Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Labors and Rest

There are two kinds of Mennonite housewives. Those who can't rest if there's any work to be done, and those who can. There are way more of the former than the latter.

I thought of this again yesterday when my friend Gina and I made and served a hot lunch at school. We hauled in loads of stuff through the rain and pulled hot pans out of ovens and hunted for more napkins and dished up food. Then the forty-some kids and teachers came into the fellowship hall in a noisy stream and filled their plates and sat at the tables the high school guys had set up.

Meanwhile, as I am wont to do, I got hungrier and hungrier. But of course we couldn't eat until the kids were all served. And also of course, I as a responsible Mennonite woman couldn't sit and eat until Gina did. Which finally happened and I happily dug into the potato and ham hot dish she had brought which was exactly what I needed.

The kids had pretty much cleared out by then, so I suggested I make coffee and then we sit down and have dessert later. So we started cleaning and I got the coffee brewing. Soon the coffee was ready and I was too, salivating at the cinnamon rolls and wafting coffee scents. But Gina wanted to rinse off these dishes yet, and run this load through, and dish up these leftovers for Justin, and . . . Meanwhile I wiped off the tables and washed cookie sheets and cleared counters and craved some sugar and caffeine.

Finally I told her that I am just going to make her sit down and have coffee, I really am. And I did. And we had a nice little chat about motherly things that my children would have a conniption if they knew the details of.

Regina also told me that she hates this about herself, that she cannot sit and rest when there's any work to be done. She wishes she were different, but there it is, and she'll come home from her job cleaning someone's house and she really should go to bed but instead she does the dishes or laundry. Which is not a good strategy for someone who suffers from fatigue and various ongoing health issues.

And then we cleaned the coffeepot and did the last few things and went home.

I wish Gina and I could average out a bit, because I find it way too easy to ignore things that need to be done. I wish they bothered me more.

I've learned to grow up and do stuff like work on the laundry every day and do the dishes right after supper. But in one area I protect my rest-and-leave-the-work instincts, and I wish the rest of the world would come along.

I always try to make a nice Sunday dinner, and I like to brew a pot of tea, or sometimes if we have guests I make coffee, and at the end of the meal I like to linger over tea and dessert. You know, just sit and sip and talk with guests or maybe read the opinion page if it's just our family and they've all left the table. I find it very irritating to have my tea grow cold while I clean up.

My family indulges me in this, except for Amy who makes a little irritated comment once in a while about just getting it DONE, but other women don't get this at all. Older ones, especially. They leap up from the table as soon as the last person's last bite of cake is in his mouth, and then they're speeding around the kitchen with piles of china, asking me half a dozen questions at once about does this go in the dishwasher and which side of the sink do I wash in and do I have a container for the ham. I've tried to plead with them to please just sit and visit for a bit, thinking, while I recover from the mental aerobics of putting such a meal on and while I sip my tea while it's still hot, please please. But there is no stopping older Mennonite women, no there is not, especially ministers' wives. The notion of lingering is as foreign to them as having their hair done.

But, like I said, my family indulges me, bless them, leaving the Sunday comics to return to the kitchen when I'm done sipping.

Some years ago a young depressed pregnant woman called me up and asked if she could come talk with me. Of course. So she came and we sat at the table and I assured her that she will not be sick forever and someday she will feel like herself again, really she will.

Later I heard that she had raved to her friends about how nice I was, to leave all my work and the dirty dishes in the sink to take the time to listen to her.

Well, that was sweet of her but believe me it did not take any sacrifice on my part to leave those dirty dishes and sit down and talk. And drink tea.

Quote of the Day:
[After our trip to the South, during which it got unseasonably cold in Georgia and Florida]

Paul: It says here that that cold wet weather affected the tomato crops in Florida.
Ben: I'm fine with that as long as the ketchup productions aren't affected.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gender Confusion

Our children's imaginary friends have worked their way into the family lore in much the same way as pets and passing acquaintances and old neighbors. If one of us mentions Lima Bean or Walt Bowers or Strawberry Dimmock, anyone who was of a certain age at that time knows right away who we're talking about.

So, naturally, Darmunk, Island, and Trommin Cuter work their way into our conversations every so often. Those were Amy's imaginary friends, along with Lester, that smart little girl in the mirror who wore big girl panties just like Amy did.

This evening the conversation turned to Jenny's old friends Libba, Mobba, Sally, and Gick. It started when Amy showed up in pajama pants that I thought looked like knickerbockers, which led Jenny to talk about how sometimes she called Gick "Gickerbocker" like when she went out in the orchard and called him.

Him?? Gick was a guy?

Yes, Mom. (Implied: duh)

Well. I never knew that. What about the others, surely they were all girls?

"Yes, Mom. And Jason Oatmeal, he was a guy too."

Well, give me credit for that one, I always knew Jason Oatmeal was a guy.

Quote of the Day:
[In a loud hiss, with her hand over the telephone receiver]
"Mom!! Do I consider myself a Tea Party patriot??"

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Convention Results

Yesterday was the last day of the ACE convention. My friend Rachel and her girls and I went up in the afternoon in time to see the exhibit room when it opened. Then after supper we went to the final evening rally, where a hoarse announcer read off the winners in each event and a stream of kids crossed the stage to get their medals.

Earlier in the day, Ben had been asked to do a command performance at the rally of his "That's My King" speech. I was over the moon, as only a small percentage of the platform events are asked to perform at the evening rallies. So I was tied in knots, and so was Ben the normally calm and collected, only he didn't clutch Paul's hand for dear life, and then he went on stage and knocked it out of the park, and got a standing ovation, and it was all wonderful, and then I could breathe again.

There are so many different events at these conventions that almost every child can compete and do well at something. Academics, track and field, arts, music, drama, photography, quilting, and a lot more. I wish I could have done something like this when I was in high school, being deficient in the two areas emphasized at our school--music and sports. I also wish my older kids could have gone to convention--Emily would have shone in drama I'm sure, and Matt and Amy in academics.

Meanwhile, it was very exciting to see each kid from our school place in something. Here are some results:

Girls' table tennis--Stephie S, 1st; Alicia R., 2nd, Kayla B. 4th

Bible bowl--the teams from Brownsville were 2nd, 3rd, and 4th

Science exhibit--Ben, 1st

Shot put--Preston K, 1st

Pace Bowl--1st


Famous speech--Ben, 1st

Essay writing--Isaiah K. 2nd; Shane B. 5th; Trenton R. 6th

Short story writing--Felicia C, 6th

Woodworking--Ben 1st; Steven 2nd; Isaiah K. 4th

Mixed trio--2nd

Small ensemble--3rd

Checkers--Shane B. 4th; Austin S. 6th

Scrapbooking--Stephanie S. 2nd, Kayla B. 3rd, Felicia C. 5th

Photography--[there were lots of categories here and LOTS of entries, so we were especially proud of: Steven, 1st, color photo/animals; Isaiah K, 1st, color photo/computer enhanced; and Felicia C. 1st, b&w photo/ character trait.

Well, I think you get the idea and I'm not going to take the time to type out every result but I have the list in hand if you have specific questions.

However I will mention that the evening's individual awards ended with the CAP awards given to kids who score the most points by a complicated system of tallying awards won in academics, platform, music, and arts & crafts. To be eligible, they had to enter and place high in all those categories, and our fine son Ben got first place with a total of 59 out of a possible 60 points.

And then at the very last they gave out the Christian character award, which is THE award for the evening. During the week everyone observes everyone else as they all interact, from high-pressure moments in basketball to relaxed times in between events, and each school nominates another school for the award. We were sure the scales would tip in favor of Foursquare and their honest kid who lost the Pace bowl by telling the truth, but the announcer got up and presented it to Brownsville Mennonite, and we moms screamed for joy, and Paul and I went home feeling like this year's convention was a total success.

On the way home Ben was trying to keep talking to keep me awake even though he was wrung dry himself. "What is God telling you?" I asked him, referring to the evening's highlights. He didn't know. I told him that God was bound to take him through a phase where everything he did would be totally behind the scenes, unapplauded, and anonymous. And then he would be ready for something bigger. Which may or may not have been the right thing to say to a young man who had just had the heady experience of being on stage with everyone applauding, but, really, isn't that how life works?

And then we all got home safely and everyone but me slept in till 10:45 and was still exhausted all day.

Quote of the Day:
"They have harmony that gives you chills."
--Lisa the niece, a few weeks ago, about her cd of a singing Esh family, and now I find out this is the same family brutally ripped apart by an accident in Kentucky. God have mercy on the ones that remain, and may He give them a song again, someday. Here's a link.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pace Bowl

Today I was at the regional ACE convention at George Fox University all day, where roughly 200 kids in skirts or regulation haircuts as per ACE guidelines crisscrossed campus en route to games and platform events and meals. They sang and acted their hearts out in platform events, rushed from ping-pong to Pace Bowl, and frowned over close games of checkers.

ACE is a Christian school curriculum whose unique feature is that it's all individualized, with students working their way through workbooks called Paces, which makes a small, multi-grade school more feasible.

The convention is for schools in the Northwest who use the curriculum. Students who place first, second, or third in an event advance to the International convention in Kentucky in May.

One of the events I watched today was the Pace Bowl. Teams consisted of four students from each school. Each student could answer questions in only two subjects--math, English, social studies, or science. Sometimes there's an "elective" question that's open to anyone. They play until ten "primary" questions are answered. If you're the first to answer one of these correctly, your team gets a bonus question.

So our school's team, consisting of Ben, Preston, Stephie, and Isaiah, blew away one of the first teams 114 to 5. But as the day progressed the competition got tighter and so did my nerves. Mercy, it was terrible, especially with my fine son the captain of the team.

One team in particular was really good. Fast on the buzzer, sharp with the answers. Neck and neck we and they plowed on, and by the time there was one question left, the other team was ahead and we had only a very slim chance.

Then a young man on the other team raised his hand. "Uh, I answered that last question," he said, "and I'm actually not qualified to answer science questions."

We were stunned. He had obviously been caught up in the heat of the moment when he hit the buzzer and answered. The scorekeepers should have caught it but didn't, and apparently no one else did either.

So they took away the five points for the question he'd answered, and the 10 points for the bonus question they had answered correctly, and five more points for answering out of turn.

And then our team got the next question, and the bonus question, and won the game by one point.

And then Brownsville went on to win the championship.

But the real winner of the day was that honest kid who spoke up and told the truth.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


About a month ago I read an article about how much it costs to educate a child in the American public school system. Just south of $10,000 per child per year is the national average, and in--was it Kansas City??--it's about $15,000.

At our church school it costs approximately $2000 to educate a child for a year.

Now I will grant that in many ways we're talking apples and oranges here. We're small, we can be as selective as we choose, we have kids from reasonably literate, stable homes.

And we have our weaknesses. No science lab, few electives. . . and no swimming pool, unlike the Kansas City schools.

But still. For 1/5 the cost we churn out graduates who function well at whatever work they do and who go to college and do well, the gaps in their education compensated for by their skills at setting goals and meeting them.

Which makes me wonder if the public education system is one big sieve into which liquid money is poured, as it were.

I overheard a very interesting conversation in the Washington-Dulles airport the other week, during my long layover on the way to Virginia. Two principals and two or three teachers were on their way back to the Midwest after some sort of conference in the Washington area. I was so intrigued with their conversation that I took notes, but I don't think they caught on.

There were no stories about challenging kids, no asking each other for advice on teaching, no comments about curriculum, absolutely nothing indicating that their work was the slightest bit of a calling or had anything to do with service and sacrifice. The entire time, all they talked about was wages, contracts, investments, days off, fairness, and retirement. Especially about retirement.

"Last year out of my 20 days I gave 8 days back! We're supposed to have 20 vacation days but they schedule all this stinkin' stuff when the kids are gone. . . It's always bugged me that custodians can take a fishing trip to Ontario in October, when school is in session!"

"It's not fair that principals and teachers get the same retirement. Teachers are required to be there 9 months but principals have to be there all year."

"The only negotiation I had was when I was offered the position. I was offered a two-year contract."
"That's the best time to negotiate--when you're first hired. After that you're stuck."
"It's gonna be the same way for teachers with the economy the way it is."

"If it gets to be too much I can drop my keys on my desk and tell the state that's it, I'm retiring. I'll do that under one of two conditions--if my health requires it or they change the retirement plan."
"So you're saying you're a principal with principles?"
"Yes! I'm a principal with principles!"

Ok, fine, so this is their job and they need to think about making a living and preparing for the future. But listening to this made me oh so thankful for Mr. Smucker and Miss Amy over at Brownsville Mennonite, whose hearts are in their work, and who talk about kids and tests and grades and classes, and who never mention contracts or compare wages or count the years until they can retire.

And maybe this helps explain why we can educate kids for $8000 a year less.

Quote of the Day:
"If Dad ever runs for President, it'll be to ease the pressure that's on his life."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Amazing Sons

Yesterday I drove to the Brownsville Rec Center to watch Brownsville Mennonite play basketball against Toledo Christian, only TC somehow didn't get the memo to be there at 3:30 and we couldn't get hold of anyone--coach, school, church office, nothing.

Toledo is out toward the coast so we figured their bus broke down in the mountains outside of cell service range.

So the school guys played against the church youth guys while we waited, and got worn out, and then Rita and Jeannette served the supper they brought along, and then the other team showed up. They thought the game was at 6.

So our tired guys played their fresh ones and creamed them to such a degree that I was hoping they'd let them make a few more points just out of mercy.

I am not much of a basketball game watcher and saw my first-ever "real" high school game only last year. But this game yesterday was fun to watch because. . . . MY BOYS WERE AMAZING.

Ben is not a flamboyant player; he is just there, at the right place at the right time. And he kept making shots. Never mind that the tension about gave me heart failure every time the ball was in the air, but time after time they went through.

Steven is fun to watch because he moves like he was born to move. You know how most guys his age look like a conglomeration of elbows and knees trying to get to the same place at the same time? Not him. He is smooooth. And when he jumps for a ball you gasp because surely you didn't see that much space under him, it's impossible.

Next week I get to watch my boys in action again, at the ACE regional convention in Newberg. It won't just be basketball, though. Both are singing and doing track events and I think Pace Bowl and Bible Bowl. Ben is reciting a famous speech and entering two project displays, one on the health care bill and one on the best conditions for sprouting grass seed. Steven has entered a photo and a fiction story. And I think I'm forgetting a few events.

So we have been listening endlessly to Ben at the piano dinging the same notes over and over and trying to get the bass part right. "What should I gain from his re-ward. . . (clonk). . .ward. . .(clonk). . .ward. . ." And we've been trying to get Steven to actually work out rather than try to skate through the athletic events on charm and luck, which is how he generally gets through life, I might add.

If I have ulcers by the end of next week it will be because few things tie me up in knots like watching my children compete. Up there in front of everybody, their fate hanging in the air--I can't describe that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

But when they do well--oh my--I feel like every inch of me, down to fingertips and toes, is literally bursting with pride. And I want to yell, "HEY, THOSE BOYS ARE MINE!!"

Quote of the Day:
"I think it's a concussion. If a kid's eyes look funny and he doesn't know what day it is, it's probably a concussion."
--the dad of the kid that Steven knocked over on his way up on one of his famous jumps. Rita and I thought the dad was overreacting slightly, because the kid seemed coherent, but in pain. And when I apologized on behalf of Steven the boy said bravely, "It's ok, these things happen." Meanwhile, a note to all of you: if I ever have a head injury, don't ask me what day it is. I never know what day it is at the best of times.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joke for Today

What's the name of the little Irishman who stays in your garage all winter and then comes out on the porch in the spring?

Answer: Paddy O'Furniture

Monday, March 15, 2010

What I Did This Past Week

Flew to Virginia
Took Emz to an allergy specialist and found out she isn't allergic to anything. Har har.
Bought a car for Emily.
Talked with my sister Rebecca.
Went to the most amazing quilt/fabric store not far from my sister's. It would not be safe for me to live so close to such a store.
Drove with Emz to Guys Mills, PA, on the hilliest road I can remember, over at least six summits over 3000 feet, and then on miles of Interstate 79.
Taught Emz the Oregon girl how to pump her own gas.
Stayed at Faith Builders Educational Programs, which is kind of like a junior college.
Got a tour of FBEP, which is like getting lost, as it's an old renovated high school with about 4 sprawling levels and a bit too much like finding your way from one concourse to another at Washington-Dulles.
(Which I did, twice, via a shuttle bus, escalators up, escalators down, a shuttle train, more escalators, many turned corners, and more escalators.)
Spoke to 187 women on these subjects: Designed To Be a Woman, Finding God In The Ordinary, and Calm Down, It'll Be Ok--Mothering Through the Stages.
Sweated bullets through my first two talks because Emily was back in our apartment at FB, sick as a dog and I thought if she gets this close to doing her talk to the girls, and then can't, I will just expire of disappointment.
Hugged Marie Mullet, who Understood, when she told me she had just called Emz and she can do her talk after all.
Kicked back after the retreat and then spoke to the FB student girls about Coverings, Capes, and Calculus, and enjoyed hearing their stories and perspectives.
Enjoyed having Barb the SIL spend the night with us when she couldn't go home after the retreat because her town was flooded out coming and going.
Went to chapel briefly and then drove a few hours to Barb's house, after the waters subsided.
Drove from Barb's to my sister's in Virginia.
Tried to talk about The Future to Emily, who hates talking about The Future.
Had a late-night chat in the dark with Jason the interesting nephew.
Talked with the sister some more.
Flew to Portland.
Waited for a ride with Michael and Verna the neighbors who just had a baby and needed to take the six visiting sisters to the airport.
Watched people and wondered why a well-paid pilot would buy his pre-trip food at Wendy's. He got a small chili and a cheap hamburger. And then he blew his nose hard in his napkin and put his stuff in the trash and left.
Which I hope to do soon, minus the nose-blowing part.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Survived my three talks today and Em survived her one despite great difficulties. Good times with the daughter, the sister-in-law (Barb) who showed up, the organizers, the relatives who surprised me by showing up, and lots more people.
One more talk coming up, to the girls students at Faith Builders Educational Programs, a Mennonite kind-of junior college. My talk is titled Coverings, Capes, and Calculus, on combining these divergent things of course.
We were going to stop at Barb's house tomorrow but you can't get in or out of her town because of floods. So she's spending the night here with us.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Hi, this is Jenny posting for mom. Mom is feeling very stressed (or so it seems) because she's going somewhere tomorrow and she just realized how much she still had to get done. She has my sympathy. The reason I'm writing this post is mom's hand hurts and she's also busy. Oh, and
mom's going to Virginia to visit Aunt Rebecca then to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania to speak at a ladies retreat. My mother has a very busy life as you can probably see.Anyway I hope mom can type her own post next time because I'm awful at typing.

Quote of the day:
"Wilton? He doesn't live here any more. He's dead."
--Ben talking to some guy on the phone who asked for Wilton.--

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Today's column. . .

. . . is about our trip to Savannah, of course, and its lessons on permanence and ambition.

Here it is.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Update on "Sam"

I posted a couple of weeks ago about the CSD decision regarding the little guy that our friends Dennis and Arlene have had as part of their family since he was two days old. The committee decided he should go to an uncle who is raising little "Sam"'s half-brother.

The uncle and his live-in lady came for a visit, and were very surprised to see how bonded Sam was with his foster family. It looked very hopeful that they might change their minds and leave him with Dennis and Arlene.

And then an ill wind blew in in the form of the uncle's adoption worker, who really put pressure on him that he needs to go through with this, that if he doesn't, Sam will always wonder why his brother was adopted by the uncle and he wasn't, and other such logic that Arlene knows is hogwash because she herself was adopted.

So they veered in that direction, and this week Sam was flown to his new home. To complicate things, Dennis and Arlene had been told they could accompany him, so they bought plane tickets, and then the caseworker changed her mind, and they couldn't go after all, and were left holding the bag with expensive non-refundable tickets.

We are all just sick inside about all of this.

Back in the day, we would pray for the persecuted Christians in Russia who had their children taken away by the state, and somehow we had this delusion that this could never happen here.

The final papers won't be signed for months, probably, so we can all still pray for a miracle and for the hot needles of conscience to induce the uncle to change his mind and stand up to the caseworker.

But little Sam has already been traumatized, and before this he was one of those few kids in the foster care system who hadn't endured any trauma.

"But maybe Sam is supposed to be like Joseph, who was taken from his home and God had a plan to work it all out," someone told me.

Well, maybe so, but I'm holding out for a miracle.

We live in a broken world, that's for sure.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Transposed Memory Syndrome?

So last night at the supper table we were reminiscing about one era of Paul's teaching career, and I recalled the time "Jim" and "Amanda" were caught being too cozy in a windowless back room at school, and all the things that happened after that.

Paul said, "It was NOT Amanda! It was Jane."

I'm sure he was right, and that was kind of frightening, to think I had transposed these girls in my head, and the innocent Amanda was saddled with something she had never committed.

Which makes me wonder, how many of us are stuck in other people's heads in "memories" of things we never did.

And how many other memories of mine have had the original characters replaced with someone else?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Told Ya

See, I had good reason to rave about Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House.

The President decided to eat there today.

Details here and here.

Thanks to Frieda for the info.