. Hale turned her face to the wall, and lay perfectly still in her mother's despair. Nothing could be said to console her."

I find this oddly comforting, because at least there's no danger of Emily being hung if she comes to Oregon for a visit. Like, things could actually be worse.

Quote of the Day:
"I could not handle him. I would kill him. Or he would kill me. It's all a matter of who would get dead first."
--a dramatic (sweet, Christian) friend of Amy's, talking about her sister's husband

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Writing Class

Teaching teenagers to appreciate observation, metaphors, rhyme, rhythm, and descriptive words isn't easy, especially when the class is 7/8 male. Here are a few results from last week that I thought were worth reading, even if the authors thought they would die in the process of writing them.

"Felicia" by Spencer:

Felicia and books
like beavers and wood
Are hooked together
To share lots of good.

"Shane" by Cody:

Shane is just a little squirt
And no one can deny it
But when he plays in any game
He's faster than a giant.

"Isaiah" by Steven:

Isaiah is quite the genius
Because he's always learning.
The classroom may get loud.
You'll never see him turning.

"Spencer" by Isaiah:

Spencer is like Ehud
In what way? you ask.
Ehud and him are lefties
And he can tackle any task.

"Felicia" by Trenton, who likes to have the first and fourth lines rhyme:

Felicia likes to text
Sometimes at the wrong time
Sometimes way too much
This probably should get fixed.

"Cody" by Isaiah:

Cody is like a jetliner
He needs a long runway.
Once he is going he can't stop.
When he is going fast don't get in his way.

"Trenton" by Spencer:

You'd better look out
Here comes a jump shot.
It's Trenton I see.
Ready or not.

"Cody" by Felicia:

Cody is very tall
He likes to play ping-pong
If he acts very dumb
He will say ding-dong.

"Harold" by Shane (name changed to protect everyone)

"Harold" can attract the girls
By growing out all of his curls
"Harold" smiles like a crocodile
When he sees the girls like his style.

And for extra credit they could write a poem about me:

"Mrs. Smucker" by Shane:

Mrs. Smucker is a good teacher,
She would make a very good preacher.
With all of her knowledge,
You'd think she had went to college.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thursday, January 07, 2010

My Bad Day

A long story very condensed:

Emily of all the health issues was doing wonderfully in Colorado, and finished her high school work, but couldn't find a job.

Then she went to Bible school and did wonderfully there.

So we just knew she was all better and could live in Oregon again when she came home for Christmas. I found a job for her with disgusting ease. We didn't make any contingency plans because she was going to be well here. Stupid stupid.

She came home. Within a few days she felt tired and draggy and headachy again as I looked on with sinking hopes and growing horror.

She tried living at Grandma's house. Nothing changed. Matt was sure being in town would help, so she stayed with him in Corvallis and if anything she got worse.

Once again we were at the Red Sea, knowing we had to do something, but with no options at all. There are not enough words in English to describe how tired I am of being up against the Red Sea like this.

We went across the mountains to Sunriver over New Years. After a night's sleep Emily was herself again, lively and full of energy and popping with ideas and full of fun.

We came home and within an hour she could feel the headache marching in and all the good stuff leaving.

We decided she would spend a few months with my sister Rebecca's family in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She knows she can feel well there, and there are lots of volunteer opportunities, and she'll be in good hands. And of course we hope she can find some sort of job, somewhere. [Broad hint to any readers in VA with a little fabric store or day care or something.]

She left today and is trying to sidestep all the snowstorms en route.

I cannot tell you this, either: how hard it was to see her go. When she first left home she was eager to leave, to get well, to go have a life. This time, she wanted so badly to stay home, and I wanted so badly to have her here.

So I've been in that awful mode all day where I desperately hope that no one is nice to me because if they are, I start crying. So naturally Aunt Susie was all kindness despite the fact that she's worried about Milford, and my sister, on the phone, has been sweetness and empathy itself, and then in the grocery store I ran into my friend Frances and I do hope she has dried out her sweatshirt by now.

Frances is amazing. Somehow she steps angel-like into my life whenever I hit bottom, and today in MegaFoods she asked me how I was and ended up hugging me while I cried fervently, and she said all the right things that I don't remember anymore, and yeah, a somewhat damp production.

Meanwhile, am I ever allowed to just wallow in grief and recover on my own terms? No. Are you kidding? Jenny was with me, as we were getting groceries after her piano lesson. So the grocery store scene went something like this:

Quote of the Day:

Frances: Hi Dorcas, how are you doing?
Me: Well actually I'm having a terrible day [sniff] and Emily left today...
Jenny: Mom!
Frances: [comforting murmurs]
me: ...and she in the worst way didn't want to go and I don't know why it's so HARD this time...
Jenny: MOM!!
Frances: [comforting murmurs and a warm hug]
Me: ...I mean it's even harder than the first time she went away and...
Jenny: MOM!!!
Me: What?
Jenny: Lunchables!!
Me: Huh?
Jenny: Look!! Lunchables!! They're really good for lunches!!
Me: Jenny, they're way too expensive.
Me: [closing statements to Frances]
Frances: [closing statements to me]
We part ways.
Jenny: Mom!! Your eyes are wet!! You look kind of like you're crying!!
We finish, pay, and go to the car.
Me: Jenny, when I am having a conversation with another ADULT especially if it's a SERIOUS conversation it is very RUDE to interrupt about something like LUNCHABLES! You have to WAIT.
Jenny: Oh, sorry.
Me: I mean, if there's something big and important, like someone is bleeding in the next aisle, THEN you can interrupt us.
Jenny: What if it's just like a paper cut?
Me: [thinks words not lawful to be uttered and laughs in spite of herself and thinks, as her friend Arlene says, Oh well, I'll live if I don't die.]

Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Predictions

We spent a bit of time on New Years Eve envisioning our lives ten years from now. A few results:

Who will be President in 10 years--[note, politically charged readers: these are predictions, not necessarily hopes]
Paul--somebody that none of us knows right now
Dorcas--the third-generation George Bush
Matt--David Petraeus
Amy--no idea
Emily--someone whose first name is Jack
Ben--Sarah Palin
Steven--don't know
Jenny--Sarah Palin

How many grandchildren will there be?
Jenny 5

Who will Matt be married to?
Paul--Susan MacAfee
Dorcas--Miranda Spiff
Matt--Natalie Portman

Who will Amy be married to?
Paul--some guy that’s tall, dark, and handsome
Dorcas--Alex or Brett Harris
Ben--Abe Stoltzfus

Who will Emily be married to?
Paul--somebody that she’ll meet in 2012
Emily--Christopher Palladini, the writer of Eragon
Ben--somebody I’ve never heard of--Homer Miller
Steven--Some blond-haired guy.
Jenny--Clovis Neuschwander

[Note: for the above three questions we kindly omitted the names of actual people we know that the young sibs had fun nominating but the older sibs {not to mention the nominees} wouldn't appreciate being posted.]

Where will you be living?

Paul--”with Mom” [what Jenny told him to say] Ben said, “Wait a second, with YOUR mom?”
Amy--Beverly Hills
Emily--El Paso
Ben--Anywhere but Lancaster PA--I’ll go with Raleigh, North Carolina. [Jenny: Isn’t that close to where Andy Griffith lived? ]
Steven--maybe Kenya [Ben: Fort Worth, Texas. Steven: grunt. Ben: Where would you rather live, Redneck City, Arkansas?”]
Jenny: Sisters

What will be the title of Emily’s latest book?
Paul--”What My Children Say About My First Crush”
Dorcas--”Using Drama in Children’s Ministry”
Matt--”His Eyes Bored Deep Into Her Soul”
Amy--”The Adventures of Matilda Bunnyslippers”
Ben--”The Dorky Prince” [Emily: I won’t use the word Dorky out of respect for Mom. Ben--Ok, The Nerdy Prince]
Jenny--anything but “Jenna’s Cowboy Hero”

What will be the latest cool technology or whatever--
Paul--we’ll have a fuel source that nobody imagines right now
Dorcas--nutrition will play a much bigger role in medical care/treating diseases
Matt--cars with spherical wheels that can go in any direction
Emily--one device you can carry with you everywhere that will have internet, call people, TV, movies, music, computer software, in place of credit cards, a GPS, and a camera
Ben--Highly advanced voice recognition systems
Jenny--flying shoes, strap them on, fdddtttt, you’re at the place you want.

Quotes of the Day:

"Can I make a random prediction? There’s something from today that we’ll all be laughing at. Like, remember how we all used to get on Facebook? Hahahaha, FACEBOOK."

"In the Basement the Mice are Gnawing"
--Ben, on what my latest book in 2020 will be called

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Ten years ago we saw the new year in with a touch of trepidation--what if all the dire predictions about Y2K came true?

We had two of my siblings over that evening--Rebecca and Rod and the boys, and Phil and Geneva and their three. Right before midnight I snuck outside to the front porch and flipped the breaker, hoping to plunge the house into darkness and everyone into their worst fears. Unfortunately, one living room light was on another circuit, or something, and shone calmly on.

I gave everyone a piece of paper that evening and asked them to predict a few things about life ten years in the future--where they'd be living, what they would be working at, who would be President, and so on.

I resurrected these slightly-mildewed papers and here are a few findings:

I will be living in:
Grandpa and Grandma's house (Benjy)
in with Benjy (Zack)
a castle (Emily)
Virginia (Becky)
a Nebraska farmhouse (Geneva)
Harrisburg, Oregon (me)
in Newberg at George Fox College (Hillary)
Yemen (Rod)
a dorm room at school (Jason)

(Looks like Ben, Rebecca, Jason, and I were right)

The President of the United States will be:
John Kitzhaber (Phil)
Hillary Clinton (Matt and Jason and Hillary)
Colin Powell or the anti-Christ (Rod)
Bill Bradley (Paul)
Trent Lott (me) [Phil: Oh please, not Trent Lott!]
Uncle Paul (Molly)
Al Gore (Benjy)

Other tidbits:
My biggest accomplishment will be sitting around and being bored. (Derek)
I will be working as a preacher/teacher/seed cleaner/counselor. (Paul)
I will be working as a checker at Fred Meyer. (Geneva)
My favorite food will be cherry cheesecake. (Becky)
If married, my spouse's name will be Harrison T. Wheeler. (Hillary, who added, "Dad came up with that name so please don't laugh at me.)
My biggest accomplishment will be learning to drive. (Jason)
I will attend the Covenant Presbyterian Church. (Becky) [bingo!]
I will be working as a maid in the castle. (Emily)

Quote of the Day:
[my favorite prediction]
"My biggest accomplishment will be having proved the existence of mokele mbembe.
--Matt. Who else?